INF Justin Morneau signs 2-year deal with RockiesBy PAT GRAHAM , Associated Press
Dec. 13, 2013 7:48 PM ET
DENVER (AP) — Justin Morneau made this perfectly clear: He's stepping in for Todd Helton, not replacing the longtime Colorado Rockies first baseman.
Because filling Helton's cleats, he said, simply can't be done.
"(Helton) is irreplaceable, the impact he had in the clubhouse," Morneau said Friday after finalizing a two-year, $12.5 million deal.
Morneau realizes the comparisons are inevitable as he inherits the position from Helton, who retired after a 17-year career in the Mile High City. He understands, but "we're different people, we're different players," he quickly added.
They do have one glaring thing in common, though: Their fielding prowess at first base. Since 2003, Morneau's fielding percentage (.996) is second to only Helton (.997).
"I don't think anybody will ever fill those shoes in that organization," Morneau said of Helton. "You see how rare it is for someone to play their entire career with one organization and put up the numbers he did throughout his career. His career is Hall of Fame worthy, for sure.
"I'm going to try and do the things I do well and not really try to replace anyone or be anyone else. Just help this team win ballgames."
Over his 11-year career, Morneau is a .277 hitter and a four-time All-Star. He was the 2006 American League MVP while a member of the Minnesota Twins, batting .321 that season with 34 homers and 130 RBIs.
Last season, he was traded from the Twins — the only organization he had ever known — to the Pittsburgh Pirates for their playoff run. That was an interesting experience.
"Just kind of not being settled was completely different. At the same time, it was exciting — to play in a new league and all the new opponents and all that stuff was fun," Morneau said.
And this is another new start for him, with some familiar faces in the clubhouse. He's reuniting with outfielder Michael Cuddyer, his former teammate in Minnesota. Cuddyer actually played a big role in Morneau's arrival at Coors Field, delivering a pretty effective sales pitch. The two talked and texted quite a bit before Morneau decided to sign, which meant Cuddyer could stay in right field and not have to move to first base.
Morneau is scheduled to make $5 million in 2014 and $6.75 million in 2015. There's a $9 million mutual option for the '16 season and a $750,000 buyout if the club declines. He also has some incentive escalators for 2015 should he have 550 or more plate appearances in 2014 ($500,000), finish in the top three in MVP voting ($1.5 million) or become an All-Star ($375,000).
While Morneau has yet to discuss with manager Walt Weiss where he will hit in the batting order, this much he does know: The lineup is stacked with sluggers such as Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Cuddyer, the reigning NL batting champion.
"(Cuddyer) told me great things about the organization, from their desire to win and the desire to take care of players, take care of the guys," Morneau said. "Someone I respect as much as him and plays the game the way he does, you want to (join) guys like that."
Cuddyer wasn't the only one Morneau consulted for a little information on the Rockies. He also went to his fellow Canadian and boyhood idol, Larry Walker, asking Walker's opinion of the franchise the outfielder helped put on the baseball map. Walker touted the Rockies so much that they vaulted to the top of Morneau's free-agent list.
Now, Morneau is hoping Walker gives him approval to wear No. 33.
"To go there and possibly wear his number is something special for me," said Morneau, who grew up in New Westminster, British Columbia.
As for the concussion issues that have plagued him at times in his career, Morneau believes that's a thing of the past.
"There was a time there that I'd do certain things and wonder if I was going to bring on symptoms," Morneau said. "But now it seems like I'm able to get through pretty much any activity without even having a second thought or any hesitation on what I'm doing. For the most part, it's behind me.
"Being that it's baseball and not hockey or football, the chances of something like that happening again are very rare. I'm hoping that's the case."
AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.