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Morneau unlikely to re-sign, so now what? And why aren’t kids watching baseball?

LEBO – While not shocking, Justin Morneau informed me today via email that the Pirates will not be offering him a contract extension during the exclusive negotiating window teams have with their own free agents until Monday.

 

“They have said they don’t expect to do anything before the window is closed but are still interested,” Morneau wrote. “My options are wide open. I just have to figure out what the best opportunity is for myself and my family and also the opportunity to win. I enjoyed my time in Pittsburgh and enjoyed my teammates and atmosphere there.”

 

Morneau and the Pirates haven’t ruled each other out, but my sense is the Pirates will be looking elsewhere for first base help . My sense is they are probably Plan Bs or Cs for each other.

Morneau batted .260 with 0 HRs and three RBIs as a Pirate in September after being acquired in a Aug. 31 trade with the

 

The Pirates’ first basemen finished 25th in baseball in home runs (17) and RBIs (71).

 

The Pirates might also cut ties with Garrett Jones who is entering his third year of arbitration and made $4.5 million last season. The Pirates must make a decision on whether to tender him a contract by early December.

 

First base and right field are the primary areas in need of offensive upgrades but unlike the outfield, where Jose Tabata is under contract and Gregory Polanco is an impact prospect and nearly ready there are no such internal options at first base unless you believe in Andrew Lambo or believe Gaby Sanchez is more than a platoon player. (Sanchez is entering his second year of arbitration but made just $1.75 million last year, below the MLB average salary of $3.2 million).

We’ve addressed how the free agent market for first baseman is weak earlier this month and made weaker by Cuban defector Jose Abreu agreeing to a deal earlier this month. The Pirates liked Abreu but apparently weren’t interested in matching the White Sox’ offer. James Loney  could be a cheap part of a platoon and Lance Berkman had his optioned declined Thursday if you believe he has anything left.

 

Perhaps a trade is the more realistic avenue to a acquiring an impact bat at first base.

 

And Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal (not the Diamond of Guns, Germs and Steel) threw out a speculative name Thursday:

 

 

Davis is entering his age 27 seasons and is coming of a really awful season, so it could be a good time to buy low on a young player who can take a walk and hit 32 home runs in 2012. Davis has some Adam LaRoche to his game. Perhaps he’d be a late bloomer. He’s entering his second year of arbitration and made $3.1 million last year.

 

WHY AREN’T KIDS WATCHING BASEBALL?

 

Some troubling numbers from the Wall Street Journal on the youth’s lack of interest in watching the World Series

 

The average World Series viewer this year is 54.4 years old, according to Nielsen, the media research firm. The trend line is heading north: The average age was 49.9 in 2009. Kids age 6 to 17 represented just 4.3% of the average audience for the American and National League Championship Series this year, compared with 7.4% a decade ago.

 

What’s behind this this? In our microwave, iPhone, want-in-now society perhaps the game needs to quicken its pace? I’ve always thought this rule should be in place:

 

Once batters step into the box, they shouldn’t be allowed to step out. Otherwise it’s a strike.

 

Whatever the reason, the game’s fanbase has become too gray:

 

Something has to give here. If baseball were a stock, analysts would applaud its earnings growth—roughly double the past 10 years to nearly $8 billion—but they would warn about the long-term prospects, especially since so much of its business relies on TV revenue.

- TS

Comments

  1. Jim S. says:

    I think Morneau has lost it. I don’t mean to be cruel, but we are expected to contend again next year and we don’t need any more shortstops in our lineup. I would try a combo of Lambo and Gaby before Morneau and Gaby. Clint progressed quite a bit on the analytical side this year, but he still has occasional “blind spots” with veterans like Morneau. I guess he’s a little better than average defensively at 1b, but that is the one position I don’t worry about defense so much. I think people in Pittsburgh way overstated his catch and pitch play to clinch the winning season at Wrigley. I’d be ok with Loney as a complement to Gaby as well.

    Ike Davis? I haven’t researched it much, but isn’t he a big strikeout, low OBP guy? I’d make a play for Dunn before him.

