Another day, another missed opportunity by Dayton Moore. Michael Morse was traded to the Seattle Mariners today in a three-team trade and let me preface this post by saying I have no misconceptions about Morse being a savior.
I've written way too many words on transactions that will never happen involving the Royals, Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton and Michael Bourn. I'm not going to write that Morse is even close to their level. However, if I were the GM of a team I was masquerading as a contender and I had possibly the worst right fielder in baseball, I would want a player like Michael Morse on my roster. And once the Nationals traded for Denard Span, it wasn't as if Moore had to look under rocks to find such a player. Everyone knew Morse would be moved.
Again, maybe Moore did his due diligence. However, when all the Nationals got in return was a pitching prospect they traded away last offseason to land Gio Gonzalez (A.J. Cole), a 24-year-old pitching prospect from Osage City, Kansas (Blake Treinen), and a player to be named later, it's not hard to imagine the Royals scraping together a better offer. If Moore was committed to winning in the next two years, that is.
First thing's first, the caveats on Morse: He turns 31 in two months. He'll make $6.75 million in 2013 and he'll be a free agent after the season. Although he's played first base and the corner outfield spots over the last few seasons, he's a subpar defender. He's struck out 287 times the last three seasons in 1,194 at bats, which comes out to a strikeout once every 4.16 at bats. His WAR last season was 0.3 as he battled injury.
On the plus side: Unlike Jeff Francoeur, who Morse would most likely replace in the lineup, Morse is a legitimate middle-of-the-lineup bat. He's hit 64 home runs over those same 1,194 at bats the last three years (just 73 shy of Francoeur's career total in eight seasons). His OPS the last three seasons were .870, .910 and .791. He can play first base and both corner spots so, while right field would have been his ideal position with the Royals, he could have floated to give guys days off or allow a righty-heavy lineup. Assuming Alex Gordon hits leadoff, how much better does Butler/Hosmer/Morse/Moustakas sound in the heart of the order than Hosmer/Butler/Moustakas/Francoeur? Oh, and Morse looks eerily similar to Javier Bardem, who played all-time great bad guy, Anton Chigurh.
My friend, Casey McClain, wrote on his blog why the deal made little sense for the Mariners, but that has more to do with what the Mariners gave up and what the Mariners already have than Morse's abilities. However, it's probably fair to say I'm higher on Morse than Casey is, all thing's being equal. I believe Morse's down 2012 season was due to injuries that he was battling before the season even started. His numbers will no doubt be muted by Safeco Field, but he's a proven power bat who would have been a no-brainer upgrade from Jeff Francoeur. And he wouldn't have cost the Royals much, but yet again I'm left with the feeling that Moore never even picked up the phone.
Just to give my two cents on the actual trade that went down, it didn't make much sense to me either. It made sense from the Athletics' perspective in that John Jaso was made to play for Billy Beane. He's a better version of George Kottaras, who the A's apparently had to designate for assignment to make room for Jaso on the roster.
At the same time, the A's gave up Cole, who they acquired with Derek Norris, Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock last offseason. The A's don't lack pitching, so Cole won't be missed. However, Derek Norris (a Goddard, Kansas, product) was basically the A's everyday catcher by the end of last season. While his OBP (.276) left much to be desired, he displayed a ton of pop, even for that ballpark. I suspect Norris (who bats right-handed) and Jaso (a lefty) will be used in a platoon, so in that regard I get it.
As for the Mariners, as Casey wrote, they probably stretched themselves too thin at catcher to acquire a player in Morse who plays the same position as several players already on the roster. Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak are atop the depth chart at first base. Jesus Montero should be a DH but will be forced to catch. The outfield corners are littered with players on both extremes. Among the veterans past their primes are Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay. Among the youngish, less-than-promising players are Michael Saunders, Casper Wells, Eric Thames and Carlos Peguero.
My guess is Morales plays first and fills in at DH when Smoak plays first. Montero plays catcher and occasionally is used as a DH, depending on who else the Mariners might bring in at catcher. Saunders plays in left and Morse has no problem proving himself the best option in right field. It seems like a lot of trouble to go through for a slim margin of improvement.
If the A's do go with the catcher platoon, the deal should work out for them. Depending on who the player to be named later is, the Nationals will depend on Cole (the A's No. 3 prospect at the time of the trade behind a teenager in Addison Russell and Michael Choice, who stalled last year at Double-A) to prove whether it was a good trade or not from their perspective. As for the Mariners, at least it didn't cost them any of their young, promising arms, which is probably what led to the A's getting involved in the first place.
Sadly for Royals (and Mariners fans), Kansas City could have been a much better fit as a trade partner for the Nationals. Maybe someday we'll learn that Jeff Francoeur cut Dayton Moore's phone lines this offseason and he actually executed the Wil Myers-James Shields trade and Miguel Tejada signing and all of this will make much more sense.
Fire Dayton Moore