Justin Morneau Rumors

West Notes: International, Leake, Morneau

Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times breaks down the international bonus pool game undertaken each year by major league clubs. The Mariners, for instance, were able to free some extra spending capacity in the recent Austin Jackson deal, taking a slot from a team (the Cubs) that had already committed to exceed its own limit and take on the resulting penalties. It’s a good breakdown of a somewhat convoluted system for those who wonder how it works.

Here are a few notes from out west to end the evening:

  • There appears to be some mutual interest in a continued relationship between the Giants and recently-acquired righty Mike Leake, as Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News reports on Twitter. Manager Bruce Bochy likes what he’s seen from the 27-year-old workhorse, who has pitched to a 3.16 in his 25 2/3 frames with his new club. And it appears that Leake is pleased thus far with his new environs. Of course, he figures to receive a wide range of interest on the coming free agent market. Though he’s never been a dominant pitcher, Leake offers a nice package of youth, health, and consistently solid production.
  • Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau discusses his latest comeback effort with MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby, saying that he understands the need to careful given his history of concussions. Those unfortunate injuries changed his career trajectory, of course, but he’s still a useful big league player at age 34. Morneau says he’s increasingly worked to take excellent care of his body as he’s gotten older, but like most regulars has always played through typical bumps and bruises. He will return to the open market after the season unless both he and Colorado exercise a $9MM mutual option.

Rockies Activate Justin Morneau, Designate Matt McBride

The Rockies have designated outfielder/first baseman Matt McBride for assignment, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post tweets. His roster spot was needed for Justin Morneau, who was activated from the 60-day DL.

After putting up an excellent 2014 campaign, Morneau lasted just 104 plate appearances this season before going down with head and neck issues. Given his history of concussion difficulties, he and the team understandably took a cautious approach.

With a month to go this year, Morneau will have a chance to rebuild his value somewhat. He had not hit terribly well even before the injury — his .290/.317/.450 batting line looks good at first glance, but is actually below league average when adjusted to account for Coors Field. And he’ll be entering his age-35 season in 2016.

As things stand, it seems likely that Colorado will spend $750K to buy out the $9MM mutual option that remains on Morneau’s contract. In that case, he’d once again hit the open market, and surely would attract a host of teams looking to take a chance on him.

McBride, 30, has not done much with his limited playing time this year. He continues to deliver solid results at the Triple-A level, but has never earned an extended look in the big leagues. McBride is the last part of the return for Ubaldo Jimenez left in Colorado, though of course he’s previously been outrighted off of the 40-man roster.

West Notes: Zduriencik, Profar, Morneau, Angels

Over at Fangraphs, Jeff Sullivan takes a look at the just-ended tenure of former Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik. Seattle changed course in the middle of his tenure, says Sullivan, with the organization moving from a focus on finding value and prioritizing defense to a grab for power bats. The club also failed to develop its best-regarded talent to its full potential, Sullivan notes, even if it’s hard ultimately to pin down a cause for that failure. All said, whatever the reason, Zduriencik was never able to turn the club into a regular contender.

Here are a few more notes from out west:

  • Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar could join the big league club in September, GM Jon Daniels acknowledged yesterday, as Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports. While the former top prospect still is not ready to play the field — he’s recovering from a series of significant shoulder problems — he could hit and run. Texas is considering an Arizona Fall League placement, if Profar seems ready to begin making full-speed throws.
  • First baseman Justin Morneau could still suit up for the Rockies this year, as Nick Groke of the Denver Post writes. Manager Walt Weiss said that the situation was different than most injuries, given Morneau’s somewhat tricky neck and concussion issues. Morneau has previously indicated that he hopes to play next season, so returning to show his health and some productivity would obviously be quite a boon to his stock. While his deal includes a $9MM mutual option for next year, Colorado seems quite likely instead to pay him a $750K buyout.
  • As the Angels reportedly begin what is expected to be a quick-moving GM search, Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler is one name that has been “heard frequently” by MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez (Twitter link). Eppler featured rather prominently in last year’s round of general manager hirings, though obviously he ended up staying in New York.

Injury Notes: Upton, Aoki, Lincecum, Stanton, Crawford, Morneau, Morrow

Padres outfielder Justin Upton sat out today’s game with left oblique tightness, but remains hopeful that he’ll avoid a DL stint, MLB.com’s Corey Brock reports. Needless to say, it’s not a great time for the injury to crop up: the team is perhaps taking a final shot at re-entering the postseason hunt before the deadline. And if it can’t, the pending free agent may be one of the most important players marketed this summer. Assistant GM Josh Stein said that Upton will likely miss “a couple of days,” but any absence beyond that may be rather concerning.

