After a 14-year career that saw him crowned as the American League's top player in 2006, Justin Morneau is hanging up his spikes. The veteran first baseman is reportedly joining the Twins, the team with which he spent the bulk of his time in the majors, as a special assistant to their front office, bringing an end to his playing days at the age of 36.
Born in Canada and drafted out of a British Columbia high school by Minnesota in the third round of the 1999 draft, Morneau made his debut in 2003 but didn't become a regular at first base until the second half of the '04 season, after the Twins traded veteran starter Doug Mientkiewicz to the Red Sox. The lefty-swinging Morneau quickly became a feared presence alongside catcher Joe Mauer in the middle of Minnesota's order: From 2005 through an injury-shortened '10, he averaged 26 home runs and 101 RBIs per season, hitting .289/.362/.513 with a 131 OPS+. That included his MVP-winning 2006 season, when he bashed 34 home runs, drove in 130 runs, hit .321/.375/.559, and narrowly edged out Derek Jeter for the hardware (though Morneau led the AL in none of those categories, and his 4.3 Wins Above Replacement that year was good for just 23rd among all Junior Circuit regulars), as well as a runner-up finish to Dustin Pedroia in '08. Those numbers also helped earn Morneau a six-year, $80 million deal after the '07 season.
With Morneau, Mauer and ace Johan Santana all flourishing at once, the Twins won five AL Central crowns from 2003 through '10, but they were knocked out of the playoffs in the Division Round every time—four times by the Yankees, three times in sweeps. The division title in '10 was the end of the road for those Twins, who plummeted to 99 losses and the Central basement the next year, beginning a run of four straight sub-.500 seasons in the Twin Cities. That coincided with Morneau's decline: Injuries, including a concussion he suffered sliding into a base in July 2010 and which plagued him for years afterward, limited to him an average of 95 games per season from '10 through '12. His inability to stay on the field and fading numbers brought an end to his time with the Twins in August 2013, when they dealt him to the Pirates for a pair of minor leaguers.
Morneau's stay in Pittsburgh was brief and unexceptional, and after hitting free agency that winter, he signed a modest two-year pact worth $14 million with the Rockies. That looked to be a shrewd move by Colorado, as Morneau won the NL batting title in 2014 with a .319 average, hit 17 home runs, and posted his highest full-season OPS+ (125) and WAR (3.2) totals since '09. But his '15 season was mostly washed out by another concussion suffered on a diving play, as he appeared in only 49 games, and Colorado declined its end of a mutual option at the end of the year. A free agent once again, Morneau returned to the AL Central by signing a one-year, $1 million contract with the White Sox, but an elbow injury cost him the first half of the season, and his bat never recovered, as he hit a mere .261/.303/.429 in 218 plate appearances at the age of 35.
Morneau was active at the beginning of 2017, playing for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, but he was unable to parlay his brief time in the tournament into another major league job, and it looks like he's decided that this will be the end of the line for him. He finishes his career with 247 home runs and a lifetime .281/.348/.481 batting line to go with his MVP trophy, four All-Star team nods, and two Silver Slugger awards. And while that's not a Hall of Fame career by any stretch, he'll still walk away as one of the top hitters of the 2000s, one of the best Canadian players ever, and as a standout figure in Twins franchise history. Good luck and happy trails, Justin.