2013 MLB Trade Deadline: Justin Morneau Candidate to Leave Minnesota

Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau
Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau
Jun 28 2013 Minneapolis MN USA Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau 33 hits a single in the eighth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Target Field The Royals won 9 3 Jesse Johnson USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau has spent his entire career with Minnesota after being drafted in the third round back in 1999. That could soon change with baseball’s trade deadline looming.

He spent parts of 2003 and 2004 in the minor leagues but in his first year as a full-time major leaguer in 2005, hit 22 home runs and drove in 79 runs. The following year, he got even better, raising his batting average nearly .100 points to .321, and adding 34 home runs and 130 RBI. That was good enough to win the American League’s Most Valuable Player award and put him on the fast track to stardom – and for the next four years, he was one of the game’s best.

Morneau was an All-Star each of those seasons from 2007 – 2010 and nearly won his second MVP award in 2008, finishing second behind the Boston Red Sox’ Dustin Pedroia. Morneau never hit for ungodly power as some of his peers did, but over that four-year span, he averaged 25 home runs a season, and batted .292. And while he wasn’t great defensively, he also got better during that time, cutting his errors drastically (16 in 2005 and 2006 to only four in 2009 and 2010).

At 32, the first baseman is still a serviceable player but there’s been a noticeable decline in his power. Part of his lessened home run totals (Morneau hasn’t topped 20 since 2009) has been due to injury as Morneau missed large chunks of games in 2010 and 2011, but part of it is just getting older, too. Last year he played a full season, but his 19 home runs and .267 batting average were both down from years past. He rebounded from a woeful 2011 season that saw him hit only .227 with four home runs in 69 games, but on a pace for only about 13 home runs this season, Morneau’s power has dropped considerably these past few years.

Currently finishing out a six-year, $80 million contract, Morneau could be in line for a pay cut. Paying him about $10-$12 million a year doesn’t sound like a terrible idea, but teams have to be wary of shelling out that kind of money over a long-term deal. His skills aren’t what they used to be and at his current rate of decline, Morneau could be out of the league in three to four years. That’s not to suggest that he can’t rebound and extend his career, but there’s going to be a lot of concerns about paying him big money for any significant length of time.

Right now, Morneau is playing for his next contract and the best way to improve his value is to put together a strong second half. The only question is if he will be doing that in a Minnesota uniform. At 39-53, the Twins are all but out of the playoff hunt as they sit in fourth place of the American League Central. Minnesota will surely be fielding calls about available players and you can bet Morneau will be one of them.

Since he’s in the final year of his contract, he’s basically a three-month rental. That, however, should be attractive to teams who don’t have to worry about paying him for any length of time. The return will be somewhat limited as Morneau isn’t having a great season, but word is that several teams are already interested.

According to reports, the Yankees, Rays, and Pirates are options, but I’m not sure how much those teams actually can use him.

After a season-ending injury to Mark Teixeira, Lyle Overbay (11 HRs, 42 RBI, .252) is having a better season than Morneau at first base. Plus, while Morneau hits for a better average than current DH options Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells, they’ve provided more power this season. Morneau could play in New York, but I don’t know that he’s worth the cost of a prospect to them.

He’s even less of a fit in Tampa Bay. Current first baseman James Loney (nine HRs, 43 RBI, .315) isn’t likely to be replaced by Morneau and the comparisons between Morneau and the Rays’ primary DH, Luke Scott, are eerily similar. Like New York, there’s little to gain for Tampa Bay by trading for him.

Pittsburgh is the one team that could benefit the most from adding the Twins’ first baseman, and as we’ve said, the team needs offense. The Pirates have Garrett Jones there, but he spends some of his time in the outfield. The remaining option, Gaby Sanchez, isn’t as good as Morneau but the Pirates have been playing Jose Tabata in right field – meaning more of Jones’ time in the second half should come at first anyway. And if that’s the case, Morneau isn’t much of an improvement – particularly since he’s played in the American League and isn’t used to the National League pitchers as Jones is.

All of those teams need more offense, but I’m not convinced Morneau is a big enough upgrade to provide much value, barring an injury.

In the end, though, he could be an attractive player simply for the sake of depth. The big factor will be how much Minnesota demands in return but if the cost is minimal to acquire him, each of those teams would get deeper with his addition.

Stay tuned.

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Anson Whaley
Anson Whaley is a freelance writer with more than 16 years of experience. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and a current member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA). Mr. Whaley has also been a credentialed member of the media for various events. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');