First Pitch: The Conflicting Reports on Justin Morneau

Earlier tonight I started getting “Morneau to the Pirates?” tweets. I had no idea where they were coming from, since none of my other Twitter columns were mentioning Morneau. I did a search and found that Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press had this opinion on Morneau.

Justin Morneau doesn't expect to be traded.

Justin Morneau doesn’t expect to be traded.

Through the usual game of telephone, the whole part about “if” was dropped, and that tweet was translated as the Pirates being close to acquiring Morneau. Bob Pompeani mentioned the comment, which probably drew the attention of a lot of Pirates fans, but Pompeani also clearly wrote “IF” in his tweet. I’ll never understand how so many people can mis-read a 140 character message, but that’s another topic.

I was planning on writing about Morneau, clarifying the above that no one has said he is close to coming to Pittsburgh, and also pointing out the value he could have on the team. Then as I was getting ready to write this, I noticed Jon Morosi had an article up saying that Morneau expects to stay.

In the article, Morosi notes that Morneau feels there aren’t a lot of opportunities for his services out there, as there aren’t a lot of contending teams who need a first baseman down the stretch. Morosi mentions that the $3 M that Morneau is owed for the final month and ten days is a big drawback.

There was also a conflicting report out of Minnesota, with Darren Wolfson saying that the Yankees are back in it, and the Orioles could panic.

I do think Morneau would have some value to the Pirates. Right now Garrett Jones is struggling against right-handers, with a .748 OPS. By comparison, Morneau has an .815 OPS against right-handers, which would be an upgrade. It wouldn’t be a massive upgrade, and the idea that Morneau is some sort of key to the offense is wrong. But the Pirates would switch from a bat that has been cold lately to a bat that is on a hot streak. The question is, do you pay a pro-rated $14 M for a slightly better version of Garrett Jones?

I’m sure that’s going to draw out the old “Nutting is cheap” arguments, but the truth is that this matters. People would go insane if Garrett Jones was given $14 M next year, yet so many are fine just giving up $3 M for one month of Morneau. I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t think Morneau is an upgrade. I just don’t think this situation is as black and white as people think. Morneau will help the offense, but he won’t be the answer to the offensive problems. He’s also not worth the money he is owed for the rest of the year, due to his marginal upgrade over what the Pirates currently have. And it’s not like the Pirates can just decide one day that they want to go get Morneau, as Bill Brink points out.

This could be a different story in about ten days. If the Pirates can’t find anyone else, then the money matters a little less. Then it’s just a question of whether they think Morneau provides a big enough impact to make the move. Until then, they might be better off waiting to see if anyone else goes on waivers. Chase Headley went on waivers today, and the Pirates were deep into talks for him last year. He’s also under control through 2014 and is a good bounce back candidate. That’s just one example of a better option that could come along. If no better option is available, then based on what Morosi is saying, Morneau should still be there on August 31st. Even Wolfson’s source indicated the Yankees would be waiting until the 31st. Fortunately, the Pirates will still be in the division race at that point.

Links and Notes

**The latest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast is out: P3 Episode 17: The Pirates Issues With RISP, Platoons, and Small Ball.

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Stolmy Pimentel Tosses Seven Shutout Innings.

**Pat Ludwig Follows Up Pitcher of the Week Honors With Another Gem.

**Altoona Loses Pitcher’s Duel Against Reading.

**GCL Notes: First Looks at Pitchers Billy Roth and Yhonathan Barrios.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Twelve Straight Wins For Pirates2, Four Hits For Hurtarte.

