Justin Morneau Rumors

Brewers Notes: Aoki, Melvin, Loney, First Base

The trade of Norichika Aoki to the Royals for southpaw Will Smith was "was coaxed primarily by Aoki's agent to assure more playing time," Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes.  Khris Davis' impressive rookie season put him in line for a starting job in 2014, and with Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez locked into the other two starting outfield spots, Aoki was looking at a reduced role with the Brewers next season.

Here's some more Brewers news from Haudricourt's chat with Brewers GM Doug Melvin…

  • Melvin reiterated his stance that the Brewers' lack of major offseason moves is due to the belief that the team will improve simply with the continued development of young players and the returns of suspended or injured stars like Braun or Aramis Ramirez.
  • The Brewers pursued James Loney, who instead re-signed with the Rays for a three-year, $21MM contract.  "We knew if he had the same deal he was probably going to go back to Tampa," Melvin said.  Indeed, Loney said that he chose the Rays' contract over similar offers from not just the Brewers, but also the Pirates and Astros.
  • Melvin cited some interest in Justin Morneau, who signed with the Rockies last month, but the GM sounded as if he wasn't particularly enamored with the free agent options at first base.  "The list wasn't very good. It's one of those years where the position we needed, there were fewer opportunities to get someone," Melvin said.
  • In also noting that the trade market for first baseman was thin, Melvin acknowledged he had at least had discussions with the Rangers and Mariners.  "There just aren't available guys. Texas, at this point, is not willing to talk about [Mitch] Moreland. Seattle is not interested in moving their guys. So, there aren't a lot of choices."
  • The Brewers didn't have much available payroll space this offseason but extra money would've been there if the situation warranted.  "We haven't increased it that much, but if the right player was there I would go to (team owner) Mark (Attanasio) and say it's the right player," Melvin said.  "When it comes to payroll, we're always guarded to make sure that we don't put ourselves in a hole or a bind that we can't get out of two years from now or three years from now. Our payroll will be in a much better position next year in that regard."  The Brewers have only $39.1MM committed for 2015 as Ramirez, Yovani Gallardo and Tom Gorzelanny all come off the books next winter, plus Rickie Weeks seems unlikely to receive the 600 PA he needs this season to trigger his $11.5MM vesting option for 2015.

Rockies Sign Justin Morneau

MONDAY: Morneau's deal breaks down as follows, according to Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post. Morneau will receive $5MM in 2014 and $6.75MM in 2015, with a $9MM mutual option in 2016. If the Rockies decline the option, they'll owe Morneau a $750K buyout. Morneau can make $500K more in 2014 if he has 550 or more at-bats and remains on the 25-man roster at the end of the season. He would also receive a $375K assignment bonus if the Rockies trade him. There are also bonuses for top-10 MVP finishes.

FRIDAY: Todd Helton will be a tough act to follow in Denver, but former American League MVP Justin Morneau will be tasked with filling his shoes.  The longtime Twin will be reunited with right fielder Michael Cuddyer as a member of the Rockies next season, as Colorado today officially announced the signing of Morneau to a two-year deal with a mutual option for 2016.  Morneau's deal will reportedly guarantee him $12.5MM.

Morneau-Justin-2

Morneau hit .259/.323/.411 with 17 homers in 2013, a slash line that is a slight improvement over that of a league-average hitter, and his .152 isolated power mark is also slightly above the league average of .146. He had some well-documented power problems for much of the year but turned things around late in the summer, belting nine homers in the month of August before being traded to the Pirates on Aug. 31 in exchange for Alex Presley and a player to be named later (the two sides would eventually settle on Kris Johnson after Duke Welker was briefly sent to Minnesota). 

