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Justin Morneau Rumors
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After the Tigers were knocked out of the playoffs, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe looks at some of the club's flaws. He starts at the top of the lineup, where Austin Jackson's .337 on-base percentage and eight stolen bases were not good enough of a contrast to the slow, power-hitting lineup that produced the best offense in baseball. Possible solutions this winter include Scott Boras clients Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury. “That’s the one team we haven’t heard Ellsbury’s name mentioned with,” said one American League GM. “We’ve heard a lot about the Mets, Mariners, Rangers, but the Tigers make perfect sense. They are a big-market team with big resources. There’s a relationship with Scott and Mr. Ilitch. They’ve done business before and there’s no reason they can’t do business again.” Here's more from today's column..
- The Giants would probably listen to anyone who had interest in Pablo Sandoval, but his weight will be an issue for clubs. However, his conditioning might not totally dissuade teams given the lack of third base options available.
- Tony La Russa is out there, but according to a Cubs source there’s been no contact with him. For his part, La Russa has told friends he’d rather be considered for a front office job than manage again.
- Two people in baseball operations with the Blue Jays indicated to Cafardo that they need two quality starting pitchers to go with Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, and R.A. Dickey. They could take care of one of those spots by extending a qualifying offer to Josh Johnson.
- It doesn't appear that Justin Morneau will return to the Pirates but the Orioles could make a play for him this winter as they go for another bat. If Carlos Beltran is too pricey, Morneau could be an alternative even though the O's may prefer a right-handed bat like Mike Morse.
- The Red Sox went pretty far in their pursuit of Jose Dariel Abreu, but ultimately they lost out to the White Sox. It was a sensitive negotiation for Boston out of respect for pending free agent Mike Napoli, who would have been affected by an Abreu signing.
- There’s some real talk about the possibility that the Rays could see Montreal as a real alternative if plans for a new stadium don’t work out in the Tampa area.
- One of the reasons why Nolan Ryan parted ways with the Rangers was because of the club's decision to let bench coach Jackie Moore go.
- The Yankees appear to be on the verge of shaking up their scouting and player development departments.
Nolan Ryan might be missing out on a really fun offseason. Rival talent evaluators believe that the Rangers are going to be very aggressive this winter and pursue the likes of David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, and Brian McCann, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.com (via Twitter). Texas is eager to right the ship after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Here's more from around baseball..
- The 2014 draft class has potential to be the best class since 2011, write John Manuel and Clint Longenecker of Baseball America. Left-hander Carlos Rodon stands out as the top talent in the group while power pitcher Jeff Hoffman would be the No. 2 pick if the draft was today.
- Top international prospects Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres are pretty far along in their development considering that they're just 16, but they'll be working to adjust to the U.S. culturally, writes MLB.com's Carrie Muskat. "They're not raw in their physical abilities, it's just being raw to the United States, how things are run," said Cubs Minor League hitting coordinator Anthony Iapoce. "As far as the way they play the game, they're pretty advanced for 16 years old. They're not raw as far as their tools. Their tools are in place."
- Pirates first baseman Justin Morneau will look to sign with a winner this offseason, writes Sid Hartman of the Star-Tribune. Because of that, a return to the Twins seems highly unlikely, unless he finds an extremely weak market for his services.
Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star reports that the Royals maintain there is a possibility for them to retain Ervin Santana this offseason. GM Dayton Moore has gone on the record in saying that Santana will get a qualifying offer, notes Dutton, and one club official pointed to the struggles that gave Kyle Lohse on last year's market. Lohse was significantly older than Santana, of course, but a qualifying offer does up the price to sign Santana for everyone other than the Royals. Dutton senses that at this time, the team doesn't want to go beyond three years, but that could change once they gauge the market. Here's more out of the AL Central…
- MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger tackles a host of Twins-related topics in his latest Twins Inbox, starting off by dismissing the notion that Joe Mauer's concussion and Josmil Pinto's impressive big league debut spell the end of Mauer's days behind the plate. Mauer and GM Terry Ryan both say that Mauer will still catch, and the proposed destination of first base for Mauer may not be vacant. Bollinger reports that Justin Morneau is a candidate to return to the team, but there mixed feelings about whether or not he'd return, as he may prefer to sign with a contender.
- Bollinger also notes that Brian Dozier's strong season at second base could make top prospect Eddie Rosario a trade chip to land starting pitching, or it could make Dozier himself a trade chip with Rosario nearing the big leagues. He adds that the Twins need to acquire starting pitching this summer, and Ryan will have the funds to do so via free agency and the prospects to do so via trade. Only Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Mauer (who has a full no-trade clause) are untouchable in trade talks this offseason, according to Bollinger.
- The White Sox gave a club-record $1.6MM signing bonus to Dominican outfield prospect Micker Adolfo this July, writes MLB.com's Scott Merkin, and GM Rick Hahn expects more of the same next season as he looks to rebuild the team following a 99-loss campaign. Hahn anticipates being allotted roughly $5MM to spend on international free agents, which should give him plenty of ammunition to be aggressive.
