Last August, the Pirates, in the midst of a playoff race, went “all in” and landed Minnesota Twins four-time All-Star first baseman Justin Morneau.
At the time, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said, “We felt that this move gives us a better chance to play in October, a better chance to win the division, a better chance to advance in October.”
The Pirates did make a Wild Card spot and advanced over the Cincinnati Reds in a wild playoff game at PNC Park. The Pirates then played a great series and fell to the St. Louis Cardinals, who would make it to the World Series.
Morneau’s career as a Pirates was short-lived, as he only played in 25 games, batting .260 with 20 hits in 77 at-bats. Though the former AL MVP and 2008 Home Run Derby Champion didn’t hit a homer with the Pirates, he still played relatively well and worthy of a Pirates contract offer.
In the offseason, Morneau exclaimed that he wanted to play for a winner, his options were wide open as far as which team he would sign with, and that he enjoyed playing in Pittsburgh.
The Pirates, notoriously known for not offering a steep paycheck, did not even extend an offer for Morneau to stay in Pittsburgh. Justin would later go on to sign with the Colorado Rockies, taking a two-year, $13 million dollar deal ($6.5 million per season).
I’d say that was a pretty cheap deal for the Rockies, and the Pirates never even gave him an offer. I would think that the Pirates learned their lesson when they acquired Ryan Ludwick at the trade deadline but didn’t try to re-sign him. Ludwick would go on to the Cincinnati Reds and hit 26 HRs and 80 RBIs for a division rival the next year.
This isn’t as bad of a blow as trading away Jose Bautista to the Blue Jays, but it just doesn’t make sense why Pittsburgh couldn’t at least extend an offer. I think the lack of a Morneau offer is as bad as Pirate fans who are demanding the team trades Alvarez.
I understand Marlon Byrd and A.J. Burnett leaving the Pirates for the big bucks. We can’t afford to dish out $17 million a year for one player near the end of his career. Besides, outfielder Gregory Polanco and starting pitcher Jameson Taillon were about to be unleashed.
As for first base, this is a glaring weakness for the Pirates in my opinion. Morneau was a huge improvement over Garrett Jones last season, but what was the plan for this year? The Pirates have some young talent in the minors, as Josh Bell may be a potential star, but there wasn’t immediate help for the first base position. The Andrew Lambo experiment didn’t last long.
For Colorado, the 33-year-old Morneau is batting .312 with 13 HRs and 60 RBIs. Pirates fans can watch him tonight in the Home Run Derby. For the Pirates, Gaby Sanchez is batting .229 with 5 HRs and 15 RBIs and Ike Davis is batting .234 with 5 HRs and 28 RBIs. Those numbers aren’t too great for a team who wants to make the playoffs again.
We could only wonder “what-if,” but I can assure you that the Pirates would be a much stronger squad with Morneau at first base. Maybe the Pirates will try to reacquire him for another run at the playoffs.