In hindsight, it looks like the Milwaukee Brewers should have signed former Twin and Pirate Justin Morneau this past December. Morneau signed with the Colorado Rockies on a very reasonable deal which guaranteed him about $13 million for two years with a mutual option for $9 million for 2016. Morneau has been worth 1.9 bWAR in 2014, putting him about 1.5 bWAR above the cumulative totals for Brewers first basemen Mark Reynolds (1.1) and Lyle Overbay (-0.4, ouch). At least by Baseball Reference’s version of WAR, Morneau would be a decent upgrade for the Brewers.
Of course, not many people would have bet on Morneau’s resurgence this year. Morneau had struggled with concussion symptoms for years and is long distanced from his glory days with the Twins during which he won the 2006 AL MVP. After he was traded to the Pirates in 2013, Morneau failed to hit a home run and was basically no better than any replacement player for Pittsburgh. He had only three RBI for the Pirates in 77 at-bats as the Buccos scratched for a playoff spot.
In addition, Morneau’s standard numbers don’t look that much better than the two-headed monster of Reynolds and Overbay. Morneau and the Reynolds/Overbay combo each have 59 RBI entering Friday’s action, although Reynolds did see some time at third base earlier this season. The Reynolds/Overbay combo has the advantage in home runs (18) over Morneau (13). The two camps have about the same number of hits, runs, etc.
Casting aside defense, which may be a bit of a wash between the two camps, the main difference is the batting line. Morneau is hitting .313 with a .855 OPS. By comparison the Reynolds/Overbay combo is hitting about .226 with a .691 OPS. Morneau also has 20 doubles and two triples compared to 13 doubles and no triples for Reynolds/Overbay.
Overall, the most pronounced difference between the two camps, besides the fact that Morneau hits for a much better average, is that Morneau is one player while the Reynolds/Overbay combo is two. One first baseman would take up only one roster spot, leaving a spot open elsewhere for a bench bat. Plus, Morneau makes about the same amount of money that the Reynolds/Overbay combo does this year.
If the Rockies would accept quantity, that is a package of less-than-top prospects from Milwaukee for Morneau and his friendly contract, I’d probably do it if I were the Brewers. There don’t appear to be many better options on the market, plus Mark Reynolds could shift into a bench role for the Brewers, sliding into a pinch-hitting/ backup infielder spot. Overbay could be designated for assignment.
The Brewers shouldn’t part with top prospects for Justin Morneau. However, if Milwaukee can acquire him from the stumbling Rockies (39-53, fourth place in NL West) for a more modest sacrifice in terms of prospects, it should seriously consider adding the veteran Morneau for the stretch run and next year as well. If Morneau can continue to produce at his current level, the Brewers wouldn’t have to worry about first base for a while, which would allow them to focus on other areas of need.