Veteran Justin Morneau was in Minnesota for his entire career before the summer trade that shipped him to the Pirates, but the adjustment wasn't too difficult for him thanks to a familiar element, writes Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun. “[Manager Clint Hurdle] speaks the same language as Ron Gardenhire,” said Morneau. “He’ll come up and say ‘[I'm] going to give you a blow tomorrow.’ I know I’m getting the day off. Gardenhire used to say it.” Elliott spoke with several Pirates players about their respect for Hurdle and their appreciation for him as a motivator. Here's a look at more from the NL Central..
- Win or lose, Pirates GM Neal Huntington hopes to keep his team together for 2014, writes Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com. That means keeping veteran pitcher A.J. Burnett and midseason acquisitions Marlon Byrd and Morneau. Byrd figures to see a significant raise over his $700K salary while Morneau ($15MM) and Burnett ($16.5MM) will obviously earn less in 2014.
- John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer (on Twitter) says that there's a decent chance that the Reds will re-sign reliever Manny Parra. The soon-to-be 31-year-old pitched to a 3.33 ERA with 11.0 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9.
- John Erardi of the Cincinnati Enquirer believes that Mets minor league skipper Wally Backman would be a good fit for the Reds' managerial vacancy.
- The Cardinals' 2009 draft class is a huge reason for their success in 2013, writes MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch. That draft saw St. Louis tap Shelby Miller (first round), Joe Kelly (third), Matt Carpenter (13th), Trevor Rosenthal (21st) and Matt Adams (23rd).
- Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at the host of Pirates first-round picks that didn't work out but notes that the trend began to change with Neil Walker in 2004. Since that time, the Bucs have also selected Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Gerrit Cole in the first round.
Steve Adams contributed to this post.
The latest out of the AL Central to kick off your Wednesday morning…
- Right-hander Ervin Santana offered praise for the Royals organization, its training staff and his teammates when asked by Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star if he'd be open to returning to the team next season. Santana told Dutton that his main focus is finishing the season strong, however. General manager Dayton Moore said the Royals "certainly like" Santana and will make an effort to bring him back for 2014.
- Jhonny Peralta has been told by Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski that he will not be the team's starting shortstop if he returns to the team for the postseason following his 50-game suspension, writes James Schmehl of MLive.com. If the Tigers don't bring Peralta back, they will have to make a move to remove him from the roster when his suspension is up, which likely would mean designating Peralta for assignment, Schmehl adds.
- MLB.com's Jason Beck spoke with Tigers lefty Darin Downs, who told Beck that he was in "offseason mode" when he got a surprise call from the team and was called up to the Majors. Downs had already gone home to Florida for the winter to be with his family and hadn't thrown for a week. Beck details how rare a move like this is for the Tigers in his piece.
- "I don't know that," Twins GM Terry Ryan told reporters, including Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, when asked who will replace Justin Morneau in 2014. "We're still looking at it, seeing how we're going to respond, seeing how our guys do." Walters adds that there's still a chance Morneau could re-sign in Minnesota.
Royals pitcher Ervin Santana tops the list of free-agents-to-be who have improved their stock this season, says ESPN's Buster Olney (subscription required, and recommended). Santana, who has a 3.19 ERA with 7.1 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in a breakout 2013 season, was No. 7 on Tim Dierkes' 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings last month. On the flip side, Olney argues that Josh Johnson and Mike Morse have seen their stock dip further than any other 2013-14 free agents, although he also lists eight more. Here are some of Olney's thoughts on the past week's trades.
- The Pirates' deals for Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau made sense in part because they aren't sure when left fielder Starling Marte will be able to return from his hand injury. The right-handed Byrd and the left-handed Morneau also give the Pirates plenty of platoon options at the corner positions.
- The Twins' decision to trade longtime star Morneau allows them to avoid questions during the offseason about whether they will re-sign him, Olney says. Dealing Morneau with a month left in the season thus helps Morneau to leave Minnesota gracefully.
- The Cardinals will see if they can help new arrival John Axford improve. If he doesn't, the Cards could non-tender him during the offseason, but if he does, he could be a "tremendous weapon" the St. Louis bullpen in 2014.
The Indians' recent trade for outfielder Jason Kubel and signing of catcher Kelly Shoppach demonstrate that their Triple-A affiliate in Columbus lacks hitting prospects, argues Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Pluto also writes that the Indians were not likely to trade for Justin Morneau of the Twins (who ultimately went to the Pirates) because their attendance this season has been disappointing, and they therefore wouldn't be willing to pay for the rest of Morneau's contract. Here are more notes from around the AL Central.
- The Indians have already pulled the plug on a total $13MM investment in Mark Reynolds and Brett Myers, but Indians president Mark Shapiro tells Pluto that one-year contracts tend to be volatile. "When you sign a free agent for one year, you know you are dealing in a highly speculative market," Shapiro says. Pluto notes, however, that productive seasons from minor-league signees Scott Kazmir and Ryan Raburn have helped the Indians compensate for the struggles of Reynolds and Myers.
