The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Justin Morneau from the Minnesota Twins to bolster the lineup as the team geared up for their first postseason run in 22 years. The Pirates made the playoffs and pushed the St. Louis Cardinals closer to the brink than many would have expected. However, Morneau didn’t play much of a role down the stretch leading many to wonder if the Pirates would be better off looking elsewhere for help at first base or bring their impending free agent back.
Morneau, 32, hit .260/.370/.312 with just three RBI, four doubles and six runs scored in 25 games. The former AL MVP’s best days look to be clearly behind him as injuries have sapped his production. The dilemma the Pirates face is who on the free agent market represents an upgrade?
That isn’t an easy answer. Mike Napoli would be an upgrade but he could re-sign with the Boston Red Sox. James Loney, who had a nice season with the Tampa Bay Rays could be an option. He hit .299/.348/.430 with 13 home runs, 33 doubles, 75 RBI and 54 runs scored this season. Loney’s greatest asset though is his glove and with a rotation full of ground ball pitchers, Loney might make the most sense.
The Pirates do have Gaby Sanchez but he is more of a platoon player at this point. Garrett Jones could play some first but he is another platoon bat who might be better suited for the outfield if he is even brought back. Right now, the Pirates’ best option could be to either roll the dice on Morneau on a one-year deal and hope he is willing to take it and is able to stay healthy for a full season or sign Loney. The problem with rolling the dice with Morneau is he has played over 150 games once since 2008 and with no DH in the National League there is no way to give him a little rest while keeping his bat in the lineup.
The Pirates will have some money to throw around this off-season and they are interested in signing Neil Walker to a long-term deal and bringing back a few of their own free agents. There is a chance the Pirates use their deep farm system to make a trade for a first baseman.
This was an exciting season for the Pirates and this should be the first off-season in decades that is exciting and relevant. General manager Neal Huntington will be bust this winter and he must decide if Morneau comes back or a free agent upgrade is possible. If neither is he will need to find a first baseman on the trade market. One thing is certain, the Pirates and Huntington will be busy.