Justin Morneau Rumors

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.


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..