Mike Morse a Useful Bat and Not a Huge Difference-Maker

The Nationals are listening to offers on outfielder/first baseman Mike Morse after re-signing first baseman Adam LaRoche to a 2-year, $24 million contract. With the presence of Denard Span, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper in the outfield and the retention of LaRoche, there’s nowhere for Morse to play. He’s stated that he’d be uncomfortable as a designated hitter, but given that he is under contract for one more year at $6.75 million and is a free agent after 2013, he doesn’t have any say in the matter. He’s a below-average defensive player, but he’s not an outright liability in the outfield or at first base.

The Nationals are counting on several variables to repeat their 2012 division-winning performance and 98 wins. Dan Haren is replacing Edwin Jackson in the starting rotation and while Jackson was a guaranteed 190-200 innings, Haren’s back injury limited him to 176 in 2012 and he’s not a certainty to return to durability and form in 2013. On a one year contract, he’s worth the risk at $13 million in comparison to the 4-year, $52 million deal Jackson got from the Cubs. Stephen Strasburg’s limits are gone, so they can count on him for 30 more innings than the 159 he was allowed to throw in 2012. With Haren and Strasburg’s newfound freedom, that should counteract the loss of Jackson.

They’ve lost their two lefties out of the bullpen Tom Gorzelanny and Sean Burnett. Unless they replace them from the outside or get another starting pitcher in order to place Ross Detwiler in the bullpen where he belongs, these departures are going to hurt the Nationals.

They’re said to be seeking lefty bullpen help in exchange for Morse or young starting pitching. Teams in need of Morse’s bat include the Braves, Mets, Rays, Phillies, Orioles, Yankees, Mariners, and Indians. If the Nats think they’re getting at top-tier starting pitching prospect for Morse, they’re deluding themselves.

Morse has tremendous power, but his walks dropped significantly in 2012 in spite of his pitches-per-at-bat percentage remaining static for what it’s been for his career. That could be explained by several things. The Nationals’ batting order, with LaRoche having a very good power year and batting behind Morse, might have led to pitchers challenging Morse a bit more. He could have altered his approach and gotten too aggressive with pitches that he shouldn’t have—that was the case on 2-0 counts and it was a detriment to his production. Or the league might have, to a certain extent, figured out that he’s not an elite slugger and a power fastball up in the zone can get by him with breaking stuff in the dirt leading to strikeouts.

He has legitimate 25-30 homer pop, but not overwhelming value.

What I would try to do if I were the Nationals is to seek something a bit more out of the box than what’s been mentioned as a return in a Morse trade. The likeliest combination of return for Morse would be, for example, from the Mariners Charlie Furbush and Hector Noesi. That’s not a bad deal for either side.

From the Yankees, I wouldn’t ask for young pitching they don’t have, but I would ask for another pending free agent after 2013, one who’s fallen out of favor with the club from his days as a big time prospect: Joba Chamberlain. I’d also ask for Clay Rapada. This would bolster the Nationals bullpen with a situational lefty and possibly give them a shutdown seventh, eighth and ninth innings with Chamberlain, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen with three pitchers who can interchangeably close.

They won’t get a ton for Morse, but they’ll get useful pieces. The team that gets Morse will get a power bat who hits righties and lefties equally as well and won’t be affected by ballpark factors because he’s big enough and strong enough to hit the ball out of any park. He’s not a major difference-maker, but he’s a chip they can trade to fill immediate needs.

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  1. #1 by Todd Boss on January 9, 2013 - 5:51 pm

    I know this isn’t the point of this article; this goes back to the previous time you talked about Detwiler. I just still don’t get your reasoning on how you think Ross Detwiler, he of the 117 ERA+ in 2012 over 27 starts and 164 IP somehow is better served by being in the Nats bullpen.

    117 ERA+; or 12th in the NL among qualified starters.

    A first round pick who has started his entire career, save for one minor league relief appearance and for a handful of relief appearances last year in the majors when the Nats had their hand forced on Wang and had to either activate him or DFA him. A decision btw the Nats executives have publically admitted a mea culpa on.

    Why in god’s green earth would the team at this point spend money on a replacement for a guy who was, by a very well-respected measure, the 12th best pitcher in the NL last year? Who is, by the way, on a MLB min salary pre-arbitration right now?

    • #2 by admin on January 9, 2013 - 6:12 pm

      That you reference a number that equates Ross Detwiler as the 12th best pitcher in the NL says it all.
      This is off the top of my head of NL pitchers better than Detwiler independent of these random, short-term numbers:
      Tim Hudson, Stephen Strasburg, Johan Santana, RA Dickey, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse, Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Jeff Samardzija, Bud Norris, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum (and don’t reference his poor year), Clayton Kershaw, AJ Burnett.
      That’s off the top of my head without going all through the NL.
      If you have an argument for Detwiler staying in the rotation, you’d better find one that doesn’t point to a stat that has him 12th best in the NL.

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