    The demographics for baseball continue to skew older. I just think that kids expect everything to move at such a fast pace these days. They like video baseball more than the real thing because it moves faster. They do need to speed up the pace of the game. While they continue to pat old Bud Selig on the back for his accomplishments at lining their pockets with money, maybe these owners ought to task him with figuring out how to shave 30 minutes off each game. There are things that can be done, such as not allowing the batters to step out and forcing pitchers to throw the next pitch in a certain amount of time or be assessed with a ball, etc. I’m sure there are other ways. It can be done. Will that bring kids back? I honestly don’t know at this point. It’s a start, though. My 12 year old plays 50-60 games per year, goes with me to MLB parks all the time and loves it, and then can only hang in for a few innings at a time on TV before he goes to his phone. And he adores baseball. We’ve lost most kids.

  2. Chris says:

    Don’t leave Alex Dickerson out of the mix. Seems to take a while to get adjusted to each level but has had 2 back to back very successful seasons. If he is hitting well come June he could be called up. Going into 2013 Jonathan Mayo had him as a top 10 1B prospect.
    Has anyone seen Ike Davis’ hitting mechanics and not wondered why he struggles? The Pirates scouts have to be smarter than to go after Ike.

  3. Jim S. says:

    True, Chris. Dickerson is another internal possibility. I’d find out about Lambo first myself, though. I am intrigued by the 32 homers last year between AA/AAA, with the better stats coming at AAA. Lambo could be the Jones replacement hybrid RF/1B, if need be.

  4. Jim S. says:

    Let me correct myself somewhat on Ike Davis. He certainly has not hit for a high average, but he is actually a big walk guy. If he can hit .240 (big “if” after last year), he would put up a very nice OBP. Not unlike Dunn in that regard.

  5. I have to concur that baseball is way too slow. And I love the game. After watching the replay of the 1960 World Series game 7 on MLB, I was amazed at how the batters and pitchers did not fidget between pitches and cause endless delays. It was so much more interesting to see the game at a faster pace.
    Thoughts on creating more interest for baseball growth…..
    1. Use of a “pitch clock” similar to the 24 second clock in basketball.
    2. Limit the amount of “timeouts” like other sports. (Visits to the mound by a catcher.)
    3. Limit the amount of pitching changes per 9 inning game? Controversial, but I’m sick
    of the managers making changes with one guy pitching specialists.
    4. More day games. Workplace comes alive when day games are on. It involves the
    casual fan and creates office chatter about baseball. Also may get more kids watching.

    I would like to hear what others have to say.

  6. steelkings says:

    A year ago we would have been clamoring for Justin Morneau. And what did he do to screw up his relationship with the Pirates? He hit .265 in the month he was with the Pirates and .292 in the post season…Just awful

  7. Ghost says:

    I was quite happy with Morneau. His HR/RBI power outage for the month he was with us was disappointing, but it’s not like he’ll never hit another home run. However, it’s precisely because he still has mileage in him that the Bucs aren’t wasting their or his time. Other teams out there are surely going to offer him more years and money than we can afford. Meanwhile, we have pitchers we want back, like A.J. and Wandy. Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez are at least candidates to have their arb years bought out. And Marlon Byrd should be offered a 1-and-1 or 2 year deal to bridge the gap between him Polanco’s anticipated arrival.

  8. NMR says:

    Unless “we” consists of people who have not watched baseball since 2010, no we wouldn’t have.

  9. NMR says:

    Red Sox and Rays are the only teams that broke .500 in ’13 without a 1B heading into ’14. Not a huge money market for platoon first basemen on the downside of their career.

    Morneau won’t get more than two years on the open market.

  10. NMR says:

    Hey Jim, Davis is a guy with major mechanical issues that hasn’t shown the ability to adjust. The league has simply learned to pound the holes in his swing. Much more of a major project than a bounce back kind of guy.
    .
    If the team wants to go the bounce back route, Garrett Jones seems like the far more likely candidate. I mean, has anybody even come up with reasons why Jones slumped so bad this year? He’ll be non-tendered, but we know he won’t be anything more than a platoon outfielder or bench bat to other teams, and those kind of players don’t make big money. Seems likely you could bring Jones back for less than he mae in ’13.

