Indians Offseason Target: Justin Morneau


Is Justin Morneau the Perfect Value Bat for the Tribe?

The Cleveland Indians will use many different avenues during the offseason to improve their 40-man roster and build vertical depth in the minors.

Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Last winter the Tribe traded reliever Esmil Rogers for shortstop Mike Aviles and catcher Yan Gomes.

They traded away a pending free agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to acquire relievers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw, starting pitcher Trevor Bauer, and outfielder Drew Stubbs

They signed big-ticket free agent outfielders Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher.

They also reached into what I like to call the ugly list and found pitcher Scott Kazmir, utility INF/OF Ryan Raburn, and designated hitter Jason Giambi -all signed to minor league deals.

Over the winter I will focus on all types of players from the Sexy List (top-tier free agents who may fall to the Indians price range) to the Ruggedly Handsome list (players who multiple teams will be targeting) to the Ugly List (players with easy to spot warts).

Today, I’ll take a look at long time AL Central foe Justin Morneau.

List: Ruggedly Handsome 2013 Salary/Contact Status:

Finished the last year of a 6-year/$80M contract (signed January 25, 2008) which paid him $14M in 2013.

Last 3 Seasons:

The 2011 season was a nightmare for Morneau as symptoms from a concussion he suffered in 2010 continue to persist to the point where his career was thought to be in jeopardy. As if the concussion symptoms weren’t enough he had an assortment of injuries that caused him to miss time and at the end of the season he had a trio of surgeries (left knee, right foot, left wrist).  Fighting through the injuries limited him to 69 games and just 288 plate appearances  and his worst slash line of his career .227/.285/.333 with 4 home runs.

The 2012 season erased many of the fears that his career was over as he rebounded to play in 134 games posting a slash line of .267/.333/.440 with 19 homers.

In 2013 he played in 152 games split between Minnesota (127 games) and Pittsburgh (27 games). Overall he hit .259/.323/.411 with 17 homers.

Why Cleveland?

Sep 9, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Justin Morneau (66) bats in the ninth inning of the game against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The addition to Justin Morneau to the Indians would give the Indians the flexibility to move Nick Swisher back to right field on a more permanent basis and add another left-handed bat to the Tribe’s lineup.

Although UZR/150 only rates him as average for first baseman the Fielding Bible’s Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) metric (used as part of gold glove consideration) rates him much more favorably. His glove work at first base would improve the Indians run prevention and help their pitching staff.

In 2013 the Indians were below league average in most categories against right-handed pitching posting a slash line of .247/.320/.402 and an OPS of .722.  It’s not good to struggle against right-handed pitching when the Tribe is chasing down the Detroit Tigers whose starting pitching staff is void of a lefty.

In his career he has hit right-handed pitching very well posting a slash line of .292/.373/.520. While his numbers overall have declined over the years the ability to hit RHP has remained positive posting a .728 OPS in his awful 2011 season but a .902 and .819 OPS in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

He has spent the majority of his career (712 games started) in the cleanup spot and would fit nicely there with the Tribe.

Adding his offense to the middle of the lineup could make it easier on the offense if Asdrubal Cabrera is traded and moving Swisher back to the outfield would allow the team to shop Drew Stubbs.

Type of Contract: 

He will be 33 years old on May 15th and based on his declining production over the last several seasons will probably be looking for a 2-year deal but may have to settle on a 1-year deal and hope to reestablish his value for 2015 and beyond.

Steve Adams at Major League Trade Rumors estimates a 1-year/$7M dollar contract.  Although Adams doesn’t mention the Indians as a match for Morneau I’d like the Tribe to make him priority #1 of the offseason.

Adding him to the fold early would immediately allow the team to move to shopping Stubbs and possibly Cabrera for prospects, hopefully young arm(s), and with the money freed up they could look to shore up their pitching staff especially the bullpen.

Ugly List Members:

Ryan RobertsPreviewed Here  – as vertical depth at Columbus in the event of injuries to infielders.

Jordan NorbertoPreviewed Here – left-handed reliever who will spend most of year rehabbing from TJ surgery but would be under team control for three seasons.