Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer needed on Rockies roster and are best where they are

Rob Tringali

Former Twins Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer were subject to a lot of offseason doubt but the Rockies need them both on the roster and right where they are.

Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer should stay right where they are.

If you polled both fans and media members -- local and national -- about the Rockies off season before the season-proper started, the one response that is likely to come up more than all the others is a feeling that the Rockies missed an opportunity to get better by signing Morneau to play first base, thereby stranding Cuddyer in right field.

Additionally, if you conducted that same poll (or one we actually did right here of staff members at Purple Row) you would find that Cuddyer is overwhelmingly the most popular candidate to decline/regress this season.

It's entirely possible that we were all right, despite Cuddyer's blazing hot start. In ten games he is hitting (holy crap!) .414/.444/.732, good for a 1.176 OPS and 206 wRC+. Obviously a small sample size, but Cuddyer seems determined to prove that last year was no flash in the pan. He is making contact on a whopping 93 percent of balls thrown in the strike zone.

We all know these numbers won't hold up over the course of the season, but it's certainly a promising sign that Cuddyer hasn't lost it, at least not yet.

Of course, with him, the question was always one of defensive priorities. While his below average foot speed does cause some issues in the outfield, his good instincts and strong arm allow him to be mostly serviceable with a few exceptions that are mostly rare occurrences. Fangraphs has his defensive WAR at -0.5, his offense at +5.5.

This is where Morneau comes in. I was unfamiliar with his defensive stylings when the Rockies penned him to a contract, but I like what I'm seeing so far. In particular, his ability to dig out bouncers at first may be one of the most underrated talents on the team.

This pitching staff has been assembled specifically for inducing ground balls. Bringing in Brett Anderson with Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge de la Rosa and Tyler Chatwood is further evidence of that. Also, there are two gold gloves on the left side with Troy Tulowitzki and Nolan Arenado, and a gold glove caliber defender at second in DJ LeMahieu.

In other words, so much time and effort has been put into creating, and then making a certain kind of play. Not backing all that up with a very solid defensive first baseman with thousands of reps digging balls out of the dirt would be like building a basketball team with an exceptional defensive capabilities that can't rebound. You have to finish the play.

I think Morneau's defensive value is largely being overlooked because of the history of viewing first base as an offense first position -- especially when it comes to power, which Morneau has yet to exhibit as a Rockie. However, his defense is the final piece to the ground-ball puzzle and is integral toward maximizing the best attributes of this specifically assembled team.

Putting Cuddyer at first may have ultimately been a better allocation of offensive resources, but things look good so far for Morneau. He has been hitting fine so far (.357/.457/.452, 90.2 percent contact rate on balls in the strike zone) and swings and misses only 6 percent of the time. That kind of contact will get you hits anywhere, especially over a full season at Coors Field.

Those are nice numbers, but it's early. It's entirely possible that we were all right before the season and this pairing/reunion/allocation of resources is indeed a faulty one.

Or we might all be wrong. We might have overdone our reactions to being frustrated at being sold on these guys for their "character" and forgot that they are both very good baseball players who are good at doing things that help teams win baseball games, even if those things don't always show up in the stat sheet. Morneau's excellent digging abilities are a perfect example.

There was a play in the Miami series in which Cuddyer was playing first in a spot start and was pulled slightly off the bag, missing what would have been the third out as a run scored. I thought Cuddyer got back to the bag in time but replay was inconclusive. My eye test tells me that Justin Morneau would have gotten that ball and kept that (at the time) pivotal run off the board.

Because of that, if nothing else, I bet Troy Tulowitzki, Nolan Arenado, and DJ LeMahieu are glad the Rockies brought in Morneau and are largely keeping Cuddyer where he belongs.

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