  11. NMR says:

    The 1B/RF decision really can’t be made until payroll limits are set. The team is sitting around $63m right now, including projected arbitration for just about everyone but Jones. If Burnett is the first target, that already puts them over $75m. I’m not sure we can count on much more than an $80m payroll until we see how the new TV money is distributed.
    .
    That means there may not be many chickens left for the 1B/RF positions.
    .
    One thing 2013 taught us is that the Pirates can absolutely be successful WITHOUT even average contributions from 1B and RF. It happened. Thats fact. We also know it wouldn’t have been possible WITHOUT an excellent pitching staff. Even with Burnett back, I think a starting pitcher still has to be priority.
    .
    Morneau is the safe pick at 1B, but only if on a 1 yr deal and strictly platooned with Gaby Sanchez. But I think Daric Barton of the A’s could very likely give you just as much value for far less money. Possibly even a minor league deal. Otherwise, I don’t see any realistic targets given budget constraints.
    .
    In RF, I’d go after David Murphy as a lefty compliment to Jose Tabata. Fairly similar players, with Murphy providing a bit more power and defense. Maybe take a chance on Franklin Gutierrez, if he’s healthy. Pirates would easily have the best defensive outfield in baseball.

  12. Jim S. says:

    0 HR and 3 RBI from a guy we expected to be a middle of the lineup hitter. He played every day while this team struggled to score runs. 1b is an offense-first position. Justin Morneau used to be a good hitter. He has not been even an average hitter for a 1b in a long time.

  13. Jim S. says:

    Yeah, that’s probably true of Davis NMR.

    I don’t necessarily want to close the door on Jones, either. But, I think he is now going to be priced out of the market relative to what we think he offers at this point in time. He is a good candidate for a bounce back.

  14. Nate83 says:

    Lambo didn’t look completely loss during his time up last year. I don’t see how he doesn’t get a really good look at 1B next year in spring training.
    .
    I’m also OK with Loney. He’s the type of player that won’t hurt you. He won’t just disappear for a few months like Jones did last year. Kind of a low risk/low reward type guy. You know what you are getting which is better then last year.
    .
    NRM was correct above in stating that Jones may be the best bounce back 1B in the entire league. This time last year we couldn’t wait to have him back. I would much rather see him then a Lance Berkman type or Ike Davis lottery ticket. It would stink to see him bounce back for somebody else. Nobody knows better then Hurdle and the front office if Jones issues last year can be fixed and he can return closer to his 2012 version. Keeping Jones will bring a lot of complaints from fans but may in the end be the best move.

  15. Nate83 says:

    Is Tabata’s power numbers the reason many are worried about right field? I personally like what he brings to the team and wouldn’t mind seeing what he could give us over a full season. He just now turned 25 years old so some of the questionable effort issues in the past may have just been immaturity. I like what he showed last year and I don’t believe the Pirates have the payroll to fill a starting pitching hole, first base and right field. Right field at least in my eyes is a distant 3rd on that list in terms of importance/need.

  16. NMR says:

    With you on this one, buddy, but a full season of Tabata seems like a bit of a pipe dream given his injury concerns. When healthy, he’s a fine option in RF for this team given the priorities you laid out.
    .
    I think something fans are going to have to come to terms with is the reality of the players set in the lineup and the overall offensive needs of the team. They have to get on base more, and it would help to make more contact. 1B and RF are the only likely positions in which to fill these needs. Reality is that you simply are not going to find a guy that does both of those things AND has the steroetypical corner OF/1B power. Those guys are also known as superstars.