Here are some more injury notes from around the league:

  • The Giants expect to welcome back outfielder Nori Aoki in relatively short order, as Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News reports. That’s certainly good news for San Francisco, as a successful return of Aoki (joining Hunter Pence in that regard) would reduce or even eliminate the team’s need to add an outfielder at the deadline.
  • Meanwhile, Giants starter Tim Lincecum has been out with an arm injury, but manager Bruce Bochy revealed today that he’s also received treatment for “degenerative” hip issues, as Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News reports. The problem, which is not considered to be a threat to his career, has existed since late last year. Lincecum received cortisone shots and is set to resume throwing in a few days, but as Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News wrote earlier today, it’s far from clear whether he’ll ever again impact the Giants staff.
  • Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton is preparing to resume swinging, though his timeframe remains unclear, as Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports. While that’s great news for anyone who enjoys the game of baseball, Stanton obviously will not return in time to impact the team’s deadline plans.
  • Spencer provides several other updates on injured Marlins: Righty Jarred Cosart, who was acquired on deadline day last summer has again been diagnosed with vertigo. And fellow starter Henderson Alvarez has struggled quite a bit as he tries to work back from shoulder inflammation on a rehab stint.
  • The Dodgers will welcome back outfielder Carl Crawford from the 60-day DL, as Carlos Collazo writes for MLB.com. A right oblique injury has shelved him for quite some time, and it looks like he’ll be headed for a bench role upon his return. Fellow highly-paid corner outfielder Andre Ethier has played well this year, leaving Crawford without an obvious spot in the regular lineup. It remains to be seen whether the always-active Dodgers will look to move either player (or one of the team’s numerous other options) over the coming weeks.
  • Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau says that he still hopes to make it back to the team this year, as Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes. The veteran has managed to resume baseball activities as he seeks to work back from a concussion and neck sprain, and says the latter is a larger concern than the former. Certainly, it’s good to hear that Morneau’s long battle with concussion issues is not the primary cause for his long absence, and he adds that he has no plans to retire at this point. Morneau once looked like a possible trade candidate, though that ship has probably sailed. It remains to be seen how things will progress on his contract, which includes a $9MM mutual option ($750K club buyout) for next season.
  • The Padres appear set to send righty Brandon Morrow out on a rehab assignment as soon as this weekend, Beth Maiman of MLB.com reports. It will obviously be hard for San Diego to rely on much of a contribution from the 30-year-old in spite of that promising development, as he has dealt with various arm issues for much of his career. Morrow, who was added on a cheap, one-year deal, threw 33 innings of 2.73 ERA ball earlier in the season.

Rockies Notes: Harang, Johnson, Gee, Rosario

MLB.com’s Thomas Harding rounds up some of the names connected to Rockies’ offseason pitching search, including the new information that Colorado is interested in Josh Johnson and Aaron Harang.  Johnson may soon be off the board as he’s close to re-signing with San Diego, though Harang’s market has been pretty quiet this winter.  As Harding notes, the Rockies are looking for ground ball pitchers (such as Kevin Correia or Kyle Kendrick) who could handle the thin air of Coors Field, but Harang doesn’t fit that bill; the veteran righty only has a 38.2% grounder rate over his career.  The Rockies are still exploring trade possibilities and aren’t believed to have begun serious negotiations with any pitcher, Harding reports.

Here’s some more from the Mile High city…

  • One of those possible trades could involve the Mets’ Dillon Gee, though Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post (Twitter link) said talks are “on hold.”  Saunders thinks the two sides “were close” to a deal at one point.
  • Besides looking for pitching, the Wilin Rosario trade market has been the Rockies’ biggest offseason focus, ESPN’s Jerry Crsnick tweets.  American League teams are the “prime targets” for Rosario, as his long-term future may be at DH rather than catcher.
  • The Rockies want pitching back in any trade for Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez or Justin Morneau, though no deal involving any of the three stars is imminent, FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi reports (via Twitter).  Colorado has discussed all three players in trade talks this offseason.

Winter Meetings Rumors: Giants, Santana, Marlins, Morneau, Dodgers, Angels

Needless to say, it was a frenetic end to the Winter Meetings. Over the course of the morning, several forward-looking reports emerged. We’ll round those up here:

  • The Giants are focused on free agent starter James Shields, according to Alex Pavlovic of the Mercury News (via Twitter). San Francisco is alive on both Shields and Ervin Santana, John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle adds on Twitter. The club met with Shields in San Diego, as Chris Cotillo of SB Nation reported yesterday (Twitter link).
  • The Twins are still trying to land Santana, tweets Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, who adds that the GiantsRoyals, and Yankees have also expressed interest in the free agent righty.
  • The Marlins are still looking hard at the free agent and trade market for a first baseman, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports on Twitter. A deal could come at any time, Spencer adds.
  • Attempts by the Marlins to deal for Justin Morneau of the Rockies have fallen apart, tweets MLB.com’s Tom Singer. He hears that Miami could rekindle talks with the Pirates regarding a Pedro Alvarez-for-Nathan Eovaldi swap.
  • Communications between the Marlins and Rockies regarding Morneau will continue, MLB.com’s Thomas Harding reports on Twitter, though Harding’s source says he is not sure if the potential match “has legs.”
  • The Dodgers did not make their moves as a prelude to dealing away Zack Greinke or dealing for Cole Hamels, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports on Twitter. Los Angeles has already done its heavy lifting with yesterday’s series of moves, says Sherman.
  • After trading away second baseman Howie Kendrick, the Angels are “open to opportunities” for additions at the position, GM Jerry Dipoto tells Mike DiGiovanna of MLB.com (Twitter link). The Halos are not interested in free agents Jed Lowrie and Stephen Drew, per Dipoto. Of course, the team just added Josh Rutledge to join in-house option Grant Green in the current mix.

