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Justin Morneau's neck clouds next start, move

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He still could be a fit with the White Sox beyond 2016, but club has to pick a direction first

Justin Morneau arrived too late to save a drowning White Sox team, but he still had plenty to play for — namely, a job for next year, perhaps with the same team in the same role.

Even though he wasn’t around for the best of times this season, his fortunes have mirrored those of the team.

And now he finds himself in the same boat as the Sox, contemplating a future with an unclear direction. He hasn’t played in a week due to "old-man neck," and he wants to get back on the field next week to show that he can finish a season.

Morneau may get the benefit of the doubt from the market even if his season ends quietly. Late-offseason elbow surgery delayed his activity for months, and teams might give him credit for looking like a major-league hitter despite a lack of spring training. With a full and proper offseason, he might have one more run in him, and his left-handedness should be an asset.

The White Sox are one of those teams that could use Morneau’s left-handedness. Morneau’s ideal job description didn’t rule it out:

Morneau, a former American League MVP and four-time All-Star, will weigh several factors when determining a good fit with a future team. He thinks his left-handed bat is a plus. He would love to go to a team expecting to win and somewhere he can fill in at first base a couple of days of week, saying his experience on defense can be of value.

"If you had told me when I came up that I'd miss playing defense, I wouldn't have believed you," Morneau said. "It's something that is important and I like doing and I want to get back to it."

That was the idea with Adam LaRoche a couple years ago, but Jose Abreu improved enough to the point where LaRoche played less than originally envisioned.

Beyond the timeshare at first base, there’s the larger question of whether it’d be worth it for either party involved. Obviously, if the White Sox decide to rebuild, then a veteran DH isn’t much of a priority, especially since those at-bats may be needed for musical chairs among fringy prospects.

Should the White Sox try contending one last time, Morneau could be in the fold. And while his pain in the neck might be a pain in the ass right now, I can spitball into a way where this ends up prolonging the Sox-Morneau relationship.

Even when Morneau was fully functional, I was cool to the idea of re-upping him, if only because the White Sox hadn’t succeeded with rushing to solve that roster spot with a left-handed 30something first baseman. Morneau is a better hitter than LaRoche or Adam Dunn, but he’s also older than they were when the Sox signed them, and this injury issue shows how his skills could evaporate all the same.

Now, if the Sox somehow solidified a couple other positions and Morneau remained available as a cost-effective left-handed bat who could play first — you know, the scenario that made him appealing when LaRoche retired, before news of his surgery killed that dream — then it’d be hard to argue against him.

Basically, it has more to do with the order of operations than the player. Assuming this neck injury isn't the beginning of a swift end, I like him better as the last few million dollars spent, rather than the first few.