Last night, we learned that the Yankees were still interested in the Twins’ first baseman Justin Morneau. The left-handed slugger is at the end of a 6 year $80 million contract with the Twins, and it looks like Minnesota is willing to trade their one-time 2006 MVP.
Last week, Morneau cleared waivers, making him eligible to be traded through the end of August, and the Yankees are said to be monitoring his availability. But Morneau has produced just a .267/.321/.431 slash over his 2013 season, and that’s after putting up a .773 OPS in 2012 and a .618 OPS in 2011. There’s no doubt that the first baseman is far from his early career production, but there are quite a few splits that the Yankees could take advantage of.
81 of the Twins games are played in the pitcher friendly Target Field. His home ballpark, which opened in 2010, is believed to be one of the factors in his recent power decline. The stadium holds lefties to an 81 home run rate (where 100 is average), and due to that, Statcorner gives him a .338 park adjusted wOBA. Comparatively, Lyle Overbay has produced a .310 park adjusted wOBA in his 2013 season.
So while Morneau may be a slight offensive upgrade over Overbay, keep in mind that both players will likely be held to platooning against right-handed pitchers. In 2013, Overbay has posted a 117 wRC+ against righties, while Morneau has a 128 wRC+. Again, Morneau wins this round, but the differences aren’t that extensive. In fact, when you start factoring in defense and base running, the two players seem extremely even. Dropping Overbay for an injury-prone first baseman just doesn’t make sense.
But there is a spot in the lineup for a left-handed power bat. With Travis Hafner on the shelf for the foreseeable future, the Yankees lack a left-handed designated hitter. Alfonso Soriano has been called upon to DH against right-handed pitchers, and although he’s been successful, Morneau’s left-handed pop in Yankee Stadium is much more enticing. Soriano is not a bad hitter against righties, but his 95 wRC+ is below average, and Morneau’s 128 wRC+ would represent a significant upgrade.
With rosters expanding to 40 players on September 1st, the Yankees no longer have to worry about cutting players. The team could deal with a shorter bullpen or gamble with a limited bench over the last week of September, and in place get a great left-handed option for the last month of baseball.
The team seems to be making a run for the playoffs, and they’re going to need every bit of baseball out of every player. Unless a handful of teams falls apart, the Yankees probably need to put up a .700 winning percentage to catch up with the rest of the American League. The way they’ve been playing, it’s a slim possibility. Through the last 2 weeks, they’ve been accomplishing just that, and adding a left-handed designated hitter would certainly help.