- Royals manager Ned Yost and GM Dayton Moore have not discussed the possibility of an extension for Yost, whose contract expires after the season, Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star writes. But there do not appear to be any other signs that Yost is in danger of losing his job, and Moore says that he would rather not discuss a contract extension with his manager while the season is going on. "I think Ned has done a terrific job," says Moore. "I’ve said that publicly. Ned has remained very consistent in his leadership." The Royals are currently 70-66, and could be headed for their first winning season since 2003.
SUNDAY: Twins GM Terry Ryan would not confirm Welker is the PTBNL saying the Pirates will choose the player from an agreed upon list, reports Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
SATURDAY, 8:49pm: The PTBNL is pitcher Duke Welker, MLB sources tell Tom Singer of MLB.com. Welker, 27, threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings in a brief stint with the Pirates earlier this season, his first with a major league club. In the minors, the 6-foot-7 right hander has a 3.25 ERA in 61 innings for the Pirates' Triple-A affiliate this year.
1:24pm: The Pirates have made a second bold August trade, acquiring first baseman Justin Morneau from the Twins in exchange for outfielder Alex Presley and cash or a player to be named later. After Pittsburgh traded for Marlon Byrd and John Buck, the NL Central-rival Cardinals responded with a deal for John Axford. Today, the Bucs sent another volley and left no question that they intend to raise the Jolly Roger over the division this year.
Morneau, 32, is in the midst of a hot streak after starting the year slowly. His .836 OPS and nine home runs during the month of August have raised his composite triple slash line to .250/.315/.426. Of course, Morneau has never returned to the form he showed between 2006-2010, when he was one of the league's more productive hitters. Nevertheless, he has been swinging a big stick of late and his left-handed power bat could play up at PNC Park.
Presley is a 28-year-old outfielder who saw only limited action with the Pirates this year, putting up a .264/.274/.389 line in 73 plate appearances. While he registered a strong .804 OPS in 231 plate appearances as a 25-year-old in 2011, that has proved so far to be a flash in the pan, as Presley managed only a .237/.279/.405 line when given a chance to play more frequently in 2012. Presley will be under control for league-minimum salary next season. While he does not offer a ton of upside at this point in his career, Presley is probably the kind of player that it makes sense for the Twins to take a chance on.
Of course, the biggest impact from this deal is on the Pirates' intense pennant race with the Cardinals and Reds. By adding the left-handed bat of Morneau, the Bucs now have ample platoon options between first base and the third outfield spot. The team can now use a combination of Garrett Jones and Morneau against righties, and then trot out Byrd and Gaby Sanchez for southpaws.
Morneau, who is set to become a free agent in the coming off-season, had cleared waivers when no team was apparently willing to take on the remainder of his $14MM salary this year. With the Pirates now willing to pay full boat and kicking in a return, however marginal, the Twins were seemingly rewarded for holding onto Morneau at the non-waiver trade deadline and allowing him to re-establish his value. Of course, Minnesota also paid his salary for an additional month, and now will only save a bit over $2.2MM on the end of the deal.
The team apparently chose to move the lifetime Twin rather than re-signing him, but could still bring Morneau back via free agency in the coming off-season. Having already determined that it would only extend Morneau at a much lower price than his current deal, however, Minnesota does not figure to dangle significant money.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports first reported the deal on Twitter. Jon Heyman was first to report (on Twitter) that Minnesota would also receive a player to be named later or cash. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported on Twitter that the Twins were only interested in re-signing Morneau at a lower price.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images/Rick Osentoski.
In an open letter published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, new Pirates first baseman Justin Morneau reflects on his time in Minnesota and thanks the club's fans. "I am sorry that during my time here we weren't able to achieve our ultimate goal of winning the World Series, but I will forever carry many wonderful memories of my time here," Morneau wrote. Here's more on the trade that sent the slugger to Pittsburgh:
- La Velle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune weighs in on the trade, noting that the deal appears like a sell low moment for Minnesota since the player to be named later likely won't be a top notch talent. Morneau's ten-and-five rights are set to kick in next season and one person close to the deal told Neal that might have played a role in the deal since it would have been tougher to deal him if he played out the season and wound up re-signing.
- Newly acquired outfielder Alex Presley will get plenty of opportunities to lead off and play center field for the Twins this September, manager Ron Gardenhire tells Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com (Twitter link). In a video tweeted by Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, GM Terry Ryan calls Presley a "catalyst-type guy."
- In another video clip tweeted by Berardino, Ryan says the trade "might be a good move" for Justin Morneau, noting that the Pirates are likely to make the playoffs.
- Ryan adds that neither the Twins nor Morneau made an attempt at putting together a last-minute extension before the trade, according to Berardino in another tweet.
- Pirates GM Neal Huntington said that he feels the trade "allows [Pittsburgh] an opportunity to play deep into October," according to the Pirates Twitter feed.