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Colorado Rockies decline option on first baseman Justin Morneau

The 2014 NL batting champion is now a free agent.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rockies declined their portion of the mutual option with first baseman Justin Morneau, the team announced today:

Morneau spent two seasons with the Rockies, one more successful than the other. In 2014 he won the NL batting title, hitting .319/.364/496 with 17 home runs in 135 games, good for 1.4 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference's model. However, in 2015 Morneau was limited to just 49 games by head and neck injuries, hitting .301/.363/.458 with just three home runs in 168 at bats.

The 2016 mutual option would have seen the Rockies pay Morneau $9 million next season in addition to the $11.75 million he made over the last two seasons, but the team opted instead to give him a $750,000 buyout.

Colorado could explore bringing back Morneau at a cheaper price, but the more likely route for the Rockies is handing the keys at first base to Ben Paulsen, who played 66 games at first base in 2015, hitting .277/.326/.462 with 34 extra-base hits, including 11 home runs, in 325 at bats. Kyle Parker, Colorado's first-round draft pick in 2010, would likely platoon with Paulsen in that scenario.

Meanwhile, Morneau joins the front end of the free agent class of first basemen along with Chris Davis and Mike Napoli and could be an intriguing option for a contender looking for a high-upside option at the position, as he was an above-average hitter even through the injuries in 2015.