  17. NMR says:

    Really like your angle, Tom.
    .
    Pitch clock must happen. Simply nothing gained, from player or audience perspective, by drawing at-bats out like are these days. The next two I’m not as fond of since I believe they would have actual impacts on the outcome of games. Strategy is part of what makes baseball great. I would, however, limit the length of time given for those two things. A reliever doesn’t need to spend a couple minutes throwing to the catcher after he just warmed up in the pen. A coach doesn’t need to take a minute just to walk his butt back to the dugout.
    .
    Day games are an interesting idea, if only becaus it seems to go against current thinking. I would have to agree with your office experience.
    .
    The biggest thing baseball needs to appeal to a broader, younger audience is to let the game be fun! Too much of this tough guy, unwritten rule schtick. Did I grow up playing like Yasiel Puig or Bryce Harper? No way. But that doesn’t mean change is bad. These young, often Latin American players bring an incredible energy that is impossible to ignore. We should be celebrating these players, not the washed up veterans telling them to get off their lawn.

  18. Jim S. says:

    Must admit, I liked the Tabata of the last 6 weeks or so of the regular season. If that guy is now the full-time Tabata, I am fine with him holding down RF until Polanco proves he is ready to take over. Throw Lambo into the mix occasionally against tougher righties, and I have no problem with that. But, the caveat is, I think we have to admit that the Tabby of the last 6 weeks of the season has not always been the Tabby we have gotten in Pittsburgh. He is not that far removed from being sent to Indy due to effort and maturity issues. Hopefully, at 25, he is now 100% serious about his career and what it takes to become a very productive player. The tools are there. He’s a decent leadoff guy when he is going well.

  19. Nate83 says:

    He looked to me to be a pretty motivated player the last two months of the season. He ran the bases hard and showed great emotion when he contributed. His reputation hurts him immensely and when he does something that maybe others do as well it gets noticed. He also has kind of a thick body type. It makes him look a lot less athletic then he actually is.

  20. BostonsCommon says:

    Is there any chance Polanco breaks camp with the Pirates? All reports are that he’s a much more advanced hitter than Marte was at that point… maybe even at this point?
    .
    It’s certainly unlikely, and I get that… But is there anything he can do to push their decision? I sure he’s in Indy until June. I just hate the idea of not breaking camp with the best 25.
    .
    Felt the same way about Cole last year too for that matter. Even though he still needed some work.

  21. Jim S. says:

    If it gives them another year of control, I don’t see it happening BC. I hear you that he may be ready in the spring. He is certainly tearing up the Dominican Winter (or, is it Fall?) League, for what that is worth. I keep reading that the Pirates are still very interested in Marlon Byrd. If they felt they were going to immediately add Polanco to the existing mix of Tabata, Lambo, possibly GIJ, I don’t think they would feel the need to even entertain thoughts of adding Marlon or anyone else to that mix.

    Plus, Polanco did not spend much time at AAA this year, and he did not dominate in his short time there. Hopefully, he’ll do that from the start next year and make a late June call-up a certainty. I believe they feel they need a stable RF situation from Day 1, and would not ask such a young guy to immediately step in and be major league ready right away, given the assumption they will be contending again.

  22. Jim S. says:

    And, I’m just giving you my opinion of how I believe the Pirates are approaching this. I am as excited as you to see this kid get to PNC.

  23. NMR says:

    Boston, you’re pretty sabermetrically open minded, right?
    .
    One thing about WAR that is interesting to me is that it has the effect of putting time value on personnel moves. The absolute best players in the game aren’t worth more than around one extra win per month, which frankly makes sense logically. Polanco, as a rookie, would probably meet everyones expectations if he was a 3-win player over the course of an entire season.
    .
    You do the math, and 2 1/2 months of Tabata MIGHT cost you a couple wins. I just don’t think sacrificing a year of Polanco in his prime is worth that.

  24. Nate83 says:

    Not to mention Tabata was a 1.2 WAR player in just 300 at bats last year. Probably making him a 2.0 WAR player for a full season which means he outplayed his contract. For the value he is better then almost anything they can get on the open market. Money should be spent elsewhere and consider him our Jon Jay who had a 1.5 WAR last year.

  25. NMR says:

    Exactly, Nate.
    .
    I don’t necessarily have a problem with bringing in somebody else for the outfield, but if money is tight, it almost certainly looks like it could be better utilized elsewhere.

