Baltimore Orioles v Minnesota Twins

It is hard to let go of the past. With baseball players specifically, the past does not always inform the future as much as we’d like. It becomes harder and harder for a once-great player to recover the form which made him great in the first place as he ages. Add injuries to the mix and a former MVP turns into a role player in just a few years.

If you needed to choose between the careers of Justin Morneau or Adam Lind, you would pick Justin Morneau every single time. Morneau is more decorated, played longer, made more money and simply has a better career to date.

Career is one thing, the future is another. While Adam Lind is less than an ideal fit for the left-handed side of the Jays DH/1B rotation this year. Realistically speaking, he isn’t that much worse an option than the big Canadian currently playing out the final year of his contract for the Twins, despite Morneau’s recent overtures.

Justin Morneau has not been the same player since he suffered a concussion midway through the 2010 season. At the time of his injury, Morneau was raking, owning a .448 wOBA and 5 fWAR just 81 games into the year. It was a real shame that he went down when he did.

The Justin Morneau who returned to play just 69 games for the 2011 Morneau was not the same player. Battling a variety of injuries and post-concussion symptoms, Morneau understandably struggled in 2011. Morneau bounced back to produce closer to his career norms with the Twins last season but he remains a shadow of his former self.

At this point, there isn’t much to chose from between Morneau and Adam Lind. Over the last two seasons, they own practically identical offensive numbers.

  • Morneau: 895 PA, .254/.317/.403, 23 HR, 95 wRC+
  • Lind: 858 PA, .252/.303/.429, 37 HR, 96 wRC+

Basically the same guy! Hard to believe the former MVP fell so far – though he had some unwitting help. The injuries loom as large as his considerable ability when looking at Morneau in the future. He simply isn’t the same player as the man who lay waste to the AL in 2010.

Would the Jays want to pay for the privilege of having Morneau rather than Lind in their mix? The salaries are not comparable, as Morneau will earn $14MM this season while Lind is owned $5MM for 2013 and $24.5MM worth of option for the next three seasons, all of which can be bought out for $3.5MM.

For the money, why not go with Lind? Not only is he cheaper, he is also younger (entering his age 29 season compared to the 32-year-old Canadian.) The projection systems have long memories, favoring Morneau in 2013 but a slim margin.

PECOTA and its long memory prefers the Twins first baseman by a clear margin, as his .273/.352/.460 slash line with 20 projected home runs is much nicer than the .265/.321/.456 line with 18 home runs for Lind. More than numbers, PECOTA projects the probability of breakout and collapse for a given player. Morneau is the better bet to match the modest projections, as Adam Lind has a 10% chance of total collapse.

ZiPS, Oliver, and Steamer don’t offer much rosier pictures of these players futures, offering strikingly similar outputs for the two hitters with similar platoon issues. Morneau, projecting .329, .332 and .338, wOBAs respectively. For Lind? .329, .325, and .332. Not much to choose from for either player, and really anything to get excited about for a first baseman/designated hitter.

Simply put: Justin Morneau was a better player but he won’t automatically be the better player going forward. Adam Lind is cheaper and young, which pretty much sums up his qualifications compared to the more injury prone former MVP. The Jays, if they are hoping to upgrade the left-handed side of their DH/1B job, need to look a little harder than Justin Morneau. Fun as it might be to have the big Canadian in the mix, they can simply do better.