Baltimore Orioles Trade Rumors: Justin Morneau Isn’t Worth the Effort


Jul 8, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau (33) hits a solo home run during the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Orioles are once again in the thick of things in the American League East. A 58-48 record earns them a mere third-place ranking, but overall, they have the fifth-best record in the AL. The Orioles aren’t overly-involved in the trade rumors, but they could benefit from a move or two to further bolster their chances of making the playoffs.

Baltimore has been linked to a handful of pitchers, most notably Jake Peavy. But with Peavy, money becomes a big obstacle. The oft-injured righty is owed $24 million over the next two seasons, which is indeed a good chunk of money, money that the Orioles don’t have to toss around.

Elsewhere in the rumor mill, the Orioles have varying levels of interest in the general suspects–Bud Norris, Ervin Santana and perhaps Cliff Lee. If there’s a pitcher on the block, the Orioles will at the very least check in. That’s the protocol, and the rumors start spinning from there.

While starting pitching remains an obvious flaw, the Orioles also have a hole at designated hitter: Chris Dickerson (.685 OPS), Nolan Reimold (.586), Steve Pearce (.694), Danny Valencia (.686) and Travis Ishikawa (.284). There you have Baltimore’s DH corps, not including the recently called up Henry Urrutia, who tops the team’s DH charts with a respectable .714 OPS over a small sample size, of course.

Jul 14, 2013; Bronx, NY, USA; Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau (33) reaches on an infield single to shortstop during the fourth inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Add it all up, and the Orioles’ designated hitters rank last in the AL in pretty much every main offensive category: OPS (.643), wOBA (.280) and wRC+ (71). For you non-sabermetric fans, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage all send the same message. And for those who simply don’t like stats….Translation: Bad

So, the Orioles really couldn’t do much worse, making any addition an upgrade of some sort. But that’s not the point. If they really wanted to make a worthwhile upgrade, they’d set their sights on a proven bat, dispelling the risk factor of a “flyer pickup.” Anything else would fall under the “making a move because you have to” category.

And to potentially solve the problem…

Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Orioles had a top scout in Seattle over the weekend, presumably watching Justin Morneau and the Twins face the Mariners–perhaps they had their eyes on a few relievers too.

Connolly goes on to note that the O’s have reached out to the Twins regarding Morneau, but those talks were only, as defined by Connolly, preliminary.

Since Connolly published his report on July 27, the Morneau-to-Baltimore rumor has subdued. That may or may not have some context, because the Twins could be exploring other options for Morneau, putting the Orioles’ on hold.

In contrast, the Orioles might have backed disengaged in talks with the Twins. If this is indeed the case, then Orioles brass deserves a round of golf claps.

I know, I know, I did say that the Orioles couldn’t do worse. Trading for Morneau wouldn’t qualify as a downgrade, though, as he’s slashing .264/.324/.396.

Let’s go further into detail here:

So yes, Morneau would be an upgrade, a slight one, though. Stack his numbers up against Baltimore’s DH numbers, and yeah, they look quite good.

But let’s add some context to Morneau’s numbers. He compiled a .750 OPS in May and an .821 OPS in June along with just two homers. In April and July, meanwhile, he has posted a .653 combined OPS with six home runs.

To put that into words: He had a couple of good months, two clunkers and now, he’s trending downwards. And in the grand scheme of things, his power has plummeted, which isn’t anything new. His career ISO–which measures a hitter’s sheer power–sits at .205. But since the beginning of 2011, it’s dipped to .136.

Most baseball people chalk the power outage up to the lingering effects of a severe concussion injury that Morneau suffered in 2010 (missed 94 games), which does make some sense. As his ISO readings indicate, he hasn’t been the same since. His O-Swing%–which measures the percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside of the zone–has increased to 39.1 percent after sitting in the low to mid-30’s in the early parts of his career.

Regardless, it looks like we’ve come to a clear conclusion: Morneau isn’t worth the Orioles’ time. He wouldn’t break the banks (only owed about $6 million for the rest of the year), but even a mid-level to second-tier prospect wouldn’t be worth it. While not as seasoned, they’d be better off riding Urrutia’s hot bat until it flames out (if it does), and when/if it does, Wilson Betemit, who’s currently on the DL, could be back.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs