Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE
He might not be traded immediately, but Adam LaRoche means no more Morse in Washington
Michael Morse will be traded from the Washington Nationals. It doesn't have to happen today, or this week, or even this month. But, thanks to the signing of Adam LaRoche, coupled with the Nats' trade for center fielder Denard Span, Morse might better serve Washington by shipping off elsewhere, rather than as an overqualified bench and depth bat. Through Morse, the Nats can likely fill an area of need, or introduce new prospects into their farm system, and either of those options, in theory, should provide more for the Nationals than a year of Morse on the bench would.
They aren't going to force a trade, though. The early rumor was that the Nationals wanted left-handed relief help, and would trade Morse for it, but given his qualifications that never made any sense. If anything, a southpaw for the pen would come as part of something larger, in a deal for prospects, giving the Nationals help in the present, as well as a chance for a better future that Morse, who will be a free agent after 2013 anyway, would not.
They won't have to force a trade anyway, though, even if they weren't expecting a hefty return. There are reportedly suitors lining up for Morse's services already, many of them doing so almost immediately after LaRoche was re-acquired. In an off-season where the first-base market was nearly bereft of options from the start, and what few pieces there were have been snatched up already, Morse becomes an attractive trade chip worthy of the kind of return the Nationals would prefer.
With Washington, a club he's been with since 2009 after they acquired him from the Mariners for Ryan Langerhans, Morse has put together a .294/.343/.514 line. He didn't have that kind of power while with Seattle, but then again, who does in that park? Plus, Morse did manage to hit an even .300 with a .365 on-base percentage while in Washington, and his career line, after 1,690 plate appearances, is .295/.347/.492. It might seem like he came out of nowhere with his 2011, his first full campaign in the bigs, but the 30-year-old Morse has a history of success that's led to a 126 OPS+, and the belief that he could put that (or more) up again if someone just gives him the chance to.
There's been some noise about the fact Morse prefers not to be a designated hitter, but that, in the long run, is probably meaningless. Morse isn't a free agent, he lacks a no-trade clause, and he doesn't possess 10-and-5 rights that could allow him to block a trade anywhere, regardless of the role his new team wants to use him in. All it will take is one team that doesn't think it will be a problem for Morse's production to be in a role he doesn't prefer, and then that's where he'll play.
Morse isn't a good option in the outfield, though, his bat helps to make up for it, and even at first base he's nothing special with the glove. Combine that with concerns for his ability to stay healthy, and a DH role makes plenty of sense for both a team and Morse. Nothing would help a Morse payday like a healthy, productive season, and in the end, he would have to put aside his derision for the role to make that happen.
Who will end up being the teams that push hardest for Morse? The Yankees won't need him in their outfield, given it's patrolled by the defensive trio of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Ichiro Suzuki. With Mark Teixeira entrenched at first base, there's no room for Morse there, either. That would leave the Yankees as the team who could plop Morse in the DH role he doesn't want. Given so many of Morse's homers have come up the middle and going the other way, Yankee Stadium might be an excellent fit for him, anyway, despite being right-handed. Morse's OPS going the other way is just four points lower than his pull OPS over the course of his career -- the Yankees would gladly take advantage of that to fill their DH slot for a year. Since Morse would be a free agent by 2014, he wouldn't even interfere with their plan to be under the $189 million luxury tax threshold, either.
Sticking with the AL East, the Rays are currently employing James Loney as their first baseman. While it's cute that he costs just $2 million and they can roll the dice on his finally being useful all while at a low price, Morse would make far more sense for them at a time when the AL East is loaded with very good -- but possibly no great -- teams. In his last year of arbitration, Morse will make just under $7 million, a price tag the Rays can easily afford, especially post-James Shields trade. There will be no long-term commitment, and they might just have the notion to submit a qualifying offer to him when he's a free agent, hoping to bring him back on a short-term deal just like the Nationals did with LaRoche once the cost of a compensation pick hurt his market.
Then there are the Mariners, who are, in a way, loaded with first base/corner outfield/designated hitter types, but at the same time, have little to show in that regard. Justin Smoak hasn't done much of anything, at least not consistently, at the major-league level, and will be 26 in 2013. Mike Carp has been up-and-down his entire career, and will be 27 next season. Jesus Montero might be the only one of the bunch who is young enough, and with enough ceiling left over, that he should continue to get chances. Morse could fit in wherever needed, as the Mariners need bats, enough so that they could sacrifice defense for them. And while Safeco is awful for right-handed power, Morse's opposite-field approach would help alleviate some of that. Having both Morse and Kendrys Morales, acquired earlier this off-season, in the lineup, hitting well, could convince free agents that it is actually safe to play in Safeco now that the walls have been moved in.
Where he'll end up is a mystery, just that he'll end up somewhere besides Washington is known. Plenty of teams will have both the need and the resources to acquire the last season of Morse's contract, though, and because of this, his departure is nearly a foregone conclusion.