Even with that promising flash, Morneau's power isn't what it was when he was a yearly 30-homer threat.  His walk rate has also taken a dip – he walked in 11.3 percent of his plate appearances from 2007-10, but he walked in just 7.9 percent of his trips to the plate in 2013.  In his peak, Morneau was a formidable foe for both right- and left-handed pitchers, but he's developed a significant platoon split since returning from a career-threatening concussion suffered midway through what was shaping up to be another MVP-caliber season in 2010.  From 2011-13, Morneau has batted just .206/.246/.274.  He's also had both neck and wrist surgery in that time.  He was healthy in 2013, however, which likely contributed to him providing solid defense at first base again after a poor defensive showing in 2012.  Defensive Runs Saved pegged Morneau at +5 runs in 2013, though Ultimate Zone Rating felt he was simply average.

Morneau is represented by Mark Pieper of SFX, as shown in the MLBTR Agency Database.

Troy Renck of the Denver Post (via Twitter) first reported that the two sides were close to a deal. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports first reported that the agreement was in place as well as the $12.5MM guarantee (Twitter links).

Steve Adams and Charlie Wilmoth contributed to this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Rockies Closing In On Two-Year Deal With Justin Morneau

The Rockies are closing in on a two-year pact with Justin Morneau, according to Troy Renck of the Denver Post (on Twitter).  There are still some wrinkles to be ironed out between the two sides, but discussions are in the final stages.

Morneau hit .259/.323/.411 with 17 homers in 2013, a slash line is a slight improvement over that of a league-average hitter, and his .152 isolated power mark is also slightly above the league average of .146. He had some well-documented power problems for much of the year but turned things around late in the summer, belting nine homers in the month of August before being traded to the Pirates on Aug. 31. 

Even with that promising flash, Morneau's power isn't what it was when he was a yearly 30-homer threat.  His walk rate has also taken a dip – he walked in 11.3 percent of his plate appearances from 2007-10, but he walked in just 7.9 percent of his trips to the plate in 2013.

Morneau is represented by Mark Pieper of SFX, as shown in the MLBTR Agency Database.



Twins Notes: Morneau, Buck, Arbitration, Hughes

Justin Morneau sounded certain in stating that he will one day return to the Twins in some capacity but acknowledged that it's not likely to be in 2014, writes Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Said Morneau: "There’s no saying I won’t be back in the future. You never know what the opportunity is going to be, whether it’s as a player, later, or as a coach, or someone who comes down to spring training. Whatever it is, it’s a different chapter, but [Minnesota] is something that will stick with me forever." Morneau made his first Twin Cities public appearance since being traded over the weekend, signing autographs and thanking fans for donating to a drive that raised more than 3,000 coats for the Salvation Army. Morneau told Miller that he's spoken recently with longtime teammate and friend Michael Cuddyer, who put in a good word for the Rockies. More on the Twins…

  • The Twins have asked their newest acquisition, Ricky Nolasco, about his former catcher John Buck, tweets Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The Twins have reportedly moved on from the Jarrod Saltalamacchia sweepstakes and will deploy Josmil Pinto as their primary catcher in 2014.
  • Though Minnesota had just three arbitration eligible players this offseason (all of whom were tendered contracts), they could have as many as nine next winter, writes Berardino. Berardino looks at the potential arbitration classes for the next three offseasons, noting of course that not every player included on his lists will accumulate the necessary service time to reach arbitration.
  • Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweeted yesterday that age was a big factor for the Twins in signing Phil Hughes to a surprising three-year, $24MM contract. The Twins are hopeful that they can fix Hughes up and thereby make him an important piece of improved teams in 2015-16 while he's still in his prime years.
  • The Twins were "a close second" in the bidding for A.J. Pierzynski, according to La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (on Twitter). Pierzynski agreed to a one-year, $8.25MM contract with the Red Sox earlier today.

West Notes: Cruz, D’Backs, Morneau, Lincoln

The Athletics have a "meaningful interest" in Nelson Cruz, a source tells Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, though no deal is imminent between the two sides.  The A's were noted as one of the clubs interested in Cruz (along with the Mariners, Rangers, Mets and possibly the Phillies) earlier this week by CBS Sports' Jon Heyman.  As Slusser notes, Cruz's demands for a four-year/$75MM contract seem well out of Oakland's price range and the team already has a set outfield.  Signing Cruz would also cost the A's a first round draft pick as compensation, so I'd have to say that a Cruz/Oakland connection seems like a long shot.

