Morneau's leadership not being overlooked
PHOENIX -- Rockies manager Walt Weiss is making sure Justin Morneau spends what could be his final days in purple pinstripes as a player, rather than a mentor.
While sitting out from May to September with a neck strain and concussion symptoms, Morneau graciously prepared Ben Paulsen to be his successor at first base by offering support, advice, even the occasional quip. But since Sept. 4, when he returned from the disabled list, Morneau has hit .350 in 60 at-bats, and he notched his third triple in that time during Wednesday's 3-1 loss to the D-backs. He has also started 16 of 19 games in a clear show of respect from the manager.
Morneau and the Rockies have a mutual 2016 option, either a $9 million salary or a $750,000 buyout. With Paulsen (.273, 10 homers, 48 RBIs) appearing to be the left-handed hitting future at the position, it appears unlikely the Rockies will pick up the option, and Morneau could have opportunities elsewhere as a free agent. But Weiss believes Morneau, last year's National League batting champ in his first year with the Rockies, should finish this year the way he started -- as the main guy.
"I've used about all the superlatives that I know for Morneau," Weiss said. "He's a pro's pro. He's a manager's dream. Because he helps you with the clubhouse culture, he's a leader, he's a great example. He's had a great career.
"He's earned it. For Justin, personally, he's got a big decision to make this offseason, whether he's going to continue to play, and I think this is part of that process. I'm going to help him with that."
Morneau, 34, said he gained an appreciation for merely being healthy enough to play a few years ago, when a concussion and the after-effects slowed a tremendous career. The fact that Morneau's immediate response to a question about being on the field began with him lamenting the Rockies' place in the standings is a window into why Weiss respects him.
"You always want to be playing, at this point in the season, for a playoff spot, trying to fight for that," Morneau said. "A motivating factor every game is to win, but if it's not do-or-die -- to make a playoff spot or get eliminated -- it becomes difficult. But to be on the field, healthy, continuing to play and doing things to help the team win, that's a positive."
While Paulsen was playing regularly, Morneau was often in the dugout offering in-game tips or pointers on how to prepare better. On July 21, when Paulsen forgot the number of outs and allowed the Rangers to score a run (but later won the game with a walkoff single), Morneau reassured him but threw a good-natured zinger.
"He was like, 'It's OK. I've done it a couple of times. But it's been with no people on base,'" Paulsen said then.
Morneau said his attention to Paulsen is his way of carrying on the work of Doug Mientkiewicz, his predecessor at first base with the Twins years ago.
"He helped me become a professional, he helped me learn how to play the position," Morneau said. "That's how it works in baseball. You're just expected to pass along that knowledge and help younger players because guys before you passed it along. Not everybody does it, not everybody has to do it, but I was taught that was the right way to do it.
"You want to see the game be strong and continue to grow."
Weiss said Morneau's playing time in the final month doesn't mean he isn't big on Paulsen.
"It's been hard on Benny," Weiss said. "But for me, Benny has shown me plenty."