Could the Orioles Trade for Justin Morneau?
June 8, 2012 in Uncategorized
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The injuries are piling up for the Baltimore Orioles and they have been slumping of late, yet they still remain tied atop the AL East standings through the first 7 days in June. Their is still a lot of baseball to be played and if the Orioles can get boosts from Nolan Reimold, Nick Markakis, Zach Britton and Brian Roberts coming back in the next few weeks, they could remain in this thing, and need to consider themselves buyers at the deadline. Now the most important thing is to ensure they aren't completely gutting their farm system for a one year run, meaning for the most part they need to avoid rental players (unless the price is right). While an outfielder would be more preferable for the short term, their real position player needs are at 3B and 1B/DH (with Chris Davis handling the other position). I already profiled a 3B move for the Padres Chase Headley, but the 1B/DH market is a bit more murky. One option that I think is becoming more and more realistic every day is former MVP and four time All-Star Justin Morneau.
I highlighted the Twins plight and why Morneau is on the market last week, but wanted to do a more Orioles centric focus on the idea, and will look at both what he brings to the table and the cost to acquire him.
Why The Orioles Could Use Justin Morneau:
Chris Davis has been pretty productive at 1B/DH this year, with an .826 OPS. That might not first or 2nd tier, but it is solid production, especially in terms of cost. Davis has also been pretty solid in the field, though his best value is probably as a DH. Either way, the Orioles have to upgrade over the production playing opposite of Davis. Nick Johnson and Mark Reynolds have usually filled that spot, and the results haven't been pretty.
Now at first glance Morneau doesn't look like a major offensive force (though his .802 OPS would be a nice improvement), but that is a little deceiving. While this strays from his career mark, Morneau has essentially become a platoon player these last two years (luckily the strong side of the platoon). Morneau is helpless vs lefties this year with an .094 average and a pathetic .319 OPS, against righties though Morneau is killing the ball, with a .313/.400/.646 slash line. Being a platoon player obviously hurts the overall value, but since teams face RHP's usually over 75% of the time Morneau can bring a lot of offensive production to the Orioles. Now against most lefties it is clear you need to sit him, but this is where a guy like Mark Reynolds (a RH batter) can earn his keep, as he can be the platoon partner for Morneau. It also means that any time a lefty starts, Morneau could be a devastating pinch hitting option, when a righty comes in. For next season the Orioles could at least have some hope that Morneau goes back to being an every day option, given his career numbers vs lefties.
The other thing that is severely depressing Morneau's numbers is playing his home games at Target Field. Target Field is one of the league's better pitching parks, especially when it comes to home runs. For the year Morneau is batting .182/.247/.348 at home and .279/.344/.616 on the road. To further prove the impact of Target Field, take a look at his numbers from 2010, which was Target Field's inaugural year and before the injuries starting impacting Morneau's numbers. In 43 games and 185 plate appearances at home, Morneau hit .316/.427/.487, which are pretty impressive numbers, but compare them to what he did on the road. In 38 games and 163 plate appearances he hit .375/.448/.757 which is just ridiculous, and nearly a .300 point difference in OPS. Despite 22 fewer plate appearances Morneau had 6 extra hits, and 10 extra home runs on the road.
So if you take Justin Morneau from one of the worst hitters parks and put him in one of the best, and severely limit his number of plate appearances versus lefties, the Orioles could find themselves a true impact bat.
What will he cost?
If Justin Morneau is traded by July 31st, he has roughly $21 million owed to him through next year (if he's traded in the next couple weeks add $3 million to that figure). Which is quite a bit to pay for a player who has dealt with injuries recently, seen his production drop, and has basically become a platoon player.
The Twins will obviously point to his home/away splits as a reason why he's worth more, but the lack of current production will be the biggest issue. Minnesota will also probably be okay with kicking in some money, to hopefully increase their return, but with Baltimore being a team that is fairly good financially, they are probably fairly content to mainly take on salary for the Twins.
Assuming Minnesota pays less than $4 million, I think the following trade is reasonable:
RHP Clay Schrader: Schrader is a potential back of the bullpen option, currently in High A. While he has a good ERA and strikeout numbers, his walks are a concern, and what keeps him from being a 'fast mover'. He still could be in Minnesota by the start of 2014, and has some nice closing potential.
RHP Chris Tillman: Tillman no longer looks to be a front of the rotation pitcher, but he does have some value here, despite his struggles in the majors. He's still just 24 years old, and could without a doubt use a change of scenery and a pitchers park like Target Field. For a system that is starving for pitchers, Tillman is a nice cheap upgrade, with the potential to be a solid starter.
1B/3B Brandon Waring: Waring might peak as a AAAA player, but he'd be a nice final piece for the Twins. Minnesota could be looking to dump a number of players, leaving quite a few ML openings. Waring could be a decent stopgap player for them (maybe not as a starter, but at least a bench option) these next few years while they rebuild.
I know this deal looks like a down right steal from the Orioles perspective, but the Twins completely lack leverage in this trade and clearing that money off their books is huge for their rebuild plans.
Will it happen?:
I think this deal(or a similar one) makes sense from both the Orioles and Twins perspective, but the real answer will be does it work out from Morneau's. Morneau has a no trade clause in his contract, and it's unclear if he'd accept a trade to Baltimore. The fact that they are in first place, and if they let him know they are serious about competing next year would probably be enough to sway him.