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

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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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Girardi Should Quit The Politically Correct Dance

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If he was given suitable time to acclimate himself to the role, perhaps in save situations Yankees’ reliever David Robertson wouldn’t be so tight that a guitar could be strummed across his chest. He’d learn to handle the different mentality and perception-induced pressure of pitching the 9th inning instead of the 8th.

Maybe he’d be able to do the job.

But in the crisis-a-day atmosphere of the Yankees, they aren’t predisposed to giving anyone time to do anything. Replacing a legend in Mariano Rivera only exacerbated Robertson’s plight; that he was supposedly the key to the whole season laid the entire roster and organization on his shoulders and he was neither ready nor equipped to deal with it.

Given his shaky start, it’s a moot point how long the Yankees would’ve moved forward with the Robertson-as-closer charade since he got hurt and was replaced by the man they should’ve placed in the job as Rivera’s replacement to begin with, Rafael Soriano.

Soriano, like Robertson, has looked like a different pitcher in the 9th inning. With Robertson that was bad; with Soriano it’s been great. The confidence and desire to be the person on the mound at the end of the game reverted Soriano to the pitcher the Yankees signed for $35 million to be Rivera’s set-up man; the pitcher he was with the division-winning Rays of 2010.

In retrospect the Yankees were lucky that Robertson strained a muscle in his side and the decision was made for them.

What was most laughable was the reaction—mostly on Twitter and in the media—of those who spend much of their time quoting statistics as a means to bolster their own self-created expertise and would prefer, instead of the designated closer pitching the 9th inning and the 9th inning alone, to have a manager go with the pitchers based on matchups and high-leverage situations while refraining from the Tony LaRussa innovation of defined roles for the relievers.

Those same would-be “experts” were roasting Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi for not having Robertson start the 9th inning—as if that would’ve mattered; as if Robertson hasn’t earned the nickname “Houdini” because he gets himself into trouble seemingly for no other reason than to get out of it.

Soriano was getting the night off after having pitched in four of the previous five days including Tuesday night and a hairy save on Wednesday afternoon.

Girardi did what the stat guys want. He went with the numbers and used pitchers who, on the surface, were better-suited to do the job in a save situation or otherwise. Sidearmer Cody Eppley started the inning against Alex Rios and allowed a single. Rios, by the way, is a career 3 for 4 vs Robertson. Girardi pulled Eppley for Clay Rapada. Rapada got a comebacker from A.J. Pierzynski and threw wildly trying to get the double play. Then Girardi brought in Robertson who promptly allowed a 3-run homer to Dayan Viciedo to lose the game.

Girardi invited the second-guessing by saying that he didn’t want to use Robertson too heavily after his injury but also said that he intended to use Robertson even if the double play had been completed. Only he knows if that’s the truth or if he didn’t want to put Robertson in too dicey a mess not of his own making. Girardi won’t come out and say he doesn’t think Robertson can close, but empirical evidence and Girardi’s experience as a manager, coach and player—experience that you don’t have—says exactly that.

So he went another route, protected his fragile pitcher’s psyche, and it didn’t work.

Do you want a designated “closer” or do you want mixing-and-matching?

Do you want to keep putting Robertson in a situation where he’s clearly uncomfortable and in whom the manager and pitching coach don’t place a great deal of faith to do the job? Or do you want to have him start the inning?

Do you want to stick to your faulty outsider theories or do you want to come to the conclusion—as hard as it may be—that you don’t know as much as you think you do?

Robertson might be able to close eventually, but it’s not going to be this year and it’s probably not going to be for the Yankees as they’re currently structured.

This is the truth whether your inexplicably bloated egos can accept it or not.

Girardi might be well-advised to stop being a politician trying to keep everyone happy and say what I just said. Maybe then people would leave him alone and let him do his job as he sees fit.

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