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What Are The Pirates Getting In Justin Morneau?

By Matt Popchock
Justin Morneau

(Photo Credit: David Maxwell/Getty Images)

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PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — On Saturday the Pirates one-upped their own recent waiver-wire deal for the Mets’ Marlon Byrd with yet another big-name trade in an effort to emphatically end a 20-year playoff drought.

The Pirates today announced that they have acquired first baseman Justin Morneau from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for outfielder Alex Presley and a player to be named or cash considerations.

With his familiar No. 33–which belonged to legendary shortstop Honus Wagner–retired by the Pirates, he will wear No. 36 in Pittsburgh instead.

The left-handed Morneau, 32, is a four-time All-Star and was the 2006 American League MVP. He is currently batting .259 with 17 home runs and 74 RBI.

He is in the last year of a six-year, $80 million contract. In the meantime, Morneau, who missed parts of the 2010 and 2011 seasons due to concussions and other injuries, gives the Bucs more playoff experience, more power, and more options offensively while his original club continues rebuilding.

Dan Zangrilli, co-host of “Pirates Preview,” told 93.7 The Fan’s Troy Clardy the Twins were very high on pitching prospect Nick Kingham before the Pirates countered with Presley, another of their interests.

As manager Clint Hurdle said in his regular game day media scrum, this will give Presley, 28, a better opportunity to play, perhaps as a regular leadoff man in Twins manager Ron Gardenhire’s lineup. He hit .264 with a pair of home runs in 72 Major League games this year, and, in 89 contests with Triple-A Indianapolis, hit .298 with an .803 OPS, 27 RBI, 28 extra-base hits, and 56 stolen bases.

Zangrilli also reported the Pirates have the financial flexibility to assume the remainder of Morneau’s contract; otherwise, they would have been compelled ship away more talent up front.

“The numbers are good, but I don’t think they’re overwhelming. I’m not sure if he’s going to make a drastic impact, or any more of an impact than [recently acquired Mets outfielder] Marlon Byrd,” he said Saturday afternoon. “Morneau is basically, right now, like a Garrett Jones of 2012. Everything you’re getting from him, going forward, is what you’d expect to get from Garrett Jones.”

Jones, 32, once Twins property himself, had a career year playing first base and right field last season, belting 27 home runs and 86 RBI while batting .274. He hit his 100th career dinger and drove in four in Friday’s 5-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park, but prior to that, he had gone 1-for-29 with 13 strikeouts, and is batting a mere .240 with 13 homers and 47 RBI in 2013.

Furthermore, Morneau gives the Pirates more of a puncher’s chance against left-handed hitting than both corner infielders. He’s hitting .209 against all southpaws, but he’s also hitting .282 specifically against left-handed starters.

Jones is hitting just .158 against left-handed starters. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who leads the NL with 32 homers, has just three of them versus lefties of any kind, against whom he is hitting only .191.

“It makes total sense,” MLB columnist Bob Nightengale of USA Today told The Fan. “The Twins weren’t going to bring him back. They though the price was too high. Unfortunately, he has not been the same guy [since] he had those concussions. But I think he’ll have a productive September, because now he’s outside that spacious Target Field. With PNC being smaller, he should be a nice upgrade.

“It tells your players you’re trying to win, so I think it’s got as much a psychological effect as anything else.”

“I think they’re getting a hard worker,” Michael Knight of sister station 105 The Ticket in Minneapolis added. “A guy with a squeaky-clean image…a guy who wants to prove something to somebody. It may be the best thing to happen to him. He needed a fresh start.”

Knight said Morneau, who had once hoped to retire in Minnesota, had always embraced the Twins’ organizational philosophies on fundamentals and intangibles.

“It just says what they’ve been saying for a long time. It was never about the money…though [Morneau] is making a good buck,” said Pirates broadcaster Greg Brown, who believes GM Neal Huntington had been pursuing this deal for quite some time. “The last couple years, they’ve been trying to acquire players to help this team win. It’s another good baseball trade.”

It appears Morneau will be available Sunday, when the Pirates conclude their weekend series with the Cardinals at 1:35. The Pirates made room by temporarily demoting outfielder Andrew Lambo to Double-A Altoona.

The Curve are not playoff-bound, so expectations are that Lambo will promptly rejoin the big club when MLB rosters expand to 40 players Sunday.

The Pirates have also added starting right-handed pitcher Stolmy Pimentel from Indianapolis. He will be eligible for postseason play and is expected to pitch out of the bullpen. They concurrently sent reliever Jared Hughes back to the Indians.

All-Star closer Jason Grilli, meanwhile, threw a scoreless first inning in a rehab assignment for the Curve Saturday consisting of nine strikes on 13 pitches, one hit, and one strikeout.

As of publication the Bucs had not yet named a starter to face Cardinals righty Joe Kelly Sunday.

Stay tuned to SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan for the latest.

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