Blue Jays: Justin Morneau an intriguing, risky free agent option


The Toronto Blue Jays will soon be making headlines of a different variety, for better or for worse, when the MLB free agent period opens. Their paper-thin starting rotation will be the primary area of need over the next several months, not to mention some patchwork required in the bullpen, but the newly-available Justin Morneau could interest the Blue Jays as a strategic shift to their batting order.

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Now 34 years old, the former league MVP is set to hit the open market after the Colorado Rockies declined their half of a mutual $9 million option for the 2016 season. The first hurdle to clear with the B.C. native is getting a read on where his head’s at entering free agency. Both mentally and physically.

Morneau missed significant time in 2010 and 2011 with concussions, and spent a good chunk of the 2015 season on the 60-day disabled list after suffering whiplash along with another concussion on May 13th. His health later in life and outside of baseball will be given heavy consideration, but for Morneau’s part, he’s expressed his desire to continue playing.

“As of right now, I’m playing with the goal to continue playing, and continue my career,” Morneau told Nick Groke of the Denver Post upon his return this past season. “I can see the future, but right now I just want to go out there and continue to enjoy it every day.”

As long as everything on that end gets a green light, Morneau could fit the narrow group of players that Toronto would consider as a straight addition to their batting order. Upgrades or adjustments via trade remain a possibility, but if the Blue Jays look to add from free agency, my belief has been that a left-handed contact bat would be ideal. Enter Morneau.

While he’s no longer the league-wide star he once was, when Morneau is able to stick in the lineup he still represents a steady and professional bat. In 49 games this past season, he managed a triple-slash of .310 / .363 / .458. Morneau posted an impressive .319 average the year prior in 135 games, hitting for greater power with 17 home runs, 32 doubles and 81 RBI.

The Blue Jays inability to advance runners or succeed situationally with a contact-first approach at the plate ended up sinking them in the ALCS, and while it’s clearly not as simple as “Morneau in, problem gone”, his bat and plate discipline would be a likely upgrade from Chris Colabello or Justin Smoak. Through 550 plate appearances in 2014, Morneau struck out just 60 times.

Past Morneau’s wildcard market value and health concerns, though, his defense would be cause for concern. The landslide of calls for a Morneau signing over the past 24 hours are properly highlighting his offensive upside, but what would his addition do to the 1B/DH situation? Having Morneau in the field is not ideal, but if he’s given DH duty, that forces Edwin Encarnacion into the field. Again, far from ideal.

This may be a case of a square peg and a round hole. The landscape could dramatically shift under the new leadership of Mark Shapiro, but even in the current picture, the potential impact of his bat makes Morneau a homegrown name worth monitoring.

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