Hayhurst: Morneau should be on Jays’ radar

Justin Morneau. (Paul Sancya/AP)

The Jays could really use a change going into the 2014 season, and there are three major ways in which they can alter the direction of the club: Change the manager, change the GM, or change the roster.

A roster shakeup for the 2013 Jays? Unlikely. What, with all the un-tradable under performers and heavy-contract veterans.

Alex Anthopoulos getting the axe? Probably not since he’s still regarded as the “Toronto Trade Ninja.”

That means the path of least resistance is the Jays present manager, John Gibbons.

However, just when chants of “fire the manager” reached their apex, Anthopoulos went on the record saying Gibbons will be back to manage the 2014 season.

So the question now is: if Gibbons is staying, who is going?

I think it’s safe to say we can rule out Anthopoulos, which leaves the roster.

There are obvious targets: J.P. Arencibia would be an easy addition by subtraction; Josh Johnson’s 2013 is a smoking crater; Melky Cabrera will likely continue to depreciate physically and statistically.

There’s the not-so-obvious: Can Brandon Morrow make it through full season without breaking? Is Jose Bautista, for all his production, the leader you need for this roster? Is Rasmus at his highest value to deal? Is Adam Lind going to continue to be a Jekyll and Hyde hitter?

Let’s focus on Lind for a moment:

Of all the players on the Jays, he is the one most directly on the fence. It’s a decision season for him. Lind’s had great years for the Jays, as well as terrible ones, and this season has not been without its own highs and lows: .327/.386/.574 with a .934 OPS from April to July, but .224/.312/.376 with a .688 OPS since.

His production against lefties, production that marked a complete rebirth of batting prowess at the start of the year, has once again tapered off to .215/.244/.291.

Lind has a $7-million team option for next year with a $2-million buyout. Do you keep him? And if so, which Lind are you going to get back if you pony up the cash, Jekyll or Hyde? If you trade him while you still have time. What team takes him and what’s he worth in return? Do you buy him out and look elsewhere? If so, where?

Would it help if I said there was a player out there to replace him with? Even better, it’s a player that makes sense for the Jays’ needs, is cost effective, and Toronto fans would love enough they might even forget how much they blame the manager.

Who is this saviour? Why, none other than Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins.

Morneau is a free agent at the end of this year, and he’s already said that, if he had to play for another team, he’d like it to be the Toronto Blue Jays.

Sounds great, especially since pound for pound, Morneau is a more consistent talent than Lind and at this point in his career, he’s not going to cost much more to keep nor will he require a long term commitment.

Morneau’s got pop in one of the biggest parks in baseball, Target Field, and will most likely see an uptick in power production in the homer friendly Rogers Centre, as well as the AL East overall. He hits lefties better (though not by a lot) than Lind, and could platoon or come off the bench if needed.

But the advantages to acquiring Morneau go beyond stats. The acquisition would do a lot for the Jays fan base. Production wise, it’s a healthy tweak. Politically, even better—the team gains a shining star — one who pulls a lot of the attention away from managerial heads, and maybe even enough to make sure none of the lesser coaches become sacrificial lambs. If Brett Lawrie mania is anything to go by, never underestimate the power a Canadian playing for the Jays has over the populace.

In the long term, acquiring Morneau would also provide the Jays with a leadership figure, something Lind, with his laid-back persona, has never really had the palette for. Morneau has also been a part of winning clubs, an important narrative for the Jays to own after such a dismal 2014 and one that could be used to justify moving other perceived leaders.

The season has been a bust, mostly due to terrible starting pitching and injuries, but most of the focus is presently on the coaching — the supposed panacea of player failure. Unfortunately, fans won’t be quick to accept the fact that managers don’t hurt their players, or cause them to choke. They’ll want their pound of flesh regardless. That means that, while the Jays do need to tweak their roster this off season, and they also need to tweak their image. Since the nucleus of the team remains strong, a move for Morneau makes both statistical, financial, and political sense, and instantly shifts the narrative from negative to positive.

It’s the perfect example of making a big change without really making a big change.

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