Here are some more items from around both the AL and NL West divisions…

  • Also from Slusser, "nothing is imminent" between the A's and Bartolo Colon, though the team is still interested in the veteran right-hander.  Jed Lowrie is drawing "significant interest" from other teams but the A's need him at shortstop and are "highly unlikely" to pursue trade talks.
  • The Diamondbacks aren't interested in Cruz or any player connected to PED usage, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports.  Ken Kendrick, the D'Backs' managing general partner, is a key figure behind this unofficial policy, though a few exceptions have been made on the roster and on the coaching staff.  As Piecoro notes, D'Backs reliever Brad Ziegler was openly critical of the Cardinals' recent signing of Jhonny Peralta, another player who missed time with a PED suspension last season.
  • Justin Morneau is the Rockies' "primary target," Troy Renck of the Denver Post writes.  Renck reported yesterday that Colorado was "aggressively pursuing" Morneau, and he feels the former AL MVP could thrive at Coors Field.
  • Mariners chairman and CEO Howard Lincoln tells Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times that the team's payroll budget will be higher than last season's $95MM mark (of which around $84MM was spent).  "It’s certainly going to be above what we budgeted last year,” Lincoln said. “How much? For competitive purposes, I’m not prepared to say. But it certainly is not going to go down.”  Lincoln also talks about the search to replace retiring president/COO Chuck Armstrong.
  • For more from the West divisions, check out Jeff Todd's collection of NL West Notes from earlier today on MLBTR.

Rockies Aggressively Pursuing Justin Morneau

After hiring Eric Young Sr. as their first base/baserunning coach and Blake Doyle as their hitting coach yesterday, the Rockies have turned their focus to Justin Morneau and are aggressively pursuing the longtime Twin, according to the Denver Post's Troy Renck.

The Rockies have a vacancy at first base following the retirement of franchise icon Todd Helton. Morneau could replace Helton's left-handed bat, and Coors Field would serve as an ideal platform for the former AL MVP to reestablish his reputation as a feared power hitter. The Rockies would also make sense for Morneau given the fact that Michael Cuddyer, his longtime teammate in Minnesota and close friend, will play out the third and final year of his contract with the Rockies in 2014.

Morneau, 32, batted .259/.323/.411 with 17 home runs between the Twins and Pirates in 2013. However, save for an August explosion in which he drilled nine home runs in a span of 29 games, his power stroke was rarely on display. Morneau has been seeking to rediscover his peak form since a concussion ended his 2010 season (when he was batting .345/.437/.618 on July 7 of that year). Since that time, he's dealt with severe post-concussion symptoms as well as injuries to his wrist and neck, both of which have required surgery.


Rockies Rumors: First Basemen, Wilson, Tulo, Cargo

Earlier today it was reported that the Rockies are one of the teams that has checked in on Ike Davis, but according to Troy Renck of the Denver Post, that's just one of many avenues the team is looking into in an attempt to fill the void left by Todd Helton's retirement. Colorado has also checked in on free agents James Loney, Justin Morneau and Mike Napoli and also has some degree of interest in Mike Morse (Twitter links). More news on the boys from Denver…

