With Mike Napoli's contract situation becoming more iffy seemingly by the day, the Boston Red Sox have no choice but to consider other solutions for their first base conundrum.
Is he an option? If he is, what would the Red Sox have to give up to get him?
To the first question, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe thinks that Morneau could be an option, or at least that he should be. In his Sunday Baseball Notes column, he wrote: "Trading for Justin Morneau is starting to make sense for the Red Sox."
Morneau isn't as available as Morse, as the Twins don't have a capable first baseman lying around to replace him (unless they want to make Joe Mauer a full-time first baseman). But like Morse, Morneau is a free-agent-to-be, and the Twins may be willing to take what they can get for him.
Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com wrote last week that the Twins aren't looking to trade their 31-year-old first baseman this offseason after having already traded Denard Span and Ben Revere. If they do trade Morneau this year, it will probably be closer to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Thanks to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, however, we know that the Twins have at least gauged interest in Morneau this winter:
#orioles are 1 of the teams that the Twins have contacted to gauge interest in 1B Justin Morneau. Want young pitching in return (of course)— Roch Kubatko (@masnRoch) December 5, 2012
This report came out a couple of days after the Red Sox agreed to sign Napoli to a three-year contract, and a couple days before the Twins traded Revere to the Philadelphia Phillies for two young pitchers.
So basically, the Twins were gauging interest in Morneau when the Red Sox weren't in the market for a first baseman, and the Twins still needed young pitching. What held true then may not hold true now.
But more young pitching never hurt anybody, especially not rebuilding teams like the Twins. The right offer could sway Twins GM Terry Ryan to trade Morneau sooner rather than later, and the Red Sox have the pieces to make the Twins such an offer.
It's very unlikely that the Red Sox would part with either of their top two pitching prospects—right-handers Matt Barnes and Allen Webster—to acquire Morneau for what would likely only be one year, but one of their second-tier pitchers could get the job done.
To that end, right-handers Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman and left-handers Drake Britton and Brian Johnson come to mind as possibilities. All four rank outside of Boston's top-five prospects, as evaluated by Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com. Former top prospect Rubby De La Rosa, a hard-throwing right-hander, could also be an option.
The Twins already have a couple of stud right-handers waiting in the wings in Alex Meyer and Trevor May, thanks to their trades with the Nationals and the Phillies, so they could be more inclined to add a young lefty to the mix.
That, of course, would mean Britton or Johnson. The Twins could even try to talk the Red Sox into giving up 25-year-old lefty Felix Doubront, who isn't eligible for free agency until 2018.
But since these aren't the names of obvious future stars, the Twins may not be willing to deal for any of them unless they were getting something else out of the deal.
Instead of more young players, the Red Sox could offer the Twins payroll relief. Morneau is owed $14 million in 2013, and the Red Sox could entice the Twins into taking a lesser player by picking up a sizable chunk of that.
Taking on, say, a $10 million investment in a Morneau trade wouldn't exactly be chump change for the Red Sox, but it would be less than they were once willing to spend on Napoli. The average annual value of his initial contract offer was $13 million.
The Red Sox would stand to get a steal if the deal were to be structured this way. After posting a .773 OPS and hitting 19 homers in 134 games in 2012, Morneau is on record saying that he's "miles ahead of where I've been the last two years." He could be on track to have a return-to-form season in 2013.
Morneau will also have the added motivation of playing for a new contract in 2013. It's going to be his 32-year-old season, and he knows that Adam LaRoche just got a multi-year deal after his 32-year-old season. Morneau may figure that he could do the same.
If Morneau were to struggle with his health again in 2013 and fail to put up numbers, the deal wouldn't be a total catastrophe for the Red Sox. They would still have their top prospects, and they wouldn't be dealing with a situation where they'd have to keep paying Morneau a high salary for years to come.
On the flip side, if Morneau were to put himself in a position to earn a multi-year deal with a big season in 2013, the Red Sox could make him a qualifying offer, wait for him to reject it and then end up with a draft pick that they could use to replace the prospect that they sent to Minnesota in the first place.
This would be the ideal scenario for the Red Sox. But for the Twins? Maybe not so much.
Since the Twins are apparently perfectly willing to wait until the trade deadline to move Morneau, his $14 million salary may not be weighing that much on their minds. And if so, they may be willing to eat a large portion of it for the sake of getting a better prospect in a trade.
That would mean at least Ranaudo, but the Twins would more likely demand Webster or Barnes, even if it meant having to sweeten the deal with an expendable player from their major league roster.
Judging from their habits this winter, I highly doubt that the Red Sox would do a trade like that. Their farm system developed into one of the best in the league in 2012. Taking a significant chunk out of it just to land Morneau for a year wouldn't be a very good idea.
Especially not while the alternative is Morse, who Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com has said could possibly be had for a lefty reliever and "young talent" of any kind. If that means that a deal could be done for Andrew Miller or Craig Breslow and a lower-end prospect, the Red Sox would probably make that deal before giving up a significant prospect for Morneau, regardless of the financials.
So if a trade between the Twins and Red Sox is going to happen, it will probably involve the Red Sox taking on a lot of money and surrendering a decent prospect rather than the Twins eating a lot of money and taking on a top prospect.
It's not like the Twins would have all the leverage in talks with the Red Sox. They could always step away and pursue Morse instead. Also, let's not forget that Napoli is still out there waiting to be signed.
Though at this point, that sounds like the worst of Boston's options.
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