LoMo: When healthy, I’m a borderline All-Star

March 1st, 2020

PHOENIX -- has a lot to say about the business of baseball, but when it comes to what transpires between the foul lines, his outlook is rather straightforward.

“When I’m healthy, I’m a borderline All-Star,” Morrison said. “I’m healthy now. I don’t see why that would change. I’m another year older, another year wiser.”

Morrison is in Brewers camp as a non-roster invitee, still just 32 years old and going on three years removed from a 38-homer season. His opportunity hinges partly on the status of Justin Smoak and Ryan Braun, who are penciled-in to share first base duties this season; partly on whether the Brewers are willing to clear a spot on their full 40-man roster; and partly on how the team opts to approach the 26th roster spot added for 2020. Because clubs are capped at the 13 pitchers the Brewers carried most of last season, the rule change essentially opens a spot for an extra hitter. There are a variety of theories about how to best utilize that spot.

Give it to a utility man? Or some type of specialist, like a fleet-footed defender or a hard-hitting slugger?

Morrison is the latter, as he showed on Saturday when he hit an opposite-field, three-run home run in a 4-3 win over the Cubs at Sloan Park. On Sunday, he belted another three-run jack against the Reds -- a sign that he still has plenty of pop in his bat.

“Logan is a proven Major League hitter,” manager Craig Counsell said. “That’s what’s attractive about him. He’s in competition to be a bench bat. A dangerous at-bat late in the game with a chance to leave the park is what he offers.”

A onetime teammate of Christian Yelich in Miami, Morrison moved from the Marlins to the Mariners to the Rays, and he was in his age 29 season when he slashed .246/.353/.516 with 22 doubles, 38 home runs and 85 RBIs for Tampa Bay in 2017. Morrison was indeed a borderline All-Star, well-positioned to hit free agency. But the ensuing years have been frustration-filled.

That first offseason proved particularly cold for free agents like Morrison and Mike Moustakas, who had to take an incentive-rich, $6.5 million, one-year deal to return to the Royals. Morrison signed with the Twins for $5.5 million, with escalators and an option that could vest at 600 plate appearances to make the contract worth $16.5 million over two years. A hip injury limited him to 359 plate appearances in 95 games, however, and required surgery. The following April, Morrison inked a Minor League deal with the Yankees, but he didn’t make it to the Majors with New York. So he opted out and signed with the Phillies, who gave him 35 at-bats in the big leagues in August and September.

In the Minors during 2019, Morrison showed he could still swing it. He hit 18 home runs and slugged .640 in 233 plate appearances at Triple-A. The Brewers were willing to give him a shot on a Minor League pact with an invitation to big league camp.

By the time he signed in January, Milwaukee had already signed outfielder Avisaíl García and announced that Braun would share time at first base with free-agent signee Smoak, who got a one-year, $5 million contract with a club option for 2021. Morrison represents some insurance against a spring injury to either player.

Then there’s the question of how the Brewers will configure their bench. With Brock Holt in the fold as a true utility man, the key decision from Morrison’s point of view could be whether the club keeps Ben Gamel as a fifth outfielder or utilizes his last Minor League option.

“There’s obviously way better opportunity with other teams,” Morrison said, “but they’re not willing to invest in a free agent, even on a Minor League deal, because they want their guys who they have six years’ control to play. So, no, it’s not the best opportunity in that sense, but in the sense that [the Brewers] want to win, then if somebody gets hurt, yes, I have a great opportunity.”

As a veteran player on a Minor League deal, Morrison will get an “out” with 10 days to go in Spring Training if the Brewers can’t promise a big league job.

“I hope I get opportunity to show what I can do,” Morrison said. “And if it’s not here in the big leagues, somewhere else. I’m not a Triple-A player. I proved that last year and years past. So I’m not going to Triple-A. We’ll figure out what happens.”