Morneau's option declined by Rockies

Morneau's option declined by Rockies

DENVER -- The Rockies declined their end of a $9 million mutual option for 2016 on first baseman Justin Morneau, which makes him a free agent after two years with the club.

Morneau, 34, joined the Rockies as a free agent and won the National League batting championship in 2014 by hitting .319, with 17 home runs and 82 RBIs. Injuries limited him to 49 games in 2015, but he finished respectably, average-wise, at .310, with three home runs and 15 RBIs.

In 2015, Morneau had a .290 batting average through May 13 before suffering a cervical neck strain and concussion symptoms in a whiplash incident while diving for a ball during a game against the Angels in Anaheim. The combination, and Morneau's history of debilitating concussions with the Twins several years back, meant for a long rehab.

Playing regularly after his Sept. 4 return, Morneau hit .338 with a .423 on-base percentage in his final 22 games (18 starts). Citing Morneau's professional approach and care with young players -- especially left-handed hitting Ben Paulsen, his primary replacement -- Rockies manager Walt Weiss played Morneau regularly to allow him to see if he was able to regain his stroke and entertain the prospect of going into free agency.

Paulsen batted .277 with 11 homers and 49 RBIs in 116 games after being promoted from Triple-A Albuquerque with Morneau injured. Paulsen could be in line for everyday duty, or be part of a platoon at first base.

Wilin Rosario, a former catcher who at times struggled with part-time duty, and Kyle Parker, an outfielder by trade who has added first base work but needs to adjust to Major League fastballs, are right-handed-hitting options who saw playing time in 2015. The Rockies must make a decision on Rosario, who is in his second year of arbitration eligibility.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.