The Rockies Don’t Need Justin Morneau

It’s been rumored for awhile now, but over the Thanksgiving break, the intensity of rumors linking the Colorado Rockies to Justin Morneau increased. But Morneau is not going to improve the Rockies roster any, and with the team facing a budget threshold that will not allow them to spend with the big boys, signing Morneau is simply a mistake that the club can’t afford to make.

For sake of comparison, here’s a blind projection for 2014:
Player A: .279/.327/.476, .346 wOBA, 106 wRC+, 0.8 WAR in 299 PA
Player B: .258/.330/.428, .330 wOBA, 108 wRC+, 0.9 WAR in 518 PA

Morneau is Player B. Player A is … Corey Dickerson. Dickerson, who will earn the league minimum next season, is projected by Steamer to be roughly as valuable as Morneau in about 57% of the playing time. This really isn’t all that outlandish. Last season, in 213 PA, Dickerson was worth 0.5 WAR, and Morneau was worth 0.8 WAR in 635 PA. A four-time All-Star and American League Most Valuable Player Award winner, Morneau carries with him a marquee pedigree, but he no longer has the performance to back it up. Without his offense contributions to propel him, there simply isn’t much to Morneau’s game.

If you look just at Morneau’s career numbers, he seems like a pretty good defensive player. He is a +18 in DRS, and a +18.7 in UZR. But those numbers are essentially the result of two good seasons — 2005 and 2010. He has a negative UZR in six of his other nine seasons, including his last two. He has a negative DRS in four of the other nine, and a zero rating in two others. His Fans Scouting Report score has also been below average in each of the last three seasons, and in four of the past five (2010 being the lone exception). In other words, his defense is probably not a strength, and could be a hindrance.

Morneau’s baserunning, on the other hand, is most definitely a hindrance. Over the past five years, his -10.6 BsR ranks 38th-worst out of 347 qualified position players. That doesn’t sound all that terrible, but keep in mind that many of the players who rank worse than him are either officially or unofficially retired — Juan Rivera, Casey Kotchman, Ramon Hernandez, Vladimir Guerrero, Jorge Posada, Jim Thome, Todd Helton and Carlos Lee all find themselves with a worse mark than Morneau. In reality, Morneau is likely one of the worst 30 baserunners in the game today.

Dickerson is not nearly that bad. He had some stolen base follies last season, but in his speed score throughout his pro career has dwarfed Morneau’s, and in his small sample last year Dickerson also had a positive UBR. And since he’s also slated to be a better hitter and fielder, why wouldn’t he be the pick to click?

Of course, Dickerson isn’t a first baseman, so it’s not as easy as just slotting him in at first base. But it is just as easy as moving Michael Cuddyer to first base, and letting Dickerson patrol right field. Last season, Cuddyer’s UZR in right field was the sixth-worst UZR of any qualified position player in the game, and during the UZR era (2002-present), Cuddyer’s -41.4 outfield UZR is 19th-worst overall. Simply put, Cuddyer is not a good outfielder. He might not be a good first baseman either, but the threshold for acceptability is a lot more flexible at first base. This is particularly true at Coors Field, where the outfield dimensions are quite generous, even in right field.

So, who else could the Rockies sign? Doing some back of the envelope math, and counting in the payroll upgrades that Monfort is on record as saying that he would make, the team probably has room for two good signings. That’s why avoiding making a mistake with Morneau so important. But there are spots where the team can upgrade.

The team has made catcher defense a priority this offseason. Supposedly still displeased with Wilin Rosario’s performance, they have been looking for another catcher. They were in on the bidding for both Brian McCann and Carlos Ruiz, and while they didn’t land either backstop, there is one more player on the market who would fit well — Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Salty and Rosario would be a pretty nice platoon, as they have disparate splits — Salty hits well against righties, and Rosario hits his best against lefties. It wouldn’t need to be a true platoon, as Rosario would likely play a little more frequently, perhaps some at first base if Cuddyer or Dickerson needed a day off (with Cuddyer sliding to right on some very infrequent occasions). Right now, with Rosario projected to get the lion’s share of playing time, the Rockies are projected to have one of the better catching positions in the majors. With Salty, they’d be that much stronger, as well as a touch stronger at first base as well.

