A few thoughts on the Justin Morneau trade
ARLINGTON — Judging by the reactions on Twitter, it appears most Twins fans aren’t happy with the decision to trade first baseman Justin Morneau to the Pirates for Alex Presley and a player to be named or cash.
And given what Morneau meant to the franchise in his 11 years with the Twins, and the fact that Presley is already 28 and profiles as a fourth outfielder, it’s certainly understandable.
Morneau was undoubtedly a face of the franchise along with Joe Mauer, and rightfully so, given his four All-Star Game appearances and his 2006 AL MVP Award. He deserved a better exit than this but at least he now has a chance to play in the postseason for the first time since ’06.
But the truth is his production dropped after sustaining his fateful concussion in Toronto on July 7, 2010, and he hasn’t been the same since.
He was an elite first baseman at that point with a career .286/.358/.511 line in 948 games, but since then he’s hit just .256/.316/.412 in 330 games while battling through wrist, knee and neck injuries.
And this year, even after an impressive August that saw him hit nine homers, Morneau hit .259/.315/.426 in 127 games. It’s not a bad mark given his OPS+ of 102 but not great when compared to other first basemen across the Majors, as the average first baseman has hit .260/.336/.436 with a 115 OPS+ this year.
Truthfully, Morneau didn’t have much value on the trade market, especially considering he’s making $14 million this season in the last year of his contract. The Twins shopped him since July, and decided to finally cash in on the final day he could be traded and be eligible for the postseason.
So while the return may look underwhelming, the Twins didn’t want to get left with nothing in case Morneau signs with another club this offseason. They were never going to offer him the qualifying offer this off-season to get draft-pick compensation, as Morneau would’ve took the one-year offer, which figures to be worth roughly $13-14 million.
Presley, at 28 years old, is no longer a prospect but has value because of his ability to play all three outfield spots and does have a career .377 on-base percentage in 285 games at Triple-A. The Twins simply aren’t long on leadoff-type hitters — outside of Aaron Hicks, who has struggled this year — so they’ll give Presley a chance to prove himself this September. He’s also under team control until 2018 and isn’t eligible for arbitration until 2015.
The Twins save money this year with the deal and will also receive another player, although he’s not expected to be a top prospect. But it’ll be worth monitoring to see what type of player they’ll get along with Presley, as Pirates general manager Neil Huntington. And it’ll also be worth seeing what Chris Colabello can do with regular at-bats at first base in September after dominating at Triple-A Rochester.
There’s also the chance that Morneau returns to Minnesota on a new contract this off-season, which is similar to what happened with former closer Rick Aguilera, who was traded to Boston in 1995 but still re-signed with the Twins. If he does return, then the trade is a win for the Twins, as they picked up two bonus players in addition to Morneau.
So while I was surprised the Twins decided to move Morneau at the last minute and believe it’s a modest return, it simply shows that Morneau just wasn’t worth all that much on the trade market.
In the end, they get a fourth outfielder and another potentially useful player for a one-month rental of a player expected to be used in a platoon at first base. So while it’s tough to see one of the best players in franchise history be traded, it does make some sense for baseball reasons even though it’s a tough pill to swallow.
Update: The player to be named is expected to be right-hander Duke Welker, according to MLB.com sources.
Welker, 27, is a hard-throwing reliever, as the 6-foot-7 reliever’s fastball averages about 97 mph. He had a 3.25 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 61 innings at Triple-A Indianapolis, and also made two scoreless appearances with the Pirates in late June.
Welker, who is under team control until 2019, has the potential to develop into a decent set-up reliever at the Major League level.