Marlins Interested In Morse, Morneau

As the Marlins continue to look for upgrades at first base, the team is considering free agent Michael Morse and trade target Justin Morneau of the Rockies, Joe Frisaro of MLB.com reports on Twitter.  Miami is looking for a left-handed bat, but Pedro Alvarez of the Pirates does not seem like a fit.

Morse, 33 in March, enjoyed a strong season with the bat in 2014 with the World Series Champion Giants, batting .279/.336/.475 with 16 homers in 482 plate appearances despite playing in the cavernous AT&T Park.  Morse’s offensive contributions were 30 to 33 percent above league average, per park-adjust stats like OPS+ and wRC+.  Late last month, the Marlins were said to have lukewarm interest in Morse, but things have apparently picked up since then.  Last week we learned that the Orioles were showing strong interest in Morse.

Morneau, 33 (34 in May), enjoyed a bounce back year with the Rockies in 2014, batting .319/.364/.496 with 17 homers in 550 plate appearances.  He offers not only solid production but a palatable contract as well.  He’ll make $7.25MM next season (that’s including the extra $500K he earned by reaching 550 PA last season) along with a $750K buyout on a $9MM mutual option for 2016.

West Notes: Rockies, Gasparino, Dodgers, Rangers

The Rockies‘ decision to make a qualifying offer to outfielder Michael Cuddyer makes more sense in light of reports that the club could be open to making some larger moves, possibly involving stars Troy Tulowitzki or Carlos Gonzalez, writes Dave Cameron of Fangraphs. For his money, MLB.com’s Thomas Harding believes the likeliest scenario involves a trade of first baseman Justin Morneau, whose remaining contract is attractive given his production last year. I discussed this very issue last night with Denver Post writer Nick Groke for today’s podcast, which will be made available shortly.

Here’s more from out west:

  • The Padres gave the Dodgers permission yesterday to interview scouting director Billy Gasparino, Corey Brock of MLB.com tweets. It may be more of a done deal, in fact, according to a report from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter).
  • Turning to the major league side of things, the Dodgers face yet another offseason with questions about an outfield logjam, as Mike Petriello of Fangraphs writes. With Joc Pederson now clearly having proven himself at Triple-A, Petriello takes a look at the available options. The likeliest, in his opinion, is a trade involving Carl Crawford.
  • The Rangers expect to be more active on the trade market than in free agency, as Calvin Watkins of ESPNDallas.com reports“I think just by nature free agents will cost more money,” said GM Jon Daniels. “I think we have some areas of depth and have a chance to get some players with a little bit more cost control.” Daniels went on to discuss some general possibilities. “I feel pretty good about our [minor] league system just based on the players we’ve been asked about, and other teams feel about it the same way,” he explained. “It’s a pretty unique market, there’s quite a few pitchers who might be on the market, and that’s probably the strength of the marketplace in free agent and trade standpoints. I don’t know how quick it will be, but I think we’ll be able to address our needs.”

Morneau Claimed By Brewers, Pulled Back By Rockies

Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau was claimed off revocable waivers by the Brewers, but pulled back by Colorado when the sides could not reach a deal, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. An unknown offer from Milwaukee was apparently insufficient to pry Morneau free.

Morneau, 33, has enjoyed a career renaissance since joining the Rockies over the offseason, posting his finest season since his injury-shortened 2010 campaign. Leading the league with a .317 batting average, Morneau has reached base at a .360 clip while slugging an even .500 and swatting 14 home runs in 453 plate appearances. Of course, the lefty has continued to struggle against southpaws, putting up rather sizeable platoon splits (.930 OPS against righties; .655 OPS versus same-handed pitchers).

He does come with an increasingly attractive contract: earning just $5MM this year, Morneau is guaranteed $6.75MM next season along with a $750K buyout on a $9MM mutual option for 2016. (His 2015 salary is likely to rise by $500K based on a plate appearance escalator.) While it would have made little sense for Colorado to give Morneau away for a meager return, it is also fair to wonder whether the cellar-dwelling club should have dealt (and, looking forward, should deal) the veteran while his value is trending upwards.

With his defense and baserunning factored in, Morneau still profiles as less than a 3-WAR player, ranking in the middle of the league’s regular first baggers when his numbers are adjusted to account for playing at Coors Field. But that would have represented a nice upgrade for the Brewers, whose combined first base output stands at 1.5 fWAR and a 92 wRC+.

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.