**Minor League Schedule: Creasy Looks to Help West Virginia’s Playoff Chances.

Pirates

**Pirates Playoff Odds: NL Central Could Be St. Louis-Pittsburgh Dead Heat.

**Pirates Notebook: How Justin Wilson and First-Year Relievers Face Long Season.

**A.J. Burnett and Pirates Offense Bounce Back Strong for 8-1 Victory.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • TonyPenaforHOF

    I’m not sure if Morneau is the answer to all our offenseive needs but he is an upgrade to the bench and an answer than to the “who will be an effective DH” if the Bucs make it to the World Series. The $3 million looks much better if the post season is added to the mix.
    Hopefully if the Bucs are interested they get the chance to convince him of the opportunity in Pittsburgh.

  • emjayinTN

    The question is whether the Pirates are ready to unload Garrett Jones. Quoting his season OPS against RH pitchers does not even begin to tell us how bad he has been down the stretch. He is well beneath “struggling”; he is currently hitting .133 in his last 10 games and is 0 for 15 in his last 5 games with 6 K’s. Hopes of him turning around a bad season and starting to hit the ball with the authority he exhibited last year is all but gone. The Pirates are already on the hook for $4.5 mil for him this season, so this is a real toss-up.

  • CalipariFan506

    Jones has been really bad lately. He has been bad since May started but the past two weeks have been just terrible.

  • buster09

    +1 to both emjay and Calipari. There isn’t much else to say about Jones.

  • tripleplay24

    what would it take to get Chase Headley?

    • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

      There is no way that Headley would clear waivers, that’s a question for the offseason.

      • jg941

        The question would just be if he could clear the 13 teams in front of the Pirates (basically every NL team except for the Braves). We would be able to claim him befor ethe Braves and every AL team got a look at him, if we wanted to.

        Real question is whether he makes it past teams like the Dodgers (1 game “ahead” of us in claim queue, unfortunately I guess), or Reds/Cards/Nats/Dbacks, etc.

        • https://profiles.google.com/110709561392331201235 Vicente Barletta

          Oh man, I have wanted Headley to the Pirates for several years now. Way before his breakout season last year.
          My only doubt is where will he play? He has better defense at 3b, but I doubt the Pirates will move Alvarez from there.
          Maybe Headley at 3b against lefties, and the hey can play RF against righties.
          Well, I’ll keep on dreaming.

  • https://profiles.google.com/102528271117676652475 Joseph Panariello

    In the next couple of weeks I am willing to give Jones time off on the bench like Barmes and give Sanchez primary duties at 1st for the time being. Better fielder, walk rate, hits lefties. The only thing he can’t do is hit righties and well Jones can’t hit anything right now so why not give it a shot for a couple weeks?

    • emjayinTN

      JP: Excellent idea for a couple of reasons. Garrett Jones is one of the most popular guys on the Pirates squad, he has established a strong 4 year history since coming up from AAA, and we would be imploding his tradeability by bringing in another LH bat to platoon with Sanchez at 1B. Remove the stress for a week or two and then see what happens. He is another Lefty who wants to pull everything – and pitchers know it and pitch outside – get smart about it!

    • moose7195

      My biggest problem with that is that right handed pitchers are more prolific than lefties. So you’re not improving the lineup by replacing a guy thats struggling to hit righties right now with another guy that can’t hit righties at all. I think Sanchez has many more ABs vs righties this year and he’s hitting sub 200 against them, so its not like Hurdle hasn’t given him an opportunity. They need an upgrade outside the 25 man roster

  • Nuke Laloosh

    “The only thing he can’t do is hit righties and well Jones can’t hit anything right now so why not give it a shot for a couple weeks?” Amen to that Joseph P!

    How long are the Pirates willing to wait for GI to start hitting?

  • Monkshot

    Jones is not coming back next year. They didn’t want to pay him for this year let alone the clunker of a season he’s put together.

  • Andrew

    I agree Jones has been terrible in August, but $3 million is what 0.6 WAR on the open market? Move that cut point back and in the 2nd half Jones; .213/.297/.413 wRC+ 98; Morneau .233/.277/.460 wRC+ 98. Why would the Pirates do this? I understand the Pirates are at the point where each win has huge payoffs but the raw cost of Morneau (let alone the opportunity cost) is not worth the return.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.brooks.581 Stephen Brooks

      Couple of thoughts on this, Andrew.