  • In regards to the Rockies' previously reported interest in Brian Wilson, Renck tweets that the team will need to pay closer money to secure the Beard's services in 2014.
  • MLB.com's Tracy Ringolsby spoke with senior VP of Major League operations Bill Geivett, who reiterated that Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez will not be traded this winter. The Rockies feel that they are close to contention and are focused on adding good players as opposed to subtracting them, writes Ringolsby. He quotes Geivett: "We spent 33 days in first place and (42) more in second place last year. Things have to happen, but it's not that far."
  • Finding a bat to replace Helton is the team's "No. 1 priority" writes Ringolsby, and their preference is to fill it with a left-handed bat, which would bode well for Loney and Morneau.
  • Ringolsby also notes that the team can't ignore the black hole in the fifth slot in the rotation. The Rockies went 62-50 in games started by one of Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Tyler Chatwood or Juan Nicasio. In their 50 games started by a combination of seven others, Colorado was 12-38, Ringolsby points out. They could look to add two starting options in an effort to upgrade over Nicasio as well.
  • Finally from Ringolsby, neither 2013 first-rounder Jonathan Gray or 2012 supplemental-rounder Eddie Butler will open 2014 in the Majors, though each could be up as early as May 1 if need be. That seems to be a particularly aggressive timeline for Gray, who threw just 24 innings at High-A last season.

Central Rumors: Hart, Pelfrey, Suzuki, Cubs, Indians

Today's news out of the AL and NL Central..


Brewers Notes: Payroll, Free Agency, Hart, First Base

The GM Meetings begin tomorrow in Orlando and run through Wednesday, but it could be a very quiet three days for the Brewers. "I don't anticipate us being overly active at this point but things could change," GM Doug Melvin told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "There's not a lot of openings in the regular lineup." Budget constraints will also play a role in the Brewers' level of activity, according to Haudricourt, as the club is approximately $14MM under its 2013 Opening Day payroll (not including arbitration and pre-arbitration salaries). Here's more from Haudricourt's piece:

  • "There's nothing major on the free-agent market we'll probably get involved with," Melvin said. "Maybe we'll do something with the bullpen, make an addition or two."
  • Melvin sees first base as the one position the Brewers need to fill. Re-signing Corey Hart, who is drawing interest from the Mets and a handful of other teams, is the coventional wisdom, but Melvin has only committed to speaking with agent Jeff Berry about Hart's status at some point.
  • The Brewers are not believed to have interest in Justin Morneau, James Loney, and/or Mike Napoli at this stage.
  • If Hart doesn't re-sign with Milwaukee, one internal option is Juan Francisco, who is showing improvement offensively during Dominican Winter League play (.338/.437/.568 with 18 RBIs – second in the DWL – in 74 at-bats including a .404/.462/.702 slash with 14 RBIs versus left-handers in 47 at-bats, per MLB.com). At the least, Haudricourt sees Francisco providing depth at both infield corners (Francisco has split his time with Licey between third base and DH while appearing in just three games at first).
  • Providing middle infield depth will be Elian Herrera, who the Brewers claimed off waivers from the Dodgers on Monday. "He's somebody who can play all over the field, including shortstop if we need it," said Melvin.

Free Agent Profile: Justin Morneau

On July 7, 2010, Justin Morneau was hitting a ridiculous .345/.437/.618 for the first-place Twins in their inaugural season at Target Field. Morneau would leave that game early after taking a knee to the head from John McDonald while trying to break up a double play. It was later learned that Morneau suffered a severe concussion on that slide. He wouldn't play again in 2010, and three years later, the Canadian slugger is still searching for his All-Star form. A last-minute trade sent the former American League MVP from the Twins — the only organization he'd ever known — to the Pirates to help deepen Pittsburgh's lineup for a postseason push, and he'll hit the open market for the first time this winter.

Strengths/Pros

Morneau hit .259/.323/.411 with 17 homers in 2013. His slash line is a slight improvement over that of a league-average hitter, and his .152 isolated power mark is also slightly above the league average of .146. He rediscovered his power stroke late in the season, belting nine homers in the month of August before being traded to the Pirates on Aug. 31. His final at-bat in a Twins uniform was an upper-deck, go-ahead homer against Yu Darvish in Texas.  Morneau-Justin

The Fielding Bible's DRS stat has long been a fan of Morneau's work at first base (he was +8 runs in 2010 prior to his concussion), and he's done a fine job there once again in 2013. Morneau has saved five runs with his glove, per DRS. He's been roughly average, per UZR/150.

