August 31, 2013
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Justin Morneau shares a laugh with Garrett Jones in the dugout during a game against the Cardinals on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, at PNC Park.
Not only do the Pirates hope Justin Morneau will add an impact bat to the club's postseason chase, but manager Clint Hurdle also hopes his new first baseman — acquired in a trade Saturday with the Twins — provides a clubhouse-wide, and perhaps city-wide, “adrenaline” spike.
“You could see players' eyes light up,” Hurdle said. “It gives everyone a smack on the back: ‘Let's go. Let's ride.' Sometimes you think: ‘If they, if they.' Well, OK, (the front office) showed up. They have pushed more chips in for you.”
Over the past five days, the Pirates' front office has attempted to bolster its club's stagnant offense for a push to October.
To acquire Morneau, a former AL MVP, the Pirates sent the Twins Triple-A outfielder Alex Presley and a player to be named later or cash considerations. It was the second significant offensive addition in a week by the Pirates to improve an offense with glaring deficiencies, particularly on the right side of the field.
Morneau had to approve the trade because he has more than 10 years of major league service and at least five of those years coming with the Twins. Morneau, 32, wanted to be part of a postseason chase.
Morneau's plane landed at 7:50 p.m. Saturday, and he arrived at PNC Park in the sixth inning of the Pirates' 7-1 win over the Cardinals.
“A first-place team is always something you're exited to be a part of,” said Morneau, a native Canadian who was drafted by the Twins in 1999. “The way they play the game, I had a lot of respect for that. I've been watching from the other league and paying attention. They've been very solid. Hopefully it's a long run and a fun run. … There's a lot of adrenaline, a lot of emotion I haven't had in a while.”
The Pirates will take on the remainder of Morneau's contract, about $2.5 million. Morneau is a free agent after the season.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said he felt “compelled” to improve the club, noting the historic context of the season.
“We've watched this club work hard and do a lot of really good things this year,” Huntington said. “We felt this move gives us a better chance to play in October, a better chance to win the division and a better chance to advance deep into October. We felt we are at an interesting point in the franchise's history. These are not moves we want to make habits of.”
The Pirates gave up significant prospects in second baseman Dilson Herrera and relief pitcher Vic Black to the Mets for free-agents-to-be Marlon Byrd and John Buck on Tuesday. Huntington said the player to be named later in the deal for Morneau is “significant.”
The Pirates were able to complete the trade after the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline because Morneau cleared waivers. The Pirates were interested in Morneau before the deadline, but Huntington said the price was too high and has since declined.
Due to the Pirates' low position on the waiver wire, Huntington said there was a real concern the club would be “shut out” on the August waiver wire.
But Huntington's gamble worked out: He avoided paying inflated prices at the July trade deadline and added two significant bats without giving up one of the organization's elite prospects.
Morneau is not what he was from 2005-09 when he never hit fewer than 23 home runs or drove in fewer than 100 runs. He won the 2006 AL MVP.
He dealt with post-concussion issues in 2010 and '11 that have led to a decrease in production.
But Morneau has hit nine home runs in August and is batting .259 with 17 homers and 74 RBI on the season. Huntington believes Morneau's second-half improvement is real.
“Our (scouts) have seen a mechanical adjustment as a reason why he's hit nine home runs in the month of August,” Huntington said. “We have some confidence he'll be able to keep that going forward, especially when he gets out here to the Clemente Wall.”
Hurdle declined to comment on whether Morneau would be an everyday first baseman. He has an .831 OPS against right-handed pitching but a .536 OPS against left-handed pitching.
Coincidentally, first baseman Garrett Jones, a former Twin and friend of Morneau's, was blocked in Minnesota by Morneau, eventually leading to his move to Pittsburgh. Jones now figures to be blocked by Morneau again.
“It is what it is,” Jones said. “When I'm in there, I have to do what I can. … (Morneau) is an easy-going guy. He fits in perfectly with us. He'll mesh well.”
Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.
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