Justin Morneau used to be the best first baseman and one of the best players in baseball. Not many people remember that in 2006, Morneau won the AL MVP. It’s probably because he played for the Minnesota Twins, a small market team in a city that doesn’t get much of the spotlight. But it happened. From 2006-2010, Morneau made the All-Star team every single year. In that five year span, he hit 30 home runs three times. His OPS was never below .834. He had 100+ RBI every season from 2006 to 2009, and was well on his way to doing it in 2010 before he got injured. He even signed a six year, 80 million dollar deal before the 2008 season. And that was the last time Justin Morneau was elite. Midway that 2010 season, he was concussed, and it was bad. Morneau missed the last half of the 2010 season and about half of 2011 with recurring concussion symptoms. It’s not as if Morneau has fallen off the map since then. He rebounded to post an OPS above .700 in both 2012 and 2013, and was part of a Pittsburgh Pirate team that made the playoffs last season.
Morneau is still just 32 years old, so age really isn’t an issue. He is also three and a half years removed from his head injury. I think it is safe to say that his statistical basement is what he did last season in a pitchers park. Morneau hit 17 home runs last season, and had a .734 OPS. That’s not great, but when you add in the Coors factor, it’s probably 20 homers and a .775 OPS. Not a bad basement. But we aren’t here to look at Justin Morneau’s basement. Colorado fans want to see him hit his ceiling, and this is where we should get excited. His ceiling is actually pretty clear, and it’s not that unreasonable: it’s Morneau’s 2007-2009 seasons. In those seasons, Morneau posted an OPS between .800 and .900 every year. His on base percentage was in the .350 range. He averaged 28 home runs per season. He actually was not that far off those numbers last season, and now there are a few factors in his favor. Morneau is another year removed from his concussion, and he moves from a pitchers park to a hitters park. According to ESPN’s park factor, Coors Field was the best hitters park in baseball. Target Field in Minneapolis, where Morneau spent most of the season, was 12th. PNC Park in Pittsburgh, where he ended his season, was 24th.
It’s going to be tough for Rockies fans to move on from Todd Helton. Helton was a consistently excellent player for 15 years, making five All-Star teams and being snubbed from a few others. But we need to give Justin Morneau a chance at first base. If nothing else, the two years and 13 million that the Rockies spent on Morneau was a buy low on a 32-year old former MVP. Let’s just hope he makes it the best signing of the offseason.
Fans will get their first peak at Morneau in the spring. See him live by getting your Colorado Rockies spring training tickets here.