Morneau makes contact better than the average first baseman. His 17.3 strikeout percentage is a significant improvement over the league average of 22.2 percent.

Among free agent options at first base, only Mike Napoli and Mark Reynolds hit more home runs than Morneau. Reynolds, however, posted a sub-.300 OBP while striking out in more than 30 percent of his plate appearances. Morneau might not be an elite bat anymore, but the only available first basemen with clearly superior seasons to his in 2013 were Napoli and James Loney. Morneau offers more power than Loney, and unlike Napoli, he will not be attached to draft pick compensation.

Weaknesses/Cons

The power just isn't there for Morneau like it was when he was an annual 30-homer threat, and there's no guarantee it will ever return now that he's turning 33 in 2014. His walk rate has also declined; Morneau walked in 11.3 percent of his plate appearances in his peak from 2007-10, but he walked in just 7.9 percent of his trips to the plate in 2013.

Part of the reason that Morneau was so lethal in his prime was his ability to hit left-handed pitching, but that too has eroded. From 2006-10, Morneau hit .282/.331/.492 against same-handed pitching, but over the past three seasons that slash line has deflated to a platoon-worthy .206/.246/.274. Just five of his 40 homers dating back to 2011 have come against southpaws.

The concussion is far from the only injury with which Morneau has dealt since 2010. He's undergone four different surgeries to fix issues ranging from bone spurs in his wrist and foot to a herniated disk in his neck. The neck issue resulted in a pinched nerve that Morneau said prevented him from feeling the pointer finger in his left hand for most of the 2011 season.

Personal

Morneau met his wife, Krista, in Minnesota. The couple and their two children make their home in the suburbs of Minneapolis. A lifelong hockey fan, Morneau grew up idolizing goalie Patrick Roy and has worn Roy's No. 33 throughout his career (he switched to 66 in Pittsburgh, as 33 is retired there in honor of Honus Wagner). No. 33 is also the number of another of his Canadian idols — Larry Walker. Justin and Krista are active within the community, having started the Justin Morneau Foundation, which seeks to support underserved communities. He is known to have many superstitions, such as eating the same sandwich from the same restaurant in St. Paul prior to each home game.

Market

Morneau and his agent, Mark Pieper of SFX, approached the Twins about a potential contract extension this summer but were rebuffed at the time. Minnesota has no clear replacement waiting in the wings, with Chris Parmelee and Chris Colabello both posting sub-par big league numbers. The team may want to leave first base open for a potential position change for Joe Mauer, but a reunion between the two sides does make some sense.

Morneau may be better suited to play for a team in a hitter-friendly ballpark (Target Field certainly does not qualify, especially for left-handed batters). The Blue Jays have long been rumored to have interest, but there doesn't necessarily appear to be a fit with Lind and Edwin Encarnacion set to handle DH and first base.

Morneau could follow the path that Loney and many others have taken and seek to rebuild his value with the Rays, who would have no shortage of platoon options available. He could also be a first base option for the Red Sox, Brewers, Rockies or Rangers. Pirates GM Neal Huntington could also look to retain Morneau at a reduced rate.

Expected Contract

Morneau earned $14MM this season in the final year of a six-year, $80MM extension he signed with the Twins in 2008. He won't come close to that type of money this offseason and may have difficulty securing a multiyear contract. Reynolds' line of .221/.335/.429 from 2012 isn't that dissimilar from Morneau's production in 2013, but Morneau is considered a better defender and doesn't strike out nearly as often. Reynolds signed for one year and $6MM with the Indians last offseason.

Another solid, albeit slightly dated comparison could be Derrek Lee, who signed for one year and $7.25MM with the Orioles after hitting .260/.347/.428 in 2010. Ultimately, I expect Morneau to take a one-year, $7MM contract in a hitter-friendly atmosphere to try to rebuild some free agent value for next offseason.

Phot courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.