Free agent first baseman Justin Morneau will not be ready to resume swinging a bat until June after undergoing offseason elbow surgery, he tells LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. While the veteran says he isn’t yet writing off a return as soon as the coming season, he obviously won’t be available in the near-term for teams interested in adding a bat.
Morneau entered the open market after the Rockies turned down their end of a mutual option. He made it back to Colorado late last season after dealing with head and neck issues, but it’s another injury altogether that will prevent him from joining a team this spring.
The 34-year-old said he expected that trouble with a tendon in his left elbow would be cured by rest, but toward the end of 2015 was not experiencing progress. The issue first arose last spring, but obviously did not prevent him from returning down the stretch in 2015.
“Unfortunately, once teams starting calling in the offseason and things were moving along I didn’t feel confident that I was getting better,” he said, “so I decided to go get it checked out again on my own. After a new MRI, surgery was recommended and that was the path we chose to take.”
Morneau further explained that no teams were interested in signing him during the rehab process, meaning he’ll go it alone and see how things progress. “As of now I will do the rehab on my own and see how I feel going through that process and will make a decision on my future at a later date,” Morneau told Neal. “I have not ruled out returning to play this year at some point.”
The long-time Twins star has certainly shown he can still be productive at the plate, when healthy. He put up a strong 2014 season in Colorado, leading the league in batting average. And he managed a .310/.363/.458 slash line (good for a 109 OPS+) last year, though he was only available for 182 plate appearances — with those coming before and after a lengthy mid-year DL stint for concussion-like symptoms. It’s worth noting, too, that Morneau still rates as an average or better fielder at first.
Despite the health questions, Morneau took a spot at the back end of MLBTR’s top fifty free agent list. That he remains the only unsigned player from that list is now explained by today’s report.