In their search for another bat for their lineup and for a replacement at first base, the Colorado Rockies have turned their sights to long-time Minnesota Twin Justin Morneau.
Per beat reporter Troy Renck on Twitter:
Justin Morneau is #Rockies‘ primary target. He’s a top priority. I expect them to make strong play for him.
— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) November 28, 2013
This has drawn healthy skepticism and snark from the ranks of baseball writers and Rockies fans. That is understandable given Morneau’s limitations at this point in his career. In 2013 he batted a pedestrian .259/.323/.411 with 17 home runs and 77 RBI. It was the continuation of a decline in Morneau’s production in the years since he suffered a season-ending concussion in 2010. Is there any reason to believe he will turn it around enough to warrant signing him as a free agent?
The Case for Morneau
The dude is a former MVP; he has hit 30 home runs three separate seasons and driven in 100 or more runs four times. You could argue that the decline in his production is not the natural sort of decline one normally sees with aging players. Prior to his injury in 2010, Morneau was raking: in 81 games he hit .345/.437/.618 with 18 home runs and 56 RBI. He has seen his production start to rebound in the time since, and if you want to look on the bright side, you could say that he is a candidate to bounce back because it was an injury (specifically, a concussion) that initiated his issues. And what better place to bounce back than playing half his games at Coors Field?
Another thing that should not be overlooked with Morneau is the fact that he is adequate defensively. He committed only four errors in 2013 for a .997 fielding percentage. He was also 9th in all of baseball in DRS (defensive runs saved) for first baseman with 5. While the other metrics that measure defense are not necessarily in his favor (a -0.8 UZR), the Rockies could do worse as they try to transition away from the era of having Helton’s outstanding glove over there.
The Case Against Morneau
At present he is nothing more than an OK platoon player. In 169 at-bats against left-handed pitching in 2013, he batted a meager .207 with two home runs and 16 RBI. You cannot afford to have such bad splits from an everyday player, meaning that Morneau would have to form some type of platoon (likely with his good buddy Michael Cuddyer). So what does that mean? That the left-handed Charlie Blackmon or the left-handed Corey Dickerson takes those starts in right field? That doesn’t seem to make much sense.
Let’s also take a moment to zoom out and look at the big picture for the Rockies. They have money to spend this off-season and they have tried to spend it, missing on big names like Jose Abreu and Brian McCann. Do we really want them to go from taking those kinds of shots to signing a guy like Morneau? Isn’t there another big target to shoot for before we target a platoon player, no matter how fond Michael Cuddyer is of said platoon player?
It probably all comes down to whether or not you believe Morneau has a big bounce-back season in the tank where he will regain a portion of his MVP form. I am a believer that Morneau can do that, though my perspective is likely colored by the fact I lived in Minnesota during his glory days and watched so many of those games. I believe that a fresh start, with half of his games at Coors Field, might turn him into an everyday player again, even he never mashes 30 home runs or drives in 100 again. The depth of the Rockies lineup would also take the pressure off of him, as he would likely bat 6th or even 7th with guys like Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, Cuddyer, and Wilin Rosario taking up the middle of the order.
It would certainly be risky, and I understand the skepticism. If the Rockies do sign Morneau, it better be the first of at least two moves to add pop to this lineup. Because if they only add him and he continues to decline, that might spell trouble for this team in 2014.