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Why Justin Morneau might wind up back with the Pirates next year

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

As everyone here probably knows, I wasn't a huge fan of acquiring Justin Morneau in the first place, I don't think he played particularly well for the Pirates, and I wouldn't be excited if wound up back with the Pirates next year. He doesn't hit much, he's getting old, and his defense is below average. (EDIT: "Well below average" was a little much.) He's not good. However, it isn't that hard to see scenarios where he comes back anyway. Here's the list of free agent first basemen for this offseason.

Jeff Baker (33)
Yuniesky Betancourt (32)
Corey Hart (32)
Paul Konerko (38)
Casey Kotchman (31)
Brandon Laird (26)
Adam Lind (30) - $7MM club option with a $2MM buyout
James Loney (30)
Casey McGehee (31)
Kendrys Morales (30)
Justin Morneau (33)
Mike Napoli (32)
Lyle Overbay (37)
Carlos Pena (36)
Mark Reynolds (30)
Kevin Youkilis (35)

Let's throw out Betancourt, Konerko, Kotchman, Laird, McGehee, Overbay and Pena right away. Those aren't legitimate starting first base options. Baker, Reynolds and Youkilis debatably aren't either. The Jays are likely to pick up Lind's option, so he's out. And the Mariners plan to extend Morales a qualifying offer; the Pirates won't, and shouldn't, want to give up a first-round pick to get him.

That leaves Hart, Loney, Napoli and Morneau. Napoli would be terrific, but any number of teams will bid for his services. Hart is an interesting option, but only if he can show he's healthy after missing all of 2013. Loney posted 2.7 WAR in a strong season in Tampa in 2013, but he was at -0.4 WAR the previous season and has never been a star.

It's not an inspiring class, in other words. And if the Pirates can't get Napoli or someone really good, they may as well pick a lefty like Loney or Morneau, because they already have Gaby Sanchez to hit left-handed pitching. Loney would be a better pick than Morneau, but if the Bucs can't get Loney, it wouldn't be hard to imagine Morneau coming back. They could platoon Morneau and Sanchez, then lean on Andrew Lambo (who I prefer to Morneau at this point, although Lambo hasn't played first base much and the Pirates don't seem to think that highly of him) if Morneau doesn't work out.

This isn't ideal at all, obviously, and I expect the Pirates to look hard at the trade market before settling on Morneau. The Pirates will have more money than usual to spend this offseason, and my guess is that they'll try to swing some splashy blockbuster deal to land either a first baseman or an outfielder. If that's, say, San Diego's Chase Headley, they could easily move him to first. They could also make a more minor trade, perhaps for the Mets' Ike Davis.

My guess is that Morneau won't be back. But given what's on the free agent market, and how difficult it is to make trades, it wouldn't be that surprising to me if the Pirates did re-sign him for another year.