Of course, there are other areas in which they need help. Second base is always a sore spot. The Rockies have never had a second baseman rack up 3.0 WAR in a single season, and they only have had a second baseman rack up 2.0 or more WAR in six of their 21 seasons as a franchise. As such, Omar Infante wouldn’t have a very high bar to clear to become the best second baseman in team history. Only six teams are slated to have worse play at second base in ’14 than are the Rockies. Neither Jonathan Herrera, DJ LeMahieu nor Josh Rutledge are players who are worthy of a guaranteed spot. There may be some promise still in Rutledge’s bat, but if the Rockies are serious about competing, they should try to do better. Infante would be better, and his projected salary isn’t that far off from the numbers being discussed for Morneau.

There’s also the pitching side of things. Despite their public stance on the matter, the team is basically set in the bullpen. LaTroy Hawkins, Rex Brothers and Matt Belisle form a good back of the bullpen, and Adam Ottavino, Josh Outman and Wilton Lopez are all capable of making positive contributions in one way or another. Throw in Chad Bettis, and you have an entire seven-man bullpen already. Sure, they could use depth, but the team shouldn’t be signing any more major league deals for relief pitchers. The rotation is deep as well, but it could use one or two veterans, especially given Juan Nicasio’s volatility. Given how solid the team’s infield defense is, going after groundballlers like Scott Feldman and/or Paul Maholm would seem to be a good strategy.

The Rockies are willing to spend some money this offseason, and should have enough in the budget to sign two mid-tier free agents — maybe three, if everything breaks their way. With these limitations, they need to make sure that each signing maximizes their opportunity to get better. Signing Morneau would not do that. Bringing him into the fold would turn a comparable player — Corey Dickerson — into a bench player, and it would leave Michael Cuddyer in right field, where he will once again be abhorrent defensively. There are definitely players that are in Colorado’s price range who can improve the product on the field in 2014, but Morneau is not one of them.



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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


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Bart
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Bart
2 years 8 months ago

Can someone explain how a .258/.330/.428, .330 wOBA has a wRC+ 2 higher than .279/.327/.476, .346 wOBA?

Paul Clarke
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Paul Clarke
2 years 8 months ago

Park adjustments. Dickerson put up his line while playing for the Rockies, while Morneau played for the Twins (neutral park) and Pirates (pitchers’ park).

Joe
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Joe
2 years 8 months ago

Morneau might hit 50 home runs in that ballpark.

Jason B
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Jason B
2 years 8 months ago

I’ll go with the waaaaaaaaay under. Wrong side of the aging curve for that, and it doesn’t play as the HR launching pad that it did back in the Vinny Castilla go-go days.

dapperslacks
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dapperslacks
2 years 8 months ago

So “might” Corey Dickerson.

t ball
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t ball
2 years 8 months ago

during batting practice?

chuckb
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chuckb
2 years 8 months ago

If he signs a 5 year contract.

Alex Jones
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Alex Jones
2 years 8 months ago

Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t the steamer WAR projection assuming that Dickerson will play the outfield?

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 8 months ago

It does, but as the author says if they brought in Dickerson they would shift Cuddyer from OF to 1B, so the (Dickerson OF/Cuddyer 1B) combo would get the production of the (Cuddyer OF/Morneau 1B) combo at a fraction of the cost.

Shao
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Shao
2 years 8 months ago

WAR adjusted for positions. In theory, changing position would still have the same WAR. In theory though.

Eric Garcia McKinley
Member
2 years 8 months ago

Agree — signing Morneau would be a band-aid that creates more positional problems than it solves.

Tim
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Tim
2 years 8 months ago

If you think Cuddyer is a bad outfielder, wait until you see him at first. Also, he’s on record not wanting to play the infield because of partial deafness, which seems like a legitimate reason to me.

jdbolick
Member
Member
2 years 8 months ago

That’s interesting. I wondered why they weren’t moving Cuddyer in since that seemed like a no-brainer, but this would explain it. Regardless, they pretty obviously need to trade him even if they aren’t getting the offers they would have hoped for coming off his season of overachievement. Colorado has other options in the outfield and Kyle Parker isn’t far away.

ettin
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ettin
2 years 8 months ago

Also the Rockies have built a heavy ground ball pitching staff for Coors Field and putting Cuddyer at 1B would probably not be a good idea as there will be more balls hit on the ground to him and he will be busy at first base with a lot of throws coming his way.

