Much has been made of the Nationals and Michael Morse over the last couple of months. After a career flush with injuries, a 30 year old Morse was fresh off a breakout 2011 season this Spring Training, but this time it was his back muscles that kept the outfielder on the disabled list into June. Though the offensive regression was minimal, a lack of walks, bad defense, and his ongoing injury problems tremendously lowered his stock. Yesterday, the Nationals signed Adam LaRoche, thus giving Morse no position to play on a National League team, and launching him into immediate trade speculation.
Though fWAR only has him at 0.3 wins last season, because of his poor defense and base running skills, he still managed to hit .291/.321/.470 with a .113 wRC+. Though far from stunning, teams are now looking at his 2010 and 2011 production, where he respectively hit for a 134 and 148 wRC+. Even at the age of 31 next season, Morse has upside, perhaps 30+ home runs and the ability to hit for average. Unfortunately for the Nationals, his long history of injuries and poor defense drastically lowers his trade value, and the team is said to be searching for a left-handed reliever and/or prospects.
It’s been stated multiple times, but the Nationals and Yankees match up very well. New York has a number of left handed relief pitchers in their organization, which includes Boone Logan, Clay Rapada, Cesar Cabral, and Francisco Rondon. Logan would be the most likely to go, considering his success against lefties and ability against right-handed hitters. As for a prospect, I’ve heard fans throw around Adam Warren, but his value may be a bit overrated. Depending on how the Nationals view Dellin Betances, he could be an interesting option, as the team has some success fixing broken Yankee pitching prospects. However, there is said to be 5-6 teams with interest in Morse, the Yankees being one of them, and that’ll only increase the Nationals’ asking price.
Morse may have the greatest value to the Yankees. Obviously, the team is in need of a right-handed hitting outfielder, but they also need infield help at third base and short stop for the aging left side. Morse can cover the infield in a pinch, as he has 453.0 unspectacular innings at shortstop, and just 32.2 at third base. He hasn’t played either in a while, but if the Yankees planned to use him as a possible utility player, they could give him some time around the diamond in Spring Training. As for the outfield, Morse’s range numbers aren’t very flattering, though his career UZR/150 in right field isn’t terrible, a -9.3. Yankee Stadium’s right field is notoriously small, so there is a chance that fans wouldn’t even notice his range.
Although Morse has stated that he doesn’t want to be a designated hitter, the Yankees could move him to 1B/DH when the team plays right handed pitchers. This would allow them to keep a much better defense in Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Ichiro Suzuki. Meanwhile, Morse would hit as the designated hitter or first baseman, where he is an average fielder, assuming the team wants to give Mark Teixeira a rest at DH. The benefit to having Morse as your DH against right handed pitchers is his platoon split, or thereof, since he owns a career 132 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers and a 126 wRC+ against right handers. He can also maneuver to a number of different positions if there were a pitching change.
Aside from utility, Morse’s bat fits perfectly into Yankee Stadium. The team usually loads up on left-handed pull hitters, and after suffering against same side platoon splits 2012, the Yankees have been looking for right-handed hitters to counter. Morse is the perfect right handed bat, as he can hit the ball to the opposite field. Over his career, 28% of his hits have gone to right field, where he has a .412 average and a .684 slugging percentage. In 2012, 30% of his hits went to right field, and he hit .489 with a .913 slugging percentage. With the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium, a right-handed hitter with opposite field power and no platoon split is a perfect match the team.
Above are the locations of Morse’s hits inside Nationals Park from 2011 and 2012 displayed on Yankee Stadium dimensions. There are at least 11 additional hits that would have gone out of the park in Yankee Stadium, and many that would have been close calls, meanwhile only 4 actual home runs wouldn’t have counted. That’s at least seven additional home runs over an injury shortened two years, and with the small ballparks of the AL East compared to the NL East, there could be more on the road.
Morse’s defensive positions, handedness, and offensive splits all fit well into the organization, and a fan could dream on that opposite field power in Yankee Stadium. At this point, the question is cost, and the team has to be very careful with what they give up in a trade, especially for a one year player, if they want to make budget in 2014.
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