  26. NMR says:

    Thinking more about Lambo. Isn’t his more comparable to Jordy Mercer than Garrett Jones?
    .
    Jones had reached career minor leaguer stage and was given a chance on a team with nothing to lose. Mercer forced the teams hand, despite his known warts, when the current starter wasn’t cutting it. Lambo is younger and more talented than either of those guys and has a tool (power) that is greater than any one thing those guys brought to the table.
    .
    Scott Van Slyke and Darin Ruf were both high K, big power “AAAA” types that go about 450 at bats between them on teams with resources that blow the Pirates away. All they did was combine for 21 HR with an OPS over .800.

  27. Nate83 says:

    I honestly didn’t pay much attention to Lambo until last year. When looking into his career path and raw ability he seems to have a pretty good ceiling as a player. He made some mistakes while younger but has seemed to get things turned around since then. It really wouldn’t make sense to not give him a chance to stick in right field or first base.
    .
    I think you are spot on with your comment of him being more like Mercer then Jones and also with the fact that his power is a +++ tool. If he can play first he is cheaper then Ike Davis and seems to be capable of producing close to or better then a player of that caliber.

  28. Nate83 says:

    I just looked into how much discussion has gone on about Lambo at first and sure enough just 2 hours ago something was posted saying he has been playing first during winter ball. It looks like the Pirates are at least looking into maximizing their assets. No reason to have Tabata, Polanco and Lambo all options in right and not have a single option at first against right handed pitchers.

  29. BostonsCommon says:

    Off topic, but is there was a way to quantify the value of a player, relative to the lineup he’s in?
    .
    Example: if you take Cutche’s 8.2 WAR season out of the Pirates lineup, is that team still going to win 86 games?
    .
    I’d argue the impact he has on the Pirates lineup is much greater than it would be to the Cardinals, assuming the same production.
    .
    But to your point, I agree with that line of thinking. There’s really no reason not to stash Polanco in AAA until June. And it’s definitely worth it to see if Tabata can find some consistency.
    .
    It wouldn’t take much in terms of health and consistency for Tabata’s contract to really be worth something in trade value.

  30. NMR says:

    Boston, as I understand it – and that is admitedly very little – WAR is independant of external factors. The whole basis is to estimate individual value, which is why the “replacement level” player is used as the point of reference. I’d guess that sabermetrists would tell you Cutch is worth 8.2 wins regardless of the lineup around him.
    .
    I, personally, do not apply a 1:1 relationship between WAR and actual games won, as you’re asking. Doesn’t mean I’m right and sabermetrists are wrong, I just personally don’t trust it that closely.
    .
    I use WAR as a flag for players I don’t know much about as it is an easy estimate of their value outside of the big hitting stats.

  31. NMR says:

    I admittedly lost interest in Lambo after Jmac imediately showed such good stuff after coming over in 2010. Figured he was the talented one in that trade, even though both had been top prospects.
    .
    Frankly, I was mistaking Lambo for that guy we got from San Francisco in the Javy Lopez deal until probably May.

  32. JimBibbySweat says:

    I’d rather have Ron Davis at first base than Ike. Can you imagine the cumulative punchouts between Davis and Alvarez? Let’s keep lookin’

  33. RobertoForever says:

    Jones slumped because Hurdle didn’t show confidence in him. Garrett is an introvert and he needs to have his manager believe in him. When he feels that he is a throwaway, and the manager doesn’t believe in him, his confidence is shaken and he really presses. When the manager defines a contributory role for Garrett and ‘hands him the keys’ he thrives. But getting taken out in the sixth for ‘defense’ and sitting against RHPs messes with him.

  34. Bill says:

    Honestly, I would be happy if the Pirates platooned Andrew Lambo and Gaby Sanchez at first. If Lambo hits, then he should get most of the playing time. There really are not any good free agent options at first.

    The Pirates should spend their money on Nelson Cruz or Byrd to play right field. Either one would be a good number 5 hitter. Sanchez/Lambo would bat 6th.

  35. JoeyBats says:

    Remember this guys……Mr. Tabata is full of “IF’s” ….and “BUT’s” ….and “MAYBE’s” …. ;-)….
    .
    It’s all about his health and attitude and ability to deliver over a full season.
    .
    Please….show us all the SUSTAINED RESULTS for Tabby…then we can believe……

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