I don’t want to trade Justin Morneau. I don’t want to be rational about it. I want to clutch onto his comeback, keep it for my own, separate it and gaze at it among the dreck that this (and probably next) season has become. I’ve waited for this, I’ve craved it, and dammit, now I want it.
We’ll see if I feel the same way in a couple of months, because that’s when the decision will need to be made. For there to be a decision, Morneau needs stay healthy, and he needs show the same kind of production occasionally that he’s shown this week. Those are two huge “Ifs.” And even then, would there be a market for his $14 million/year contract that goes through 2013?
I think so. A quick look at the standings and depth charts show a few teams that might be interested. Let’s count down the top four that jump out at me….
#4 – Pittsburgh Pirates – I doubt that the Pirates, who only have a $51 million payroll, would be willing to take on Morneau’s $14 million salary. I also don’t know if they view themselves as in contention, sporting a .500 record. But right now, they are just three games back of the Reds in a very weak NL Central. And their first base situation is a complete disaster: right-handed hitting Casey McGehee is hitting .184 and left-handed hitting Garret Jones is hitting .189 this May.
If the Pirates find themselves close to contention at the end of July, their will be a lot of pressure to do something to boost their anemic offense, and it should start at first base. If the Twins can help the Pirates with the Morneau’s salary, one would think they could be compensated with some decent prospects.
#3 - Cleveland Indians – This is a developing situation. First baseman Casey Kotchman has been ineffective. They also have Matt LaPorta, who is raking in AAA, but has a career line of .238/.304/.397 in the majors. Plus, at 27 years old, it’s not like he’s really a prospect any more – more like another option. Their big left-handed bat, Travis Hafner, is just coming back from an injury, and his health is always a question mark. And all bets are off if Carlos Santana has his own concussion problems.
But with there are enough ingredients here to keep a watchful eye. Their first base situation is terrible. They’re contending. Hafner’s salary comes off the books next year. They showed last year they’ll be aggressive when it comes to trades. With the right mix, they could be very interested in acquiring, even overpaying, for Morneau.
#2 Toronto Blue Jays – I don’t know if Toronto, who is a game over .500 but in fourth place in their division, really views themselves as being a contender. But if ever they were going to make a push, it might be a good idea to do so in a year that there are two wild card teams and the Red Sox are busy imploding. Their initial first base solution, Adam Lind, was demoted to AAA. Morneau’s left-handed bat would look pretty nice with the right-handed bats of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
Oh, and I don’t know if you’ve heard this or not, but Morneau is from Canada.
#1 Miami Marlins – Here’s the right mix of contention, spending and frustration. The Marlins trail the Nationals by just a couple of games. They have certainly signaled to the baseball world this offseason that they aren’t afraid to spend some money in their new ballpark. And 24-year-old prospect Logan Morrison is declining in his third major league year, hitting just .233 with a .323 slugging percentage. Finally, their lineup is desperately in need of a strong left-handed bat to balance the right-handed bats of Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton.
The NL East looks like it’s going to be a bit of a mess all year, and winnable by any number of teams. (In fact, I could probably add a fifth team from that division – the Mets – to this list if I thought they were for real.) A pickup like Morneau is the kind of puzzle piece that GMs in that situation can get awfully excited about.