Seventy games remain, and the playoffs are no longer even a distant thought.

Yet for the Twins, as they come out of the all-star break, there is much more at stake over these next 2 1/2 months than just trying to avoid a third straight last-place finish and loss total in the 90s.

Among the determinations that must be made:

WHAT ABOUT MORNEAU?

Finishing out a six-year, $80 million contract, Justin Morneau believes the organization's "first option" is to see what it can get for him before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

If the Twins' longtime first baseman and his remaining salary obligation ($4.62 million at month's end) are sent to a contender, it probably won't bring much in the way of prospects. However, it would clear playing time for the recently demoted Chris Parmelee or minor league journeyman Chris Colabello.
Those are two of the many fledgling players about whom the Twins must decide as they eye a return to contention in 2014 or 2015.

Of course, the Twins could reverse course and try to re-sign Morneau to a more affordable deal this offseason, but that doesn't appear likely.

SHOULD GARDY STAY?

A minor firestorm broke out just before the break, after the publishing of speculation about a midseason Ron Gardenhire firing and eventual promotion of hall of famer Paul Molitor, the Twins' minor league infield and base-running instructor.

General manager Terry Ryan made it clear last Friday that Gardenhire isn't going anywhere in the near term, and the manager himself insisted he isn't worn down by all the losing over the past 2 1/2 seasons.

"There's a future here, and we're trying to go the right way," Gardenhire said just before the break. "It doesn't look like it right now, but we're starting to get some pitching at the higher levels that (is) going to be able to come in and do some things."

However, the issue of Gardenhire's future won't go away until the 12th-year skipper -- second-longest tenure among