The elbow pain is gone, the rehab should begin soon and the White Sox hope to add productivity from Justin Morneau by mid-July.
The club announced it signed the veteran first baseman and longtime former rival to a one-year deal worth $1 million on Thursday afternoon. The hope is that Morneau -- who continues to recover from elbow surgery in December -- can provide an inconsistent offense with a left-handed presence that has been missing since Adam LaRoche’s abrupt retirement in March. Morneau has already joined the team and is expected to accompany the White Sox on next week’s road trip before he eventually heads out on a rehab assignment.
“I wouldn’t come back if I didn’t feel like I was here to contribute and be a part of this lineup and help out in any way I can and also try to drive in runs and do things to help win ballgames,” Morneau said. “I still have a desire to compete and I still have a fire to go out there and prove every day that I belong on the field and try to win. In the end, really that’s all there is left for me is to just try to win and be a part of a winning environment or winning situation in a playoff chase and play meaningful games in September that’s really what makes it fun to come to the ballpark and I still have a desire to do that.”
Whereas he felt elbow pain with every swing in 2015, Morneau feels good this season.
Despite his troubles, Morneau hit .310/.363/.458 over 182 plate appearances. In 2014, Morneau had an .860 OPS for the Rockies and hit 17 homers and drove in 82 runs. He tried to let the elbow heal this past offseason with treatment and later determined surgery to be the best course of action.
Morneau said he’s already taking dry swings and likes how he has progressed.
“It’s reacted better than I thought,” Morneau said. “I’m happy with the way things have gone so far.”
The White Sox would love for things to continue as they have. The club has been in dire need of a left-handed bat since LaRoche unexpectedly quit after a dispute with management over the presence of his son in the clubhouse.
After a decent start to the season, the White Sox offense has tailed off. The team enters Thursday 11th in the American League in runs scored. Much like the low cost attached to James Shields, who was acquired on Saturday, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn sees little risk in figuring out what Morneau has left to offer.
“We saw the ability to potentially address one of our needs in a manner that didn’t preclude other acquisitions, whether it was from an economic standpoint or from a prospect standpoint, there being no prospects involved in this deal,” Hahn said. “We’re getting a proven professional hitter, a guy who has the ability to get on base with a little bit of pop and hopefully will fit in nicely in the middle of that lineup.
“In some ways it’s a trade-deadline acquisition that we’re banking now as we continue the search for other acquisitions.”
Robin Ventura likes how the addition could potentially affect his lineup. All season long the White Sox have had to bat Melky Cabrera fifth to provide balance to the middle of the order and he’s also has batted Jimmy Rollins sixth to do the same. Were Morneau to be healthy, the White Sox could potentially bat Cabrera second and give the lineup some depth.
“It’s what we’re looking for,” Ventura said. “We’re a little right-handed heavy, and you’re looking for a guy like him that can hit the ball out of the park and do the things that he’s done. It’s about getting him healthy and getting him ready to be here and help us.”
Morneau is encouraged by the early signs of his recovery process. Whether it was the pain or losing with the Colorado Rockies, he admits that 2015 was pretty difficult. Once he determined he still has some baseball in him, he knew that season is not how he wanted his career to end.
“It was there every swing I took,” Morneau said. “It was frustrating and made it not as fun as it should have been obviously. We didn’t win a whole lot of ballgames either so that made it twice as difficult. It feels good now. I think that’s part of the reason I wanted to come back -- you never want to leave on a bad note or with a bad taste in your mouth of how things ended or finished. Last year was rough and I’ve always been someone who enjoyed the work and enjoyed doing the little things, spending time in the cage, working on my swing, video and all that stuff.
“When I picked up a bat again and said ‘This feels pretty good. This feels better than it did at any point last year, I think I can do this again. I wanna do this again.’ ”