Justin Morneau Rumors

Olney On Santana, Pirates, Twins, Cardinals

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.

AL Central Notes: Indians, Morneau, Yost

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.

Pirates Acquire Justin Morneau

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.

Morneau Trade Reactions: Gardenhire, Ryan, Pirates

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.

AL Central Notes: Morneau, Willingham, White Sox

Earlier today, the Orioles found their new bat in the Mariners' Mike Morse after a potential deal for the Twins' Josh Willingham fizzled.  The Twins reportedly asked for top prospect Eduardo Rodriguez in exchange for the outfielder, which was too rich for Baltimore's blood.  Here's more on the Twins and other notes out of the AL Central..

  • A Twins source tells Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (on Twitter) that the club still isn't close on any deal and that includes Justin Morneau.  The Twins may have asked for a lot to part with Willingham, but they have been said to be more eager to deal Morneau, who is a pending free agent.  It was also reported earlier this week that the PIrates had interest in the 2006 AL MVP along with other clubs.
  • Willingham is happy that the two-day window passed without a trade being reached, writes MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger.  “I’m comfortable here so I’d like to stay here,” Willingham said. “The bottom line is I didn’t have any control so I didn’t worry myself with it.”  The 34-year-old is under contract with the Twins through 2014 and he's set to earn $7MM in his walk year.
  • Jake Peavy, who is facing the White Sox tonight for the first time since the Boston deal, says that he doesn't expect his former club to face a lengthy rebuilding process, tweets Scott Merkin of MLB.com.  

Orioles Notes: Willingham, Kubel, Morneau

Last night, we learned that a mystery team claimed Josh Willingham off waivers and hours later it was revealed that the Orioles were the club making the claim.  Now, the Orioles and Twins have until tomorrow afternoon to hammer out a trade.  Here's the latest out of Baltimore..

  • In addition to their claim of Josh Willingham last night, the Orioles have also expressed interest in Jason Kubel, according to Peter Gammons of MLB Network (via Twitter). Kubel was designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks on Tuesday. After an offensively strong 2012, Kubel has a disappointing .220/.288/.324 line in 267 plate appearances.
  • One industry source told Dan Connolly and Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun that it appears the Twins are more motivated to trade Justin Morneau than Willingham.  However, Willingham, a right-handed hitter, looks like the better fit for the Orioles.
  • The Orioles have made several claims this month on players, but have not ended up with a player, writes Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun.  That means the O's either couldn’t agree on a trade or they were outbid by a team with a lesser record.
  • Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com wonders if it's a good idea for the O's to deal for Willingham since it would likely chip away at their farm system.

Pirates Still Interested In Justin Morneau

4:45pm: Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets that multiple teams are inquiring on Morneau. He notes that the Orioles are still seeking a DH, though he stops short of stating that Baltimore is interested in Morneau, specifically.

4:41pm: Apparently not content to stand pat after acquiring Marlon Byrd and John Buck from the Mets earlier today, Pirates GM Neal Huntington is now eyeing Twins first baseman Justin Morneau once again, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. He adds that the Yankees, another team once linked to Morneau, aren't currently pursuing the Canadian slugger.

The Bucs were said to have interest in Morneau prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, but a dreadful slump from the 2006 AL MVP coupled with a hefty amount of money remaining on his $14MM salary deterred interested parties from striking a deal. Now, Morneau is owed roughly $2.6MM through season's end and has seen his bat come back to life in August, hitting .270/.318/.550 with seven homers and seven doubles on the month.

Heyman also adds that there are indications that the Twins would include some cash in a potential trade to improve the return. The Pirates showed a willingness to deal respectable prospects in today's Byrd/Buck trade, dealing Dilson Herrera and a player to be named later to the Mets. Herrera ranked as the team's No. 11 prospect per MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo on his midseason Top 20, and Mayo also ranked him as the ninth-best second base prospect in all of baseball.

With Starling Marte currently on the disabled list, the Pirates could use both Byrd and Garrett Jones in the outfield to accommodate Morneau at first base, Heyman points out. As Michael Sanserino of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweeted earlier today, it will be at least two weeks before Marte can even swing a bat, so that arrangement could work out for several weeks.

In a second tweet, Sanserino adds that the Pirates have been skeptical that the Twins would actually part with Morneau, but they are indeed interested if the price is right. Because Morneau has already cleared waivers, Morneau is free to be traded to any team, but he must be on a new team prior to Sept. 1 to be eligible for postseason play.