      1. It’s not really fair to use an open market metric to validate the $/WAR of a player under team control. As an Arb2 player, Jones should be paid about 60% of his WAR value, which would mean his expected production at $4.5 mil should be closer to 1.5 WAR, and unless he goes all Alfonso Soriano in the last 37 games, by that measure he would be a disappointment.

      2. The Bucs shouldn’t be paying market value for ANYONE if hey can help it. They should continue to scout, draft and scrounge around for low cost alternatives – like GI was 4 years ago – and only when no suitable alternative is available (after all, the objective is still to win, not to build the most cost-efficient 72 win team) should they go on the open market.

      3. That said, the economics change in the last few weeks of the season and for the playoffs. Flags fly forever, and if an upgrade can be made to mitigate a weakness, salary becomes a secondary concern. What’s the economic value to the Pirates to earn another home game in the playoffs? Another home SERIES? Certainly more than a couple million you would throw at a hot bat.

      4. Maybe Morneau has established a new level for the season going forward. Reports are that his swing looks better than it has in years. If that’s the case, then you’re not buying the 1-win Morneau from April-July, but the 3-4 win Morneau (extrapolated) from August. And by that measure, shelling out $3 ml for 30+ regular season and 5-10 (call me optimistic) playoff games is better than fair value. In fact, it’s just buying low in season, like NH did with Snider last year. Hopefully with better results.

      5. Finally, there’s the practical matter of how the Bucs’ opponents plan for the adjusted lineup. GI strikes no fear in opposing pitchers. He’s been steadily dropped in the lineup, signaling that even CH doesn’t consider him a threat. Set aside the platoon splits and just focus on the first 6 innings of the game. Given what Morneau has accomplished over the last month, let alone in years past, and opposing pitchers and managers are going to pitch him much more carefully that they do Jones. That has a net impact up and down the lineup.

      If you can’t tell already, I really want the Bucs to make this move. Providing it doesn’t cost anything more than a C prospect.

      • jg941

        Great analysis of the situation. Well done!

      • Andrew

        Those are all good thoughts, and I admit my opposition steams from a resistance to an “all in strategy” were you pay for any upgrade with little account of the cost, couple additional thoughts;

        1) The open market comparison was a little glib, I just was trying to understand the opportunity cost of Morneau’s salary and using the open market price (If I understand this correctly) discounts the true value of the opportunity cost.

        2) Your point on the economics is absolutely correct. (I have been trying to figure out/find how much each win that gets you toward the division and away from the coin-flip game is worth)

        3) My reservation is how much does Morneau bring and I find arguments of, Jones sucks get whatever bat you can, unconvincing. The projections from Fangraphs give a range for Morneau, ROS wRC+ 108-111, Jones ROS; wRC+ 106-114, I don’t know how valuable weighted four year averages are for predicting 120 PAs but I am of the opinion that they are more valuable then looking at the previous few weeks of performance. (This comparison is a little simplistic a better one would be comparing Morneau to who he displaces from the roster which would increase his value if…)

        4)… it is true that he has established new level going forward. I don’t know how quantifiable the lineup construction/effect on opposition is, but I would agree its value is definitely not zero.

        I am less opposed and even neutral if there was better data on postseason revenue and effect on payroll (but this seems unknowable), probably spent too much time on this given the likelihood, but I am caught up in the novelty of the situation for the Pirates.

  • moose7195

    How about the Pirates end the conflict and make the trade for Morneau. He’s been blistering hot this month, and sadly, Jones has been ice cold. Maybe move Jones to the bench into the role Lambo occupied earlier this month, and let Morneau handle the big half of the platoon.

  • leadoff

    IMO, it is not a good idea to get players because someone is hot and someone else is cold, both of those situations can change overnight.