The Colorado Rockies may not yet be set on a Ben Paulsen-Mark Reynolds first base platoon for 2016, if weekend speculation from the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo is to be believed. According to the sportswriter, the club may still find a fit with another free agent first baseman, and it's one fans at Coors Field know well: Justin Morneau.
Cafardo links Morneau to the Rockies in a brief blurb among a larger number of updates on free agents and trade rumors (that include the likes of Carlos Gonzalez) in his Saturday column:
Justin Morneau is a player you haven’t heard much about in free agency. He’s had his concussion issues, but it appears that Morneau, 34, still wants to play after being limited to 49 games last season. The Rockies could re-sign him, and a team such as the Orioles, Pirates, or Brewers could take him on. Morneau hit .382 over his last 18 games last season. Good teammate and leader.
Of course, Morneau has a history with both the Rockies and Pirates — where he spent half a season in 2013 after a July trade — and both could end up being in play for the lefty bat. But at least in the Rockies' case, what does it mean for the club — and specifically Ben Paulsen — if Morneau is a fit on some level in Denver?
Obviously, Reynolds is going to make up the right-handed portion of a first base platoon (or whatever word you'd prefer, if it's not a platoon in the traditional righty/lefty sense). Reynolds can also play third base and the outfield, too, and will come off the bench as a pinch-hitter, which gives the Rox a flexible option around the field for the team's National League needs.
In a vacuum with only Reynolds at first base, then, Morneau returning would make at least some sense. The lefty can spend time at first while the righty moves around the diamond, and each can allow the other to manage their health through part-time on-field duties mixed with pinch hitting at-bats.
But the Rockies don't have a vacuum at first base, they have a presumptive left-handed starter already there in Paulsen. Mixing him and Morneau along with Reynolds sure seems like short-term overkill at a corner infield position when the Rockies don't need to be good in 2016, anyways. Assuming the Rockies still like Paulsen — and/or they're willing to let 2016 go — the Clemson University product likely will take the majority of first base at-bats this season. That means there'd be no room for Morneau in Denver and no sense in ever considering having him return.
But what happens if the Rockies internally don't believe Paulsen is the short-term or long-term answer at first base? What if they see him instead as an inexpensive bench option/outfielder who can't play every day? The 28-year-old slashed a respectable .277/.328/.462 in 115 games in 2015, recording 97 wRC+, though he struck out 25.9% of the time against just a 6.9% walk rate. In some ways, it seems like Paulsen isn't a long-term option at first — and his Steamer projections are fairly pessimistic, for whatever that's worth. As Drew Creasman has noted recently, that long-term solution probably isn't coming any time soon, anyways.
As for Morneau, there would be some good things about the veteran returning (he'll come cheap, and he's had lots of success in Denver the last two summers), and some bad (concussion-related injuries don't bode well for the future of a mid-30s professional athlete). And at the end of the day, while it makes little sense for the Rockies to court Morneau this winter, it bears watching what might happen over the next few weeks with the veteran first baseman. If the Rockies do end up pursuing the Canadian in any sort of serious way, it'll tell you exactly what they think of Paulsen.