New teammates, Hurdle excited to acquire '06 AL MVP for run toward postseason
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates went all-in Saturday, with general manager Neal Huntington pushing another stack of chips in the middle of the table to land Justin Morneau.
In his second roster-altering trade in four days, Huntington acquired the first baseman from Minnesota in exchange for outfielder Alex Presley, and either a player to be named later or cash. According to MLB.com sources, the second player will be pitcher Duke Welker.
"We're excited. Justin is excited about the opportunity," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said shortly before the Pirates and Cardinals started their game at PNC Park in a flat-footed tie for the National League Central lead.
Morneau, in Arlington, Texas, with the rest of the Twins when the deal was announced, made it to Pittsburgh at about 7:50 p.m. ET, came out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel as the game was heading into the fifth inning and was in uniform in the dugout by the seventh of a game in which his new mates had a big lead.
First impressions were scintillating.
"To look up and see the stands full, and the boys up big ... it was pretty special," Morneau said in a media conference following the Bucs' 7-1 win over the Cardinals. "It's something I'll probably never forget.
"A first-place team, you're always excited to become a part of that. I've been paying attention from the other league, and they play the game hard and play it right. Hopefully it'll be a long run and fun run, and I've stepped into something that's enjoyable."
To make Morneau eligible for postseason play, the Pirates cleared roster space for him by optioning Andrew Lambo to Double-A Altoona. Also optioned to the Curve was right-hander Jared Hughes, with his place on the 25-man roster being taken by righty Stolmy Pimentel.
"We felt this move gives us a better chance to not only play in October, but play deeper. Justin complements us going forward -- especially getting him in front of the Clemente Wall," Huntington said of Morneau, who arrives as a hot hitter with nine August home runs.
The deal endows the Bucs with the 2006 American League MVP after 11 years in Minnesota. Morneau, 32, had a .259/.315./426 slash line, with 17 home runs and 74 RBIs in 127 games this season. However, nine of the homers and 21 of the RBIs have come this month.
"There's a lot of emotion and adrenaline I hadn't had in a while," said Morneau, a lifelong Twins player who had to waive a no-trade clause to join up. "I'm excited by this opportunity, of doing something every day to help this team win, to do whatever it takes to get in the playoffs."
"We saw tangible reasons why he hit nine homers this month," Huntington said. "He gives us a deeper, more talented team, gives Clint a lot of options. We've upgraded our everyday lineup, and also our bench, to make Clint's job easier. He's got a lot of weapons to help us win a game."
Those weapons include outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck, acquired in a Tuesday deal from the Mets.
Between them, Byrd and Morneau seriously impact Garrett Jones, who plays their positions and paced Friday night's series-opening 5-0 win over St. Louis by driving in four runs on three hits.
Seeing history repeat is Jones, who was signed in 2008 by the Pirates as a Minor League free agent in the Twins system whose path was blocked by Morneau.
"For me, it's all about winning right now," Jones said. "It's baseball. He's definitely an upgrade for us, and he'll help. We've been friends for a long time. It'll be fun to watch him play again, and hopefully I can still get in there and help the team when I get a chance."
"We'll look at the versatility of Jones. Byrd can play all over the outfield, so maybe [Jones will] find some time back in right," said Hurdle. "We have less than 30 games to play; some of these moves have been made based on opportunities that have been given for five months. We looked at how we could best strengthen ourselves for the last 28 games of the season, and into the postseason."
Morneau has one month remaining on a six-year, $80 million deal he'd signed with the Twins. The Pirates are covering the $2.265 million remaining on the contract, to "Bob Nutting's credit," Huntington said.
"He allowed us to go significantly over budget," the GM said of the club's chairman. "We appreciate Bob for the financial flexibility to do something like this."
The deal reunited Morneau with World Baseball Classic Team Canada teammate Russell Martin -- and with Francisco Liriano, the ace of the Bucs' staff who had similar status with the 2005-12 Twins.
"He's a great guy, and a greater player. I played with him for five years," Liriano said. "It's great to see him back in the same uniform."
"I've seen him since he was a rookie," Morneau said of the pitcher, "and he can be as good as anybody in baseball. You always pay attention to former teammates, and he's got the stuff to put together and be one of the best pitchers in the game."