Cuddyer in RF would better for the Rockies. Bringing in someone like Mark Trumbo from the Angels or perhaps someone like Ike Davis from the Mets to play first would probably be a better idea.

APODionysus
Member
2 years 8 months ago

I’m about ready to write off the Rockies. Signing Morneau would be a beautiful follow up to Monfort saying he felt they were a 5th starter and a bullpen away from 98 wins. Meanwhile the Rockies had a wRC+ of 90.

jfree
Member
jfree
2 years 8 months ago

You are correct to give up on the Rockies because the owner himself has given up on winning. The Denver Post – Rockies business model has a great article on this. Basically, it looks like Monfort only really cares about making sure that player payroll is less than 50% of revenue. “Making the playoffs” is OK “two out of five years” – and he clearly isn’t that concerned about the current 1 out of 5 years and, next year, going on 0 out of 5 years achievement.

AC of DC
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AC of DC
2 years 8 months ago

One, click that link and read that article, ’cause that is some bonkers talk. It’s at once comical and sorry that a team owner would present as worthy, to say nothing of buying into the effectiveness of, such a strategy.

Two, while we cannot say for certain that it was the concussion, and there have been other injuries since, July, 2010 certainly provides a stark demarcation separating the two sides of the career of Justin Morneau, and it’s (forgive my post-work vocabulary limitations) all a little sad. Here was a guy who could well have been a career 35 WAR guy, fondly remembered as a solid player, a nice fellow with a strong bat, who instead looks doomed to struggle and disappear and be filed instead in the crowded folder of What Could Have Been.

DSC
Guest
DSC
2 years 8 months ago

This tells me zip. Can he hit with RISP? Can he hit lefties? Does he hit righties well? Can he platoon then? How well does he hit 90+ fastballs? How good is he against guys that throw a lot of ‘junk’? How well does he hit in close games? Those facts will inform me, tell me what I need to know. Telling me a guy’s WAR is like telling me his favourite colour.

Hason Jeyward
Member
Hason Jeyward
2 years 8 months ago

Then look all that up yourself.

-gary tucker
Guest
-gary tucker
2 years 8 months ago

every writer is talking about either picking up a free agent 1b or converting cuddyar to first. there is one more player that every writer refuses to mention that can play first base and has already played first before “jordon pacheco” why is the not being mentioned. he could play first relive rosario catching.

puck
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puck
2 years 8 months ago

Pacheco’s career RC+ of 76 in 855 PA’s is probably why no one’s suggesting Pacheco get a lot of playing time at 1st.

GoodasGoldy
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GoodasGoldy
2 years 8 months ago

It’s hard to figure out just what the Rockies plans are but, isn’t it possible the Rockies picked up Morneau to free them up to trade Cuddyer? Morneau is 33 and will cost 12mil for 2 yrs. Cuddyer at age 35 has one year left at 10mil.

It’s a good time to move Cuddyer given he isn’t likely to repeat that .389 BABIP, 16.7% HR/FB rate. Cuddyer might be a useful trade chip in their rumored itch for the A’s Anderson.

mike haburay
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mike haburay
2 years 4 months ago

I know it’s only as small sample, but Morneau is looking pretty good right now…

bean5302
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bean5302
2 years 3 months ago

Morneau is continuing his tear. He’s crushing the ball at Coors, but he’s also hitting well away from home. He’s even hitting lefties and their offspeed offerings well. In short, there’s nothing to indicate this couldn’t be a return of vintage Morneau. The walk rate is a little troubling which is probably a function of his propensity to chase pitches outside the zone this year, but his strikeout rate is way down from recent years as his contact rate has increased.

If Morneau can keep a pace even remotely close to what he’s doing, the original writer should be happy to eat his words.

Adam smith
Guest
Adam smith
2 years 2 months ago

Mmmmm. Tasty

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