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Brewers Free Agent Targets: Justin Morneau

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The oft-injured slugger could be the top free agent first baseman, if he could only stay on the field.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

We know that the Brewers are actively pursuing for help at first base. After trading Adam Lind to Seattle last week it was reported the Brewers are casting a wide net in their search for a first baseman, and so far this week we have looked at the potential fit for Daniel Nava (who's since signed with the Angels), Chris Carter, and Ike Davis.

Another possibility on the free agent market is one who comes with an MVP pedigree, soon-to-be 35 year old Justin Morneau. The fomer Twins' stalwart was drafted by Minnesota in the third round of the 1999 draft and was considered a top 25 prospect by Baseball America from 2002-04. He made his big league debut in 2003 but didn't establish himself as an everyday player until 2005.

From 2005-2009, Morneau became one of the most productive sluggers in the game and paired with fellow homegrown star Joe Mauer to help lead the Twins to two playoff appearances. He captured the MVP award back in 2006 when RBI were still considered an important statistic, hitting .321/.375/.559 in 157 games with 34 home runs and 130 runs batted in. For what it's worth, his wRC+ that year was 138 (9th in the league) and his fWAR of 3.8 ranked 23rd in the league, behind the likes of Brandon Inge, Reed Johnson, and Vernon Wells. The league leader that season was Grady Sizemore, who was worth 7.9 wins above replacement, more than twice that of Morneau.

Morneau got off to the best start of his career in 2010, hitting an incredible .345/.437/.618 with 18 home runs through his first 81 games, good enough for a 183 wRC+ and 4.9 fWAR. He was voted as an All-Star starter for the first time in his career and was well on his way to capturing his second MVP award. Justin's career took a drastic turn on July 7th of that year as he suffered his first career concussion against the Toronto Blue Jays. He was forced to pull out of that year's midsummer classic and would miss the rest of the season while battling post concussion syndrome.

Despite returning to action before Opening Day in 2011, Morneau never looked as though he was fully recovered. He was dogged by a pinched nerve in his neck that eventually required surgery and cost him two months of the season. He suffered a shoulder injury in late August that caused mild concussion-like symptoms and would miss the final month of games. He played in only 69 games and was a below replacement level contributor, batting just .227/.285/.333 with four home runs.

Justin regained his health for the most part beginning in 2012, and played in 134, 152, and 135 games in the next three seasons while appearing for the Twins, Pirates, and Rockies. He wasn't particularly effective at the plate during 2012 and 2013 and accrued only a total 0.7 fWAR during those two season, but he seemed to revive his career after signing with Colorado and playing his games at hitter-friendly Coors Field. He batted .319/.364/.496 with 17 home runs, capturing the NL batting title and he was valued at 2.6 fWAR.

Morneau followed that solid campaign up with a nifty .310/.363/.458 batting line in 2015, but again suffered another concussion that cost him nearly four months of the season from early May through the beginning of September. He managed to appear in only 49 games, though he was at least effective after returning from his injury and posted a 129 wRC+ in his final 78 plate appearances. The Rockies declined his 2016 contract option and he became a free agent after the season ended.

Morneau isn't the same hitter that was during his prime, but if he can stay healthy he's probably a good bet to put up somewhere around a 110-120 wRC+. His health, of course, is the key and the fact that he returned to and stayed productive on the field through the season's final month should be a positive sign that his concussion issues won't affect him next season. Overall, Justin has been a pretty solid defender over at first base and has career marks of 24 Defensive Runs Saved and 24.5 UZR. His numbers weren't quite as strong last season but he should still be able to provide at least average defense at first.

Given his age and lengthy injury history it's quite plausible that a one year deal would be all it would take for the Brewers to lure Morneau to Milwaukee. That would be an awfully low-risk investment regardless of the amount money he demands, though it doesn't figure to be much after he earned just under $12 mil over the last two seasons combined. As a left-handed hitter Morneau could very easily form a platoon with Jason Rogers over at first base. If he can stay on the field and produce the way he has over the last couple of seasons with Colorado, he would likely be a sought after player at the trade deadline and could help the club continue to amass young, controllable talent. Tramautic brain injuries are a tricky business, however, and the market for Justin Morneau has yet to really develop this winter.