Blue Jays targeting Morneau?

It was reported today that A-squared had made serious enquiries about Justin Morneau. Some random thoughts on JM in a Jays uniform:

The Ugly

These days, any discussion of Justin has to start with his health. His performance after the concussion he suffered on July 7, 2010 was dramatically affected – his 2011 OPS of .618 was over 200 points lower than his career average of ~.850 and over 400 points lower than his pre-injury OPS in 2010 of 1.055.

And JM has implied pretty strongly that if the concussion symptoms persist, he will retire.

The Bad

Even putting the injury issue aside, there are red flags that the Jays would have to consider in trading for Justin.

Morneau’s career line in the Rogers’ Centre is .207/.258/.437/.695. This is his lowest OPS in any AL park.

Over his career, he has a very good .294/.363/.529/.892 line in the first half of the season. In the second half, these figures drop significantly to .259/.333/.453./786. A difference of 70 points in SLG and over 100 points in OPS is troubling, especially for a team like the Jays that hope to be a contender in the second half.

The Good

There is no question that, when on his game, JM is a top-tier 1B. MVP in 2006 and second in MVP voting in 2008, four times an all-star, and from 2008-2010 he was top-10 among MLB first basemen in WAR, OPS, and BA.

So far in 2012, his batting line is .241/.313/.489/.801, despite a BABIP of only .252. Assuming that, in time, the BABIP will normalize to something closer to his career average of .291, Justin could be performing at something close to his career .280/.351/.498/.849. To put that in context – a .498 SLG and .849 OPS would both have been in the top 15 in the AL in 2011.

There are also good signs about his power. As Jeff Zimmerman of fangraphs noted in April 2012, Morneau’s power declined significantly in 2011 and early 2012 from his previous career averages. His fly balls and home runs, for example, decreased from an average distance of 291 feet from 2007-2010 to 267 feet in 2011/early 2012. However, he has since recovered much of that power – so far in 2012, he has averaged 294 feet on FB/HR – even better than his previous average.

Another advantage is Justin’s contract, which covers 2013 as well as 2012. This means that if the Jays do not sign him long-term but make a qualifying offer at the end of 2013, they would receive a compensation pick. Given the smaller number of such picks under the new system, it is likely that this pick would be ~35th overall, which would be extremely valuable.

In addition, Justin bats left, which fits nicely with Bautista/Lawrie/Encarnacion, all of whom bat right.

And of course, the point that is so frequently made – Justin was born in New Westminster, BC. So he is Canajan, eh? This can only help ticket sales and fan interest.

The Bottom Line

Morneau seems like the kind of player that A-squared would target: some risk, but significant upside. And given his injury concerns, it is unlikely that the Twins would expect the sun and the moon for him in terms of prospects.

In a recent analysis, a writer put the price of a “Level I” free agent as one top-50 prospect plus 2-3 other prospects that include either another top-100 prospect, a near-major-league-ready starter or a younger high-ceiling prospect. Put in Jays terms, this could mean something like a Gose/Marisnick + McGuire + Cooper.

Possible? I for one would seriously consider it.

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