AL Central Notes: Morneau, Ryan, Konerko, Indians

Happy birthday to Hall-of-Famer Paul Molitor, who turns 57 years old today.  Though Molitor only spent the final three of his 21 seasons with an AL Central team, the St. Paul native has been closely tied to the Twins franchise and currently serves as a special assistant within the organization.  Here's the latest from around the division…

  • The Twins don't have any trade talks percolating about Justin Morneau right now, Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan tells Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  “I can put that out there,” Ryan said. “I don’t see [a trade], but there is always a possibility."  Morneau has cleared waivers and has revived his trade value after hitting .303/.326/.618 in 92 PA in August.  The former AL MVP has drawn varying levels of interest from the Yankees and Orioles in recent days.
  • Ryan added that "I don’t think you have to worry about" Glen Perkins being traded.  The closer drew attention before the July 31st deadline, but it's hard to see how Minnesota could get Perkins through waivers without another club blocking the move.
  • The Twins GM also covers a number of topics with Hartman, including his own future with the team.  Ryan said he's still enjoying all aspects of his job, except for the Twins' poor record on the field.
  • Adam Dunn thinks there is "zero chance" his White Sox teammate Paul Konerko will retire after this season, Dunn tells Jim Bowden on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (Twitter link).  Konerko has hinted at retirement throughout the season, as this is the last year of his White Sox contract and the veteran has struggled with injuries and a .662 OPS in 393 PA.
  • The Indians recently gathered several front office members to discuss September promotions and any possible August trades, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.  "We're looking at opportunities to improve, internally, externally, whatever those might be," GM Chris Antonetti said. "I continue to like the group of guys we have, but if there is an opportunity to improve, we'll pursue it."

AL Central Notes: Hoynes, Morneau, Twins, Tigers

Congratulations to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who has been selected to join the Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame. "Hoynsie" took the time to answer some questions from Bill Lucey of the blog Newspaper Alum about the 33 years he has spent covering the Indians. Hoynes discusses the transition from print to web, recounts several stories about players and offers his take on instant replay. Lucey's piece is an excellent look at the life of a beat writer and is a fantastic read start to finish. Here's more out of the AL Central…

Quick Hits: Morneau, Matsuzaka, Red Sox, Padres

We'll round out the evening with some links from around baseball:

  • With a big night at the plate putting an exclamation point on his torrid run over August, Twins first baseman Justin Morneau is drawing increased attention on the trade market, 1500ESPN.com's Darren Wolfson reports on Twitter. According to a source, the resurgent Yankees are "back in" on Morneau, which could also increase the pressure on the Orioles to make a move on the veteran slugger. The Yanks are now just one game back of Baltimore, though both clubs have significant ground to gain in both the AL East and Wild Card hunt.
  • Recently-released pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka expects to link up with a new team shortly with the hopes of returning to the big leagues, tweets Scott Miller of CBSSports.com. In a series of tweets, Miller quotes Indians GM Chris Antonetti: "We didn't have an immediate opportunity. Dice-K was throwing well in Triple-A and thought he may have a better opportunity." 
  • One team that will not be in on Matsuzaka is the Brewers, reports Adam McCalvy of MLB.com. GM Doug Melvin did say that Dice-K's agent, Scott Boras, had reached out to Milwaukee. "I told Boras I didn't have a spot for him," said Melvin. "We already have six starters for September."
  • Looking ahead at the first base position for the Red Sox in 2014, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe says he expects the club to "stay in-house" rather than chasing a new player such as Jose Dariel Abreu. Cafardo opines that the club is most likely to shift Will Middlebrooks to first or employ a platoon of Daniel Nava and Mike Carp. Cafardo finds it less likely that Mike Napoli will be re-signed, but says a big September could lead the club in that direction.
  • Mike Dee, the new president and CEO of the Padres, says that the club is poised to "invest more in the team moving forward," reports MLB.com's AJ Cassavell. Emphasizing that dealing with the team's less-than-perfect TV situation will be "a priority," Dee said that the baseball operations focus will be "to draft well and to develop [the team's] own talent." For his part, GM Josh Byrnes explained that more money did not just mean more big league spending: "Payroll is certainly part of it. But it's also investment spending, whether it's player development, medical or the international side; anything that we can do to give ourselves a better chance to produce talent."