Justin Morneau had an outstanding 2014 season for the Colorado Rockies. The veteran first baseman now finds himself the subject of numerous trade rumors as the off-season gets underway.
The Colorado Rockies confused the baseball world when they issued a $15.3 million qualifying offer to outfielder Michael Cuddyer this week. On the surface, the move truly appeared to make no sense. Aside from the team’s love for Cuddyer’s personality, it is hard to find a fit for him on the roster as currently constructed.
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But as time passed, it became clear that there are a number of ways that the Rockies can make this work. They could scramble to negotiate a short-term deal with Cuddyer so as to not pay him $15.3 million next season. They could try to trade him mid-season if he does accept the offer. Finally, they could trade somebody to make room for Cuddyer.
These scenarios all assume that Cuddyer will be back in Colorado. If he’s not, it probably means that he has signed elsewhere, which makes things cut and dry for the Rockies: collect your compensatory draft pick, tearfully stuff all those love letters to Cuddyer in a shoe box, and find a way to move on.
The other qualifying offer scenario would be one where Cuddyer sits and drags things out into the next season like Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales did in 2014. My gut feeling is that won’t be Cuddyer’s style, but it is a possibility.
The most likely outcome is that Cuddyer will play for the Rockies in 2015 one way or another. If that is the case, their next logical step is to make a trade to free up their roster. And the player they should trade is Justin Morneau.
I wondered if the Rockies should trade Morneau before we even knew the Rockies would extend that qualifying offer to Cuddyer. As a number of writers have pointed out, it only makes more sense now to look at trading him. Here are some reasons why.
1. He has a team-friendly contract
Any number of teams would be tickled to have Morneau next season for $6.75 million. Thomas Harding of MLB.com writes the following about the Rockies and the reasons they should trade Morneau:
"Given his production in 2014 — a National League batting title, plus a Rawlings Gold Glove Award nomination and a Comeback Player nomination from the GIBBY Aards – Morneau’s contract is quite club-friendly ($6.75 million for next season, with a $750,000 buyout on a $9 million option for 2015). If that contract is club-friendly to the Rockies, someone else may think it’s club-friendly.If that other club is willing to part with starting pitching — quality, depth or both — that looks like a heck of a match."
That reasonable number might also make a trade partner more willing to part with quality players in a deal.
If we think that outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is the other player most likely to be traded, Morneau’s contract is just one reason that he might be a more attractive target to opposing front offices.
2. His value will never be higher
Pending an age-34 2015 season in which Morneau somehow improves on his surprisingly great 2014 campaign, we have already seen the best production Morneau will provide the Rockies. The Rockies have a chance to sell high.
Now, all these trade conversations on social media combined with the prominence of fantasy sports make us all think we are market analysts, but this is truly a case where I feel quite confident in saying that the Rockies can sell high on Morneau.
This is not just a question of production after Morneau posted a .319/.364/.496 season in 2014. It is also a question of health. Morneau’s comeback from career-threatening neck/head issues in 2014 was an awesome story, but do we think Morneau has another 135 game season in him?
Cuddyer will play for the Rockies in 2015 one way or another. If that is the case, their next logical step is to make a trade to free up their roster. And the player they should trade is Justin Morneau.
It sounds so heartless and almost evil to talk about a human this way, especially one as likable as Morneau, but part of the reason the Rockies should trade Morneau is because they probably got lucky with his lack of injuries last season. Bear in mind that those neck issues did crop up from time to time, though thankfully they were never serious. It still has to part of the consideration this off-season, however, as they ask themselves how likely it is that he plays another healthy season.
Morneau is healthy and coming off a great season. On the flip side, CarGo is hurt and coming off a terrible season.
Sell high, kids.
3. This if the off-season to trade position players
This final point is interesting in that it might be an argument to trade Morneau and Carlos Gonzalez as opposed to one or the other. Increasingly, the MLB free agent pool lacks talent. This off-season is distinct in that there are talented free agent pitchers but scant few position players.
Consider this: the Blue Jays just traded Adam Lind for Marco Estrada. Shouldn’t the Rockies jump at trades like that one, trades that land big league pitchers in return? That shows that teams will look to trades to upgrade their offenses. The Rockies have position players to trade. They need to seriously consider taking advantage of that dynamic.
That should start with them trading Justin Morneau, a move they should make regardless of Cuddyer’s decision.