LaRoche Rejoins Washington, Morse Available: At What Cost?

Last month, I wrote about Mike Morse being a potential solution to the right field conundrum. Ichiro is now the official full-time right fielder, but Morse still could be the everyday DH while spelling Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, or Ichiro against a tough lefty. The Yankees need a right-handed batting outfielder, and Morse fits the bill.

With Adam LaRoche officially re-signing with Washington to play first base, and Bryce Harper, Denard Span, and Jayson Werth patrolling the outfield, Morse is the odd man out. Reports indicate that the Yanks already have interest along with many other clubs. What will it take to fit Morse for pinstripes?Here’s what I wrote about Morse back in December:

Morse, 31 in March, offers good power from the right side. He never flashed it with Seattle (albeit in a sample size of plate appearances), but Morse broke out in Washington. He hit a career high 31 home runs in 2011, and has posted a .221 ISO since joining Washington in 2009. A 132 wRC+ in his Nationals’ career is nothing to bat an eye at over 1,353 plate appearances. As a plus, he’s hit lefties and righties virtually equally since 2009: 133 wRC+ vs lefties, 132 wRC+ against righties.

There are some big concerns, however. First: injury history. He had knee surgery in the minors in 2006, left shoulder surgery in 2008, and missed 50 games this past season due to right shoulder problems. Morse dealt with a few other nagging injuries throughout 2012 that forced him to miss 8 more games. He also does not take his share of walks, posting a 5.7% BB rate with the Nats. Defensively, Morse is a negative in both left and right field per UZR and DRS.

Considering his health concerns, he’s probably better suited as the full-time DH, which makes the Bronx a good landing spot. We can’t simply assume Alex Rodriguez is going to return and play that role. Even if A-Rod comes back effectively, having 10 adept players for 9 lineup spots isn’t a bad problem to have. Besides, Ichiro really isn’t that good of a hitter at this stage of his career, so Morse taking some playing time from him in right field wouldn’t be the end of the world.

What would Morse cost the Yankees? The Nationals are interested in rotational depth and bullpen help. After losing lefty reliever Sean Burnett to the Angels in free agency, there could be a match with the Yanks in the form of Boone Logan. Unfortunately, that’s certainly not enough of a return for Morse. I could see the Yankees dangle Joba Chamberlain in addition or instead of Logan, considering he’s a free agent to be after 2013 (as is Morse, by the way). As for starting depth, Washington would probably be interested in David Phelps, but I doubt the Yankees’ willingness to include him. Perhaps Adam Warren, or even a project like Dellin Betances may be attractive to Washington.

Personally, I’d prefer to hold onto Phelps, and I’d also like to see Betances get a chance in the bullpen within the Yankees organization before parting ways. I’d also like to keep Joba, but considering he’ll be a free agent after this year, I don’t think he should be a hold up to the deal. Additionally, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo inquires about Mark Montgomery. However, I wouldn’t want to deal Montgomery for a one-year rental in Morse.

Kurt Suzuki would be a nice piece in addition to Morse.

Furthermore, maybe the Yankees can try to kill two birds with one stone in such a deal. With Washington’s starting catcher Wilson Ramos expected to be 100% by spring training, could Kurt Suzuki be available? Suzuki isn’t much of a hitter (career 87 wRC+), but is very good defensively per UZR and RPP (blocked pitches in terms of runs above average). He’s also thrown out just under 28% of potential base stealers in his career. He’s been a starting catcher since 2008, and thus would be a more reliable option than Chris Stewart or Francisco Cervelli.

Financially, Morse and Suzuki make $6.75M and $6.45M respectively in 2013, both reasonable amounts to take on. Morse’s deal expires after 2013, and Suzuki’s $8.5M 2014 option can be bought out for $650K. This leaves no complications for the Yankees in their attempt to stay under the $189M budget next year, so this is this type of trade the Yankees must pursue.

If a package for Morse and Suzuki consisted of Logan, Chamberlain, and Warren, we also must consider the implications for the Yankees’ bullpen. On the surface, the underbelly certainly seems a bit weaker. However, Clay Rapada actually was more effective vs. lefties  than Logan over the past three seasons, so Rapada becoming the primary LOOGY would actually be preferable even if Logan stays around. Plus, the organization liked Rule V pick Cesar Cabral last spring training before getting hurt. As for Chamberlain’s loss, there would be some added pressure on David Aardsma in the 6th/7th inning. Of course, we also have to worry about how effective Mariano Rivera will be returning from knee surgery. In the minors, though, guys like Montgomery and Chase Whitley could contribute in 2013.

Ultimately, I’d love to just swap Logan and Warren for Morse and Suzuki, but the Nats could probably do better elsewhere. Thus, I’d be willing to include Joba to facilitate the trade. It will help the Yankees stay competitive in 2013, while remaining in line with the 2014 budget.

Kurt Suzuki photo by dbking on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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21 Responses to LaRoche Rejoins Washington, Morse Available: At What Cost?

  1. JohnHD says:

    I like the idea. Morse does seem like a nice fit and appear to come at a reasonable price that the Yanks can afford. Trading (1-year) Joba does make some sense but it just breaks my heart to see a guy who had so much promise leave for another organization. Well written post btw. Been loving the site and coming back everyday.

    • Derek says:

      Yeah, sadly when we look back at Joba’s career as a Yankee, we’ll always think of what could have been.

      Thanks for the kind words…glad our content is bringing you back!

  2. Farid says:

    I had a chance to talk to Morse when I went back home to DC in May to cover the Nats for my Idaho newspaper.

    He would be a great Yankee. He’s a great guy, a great teammate and a heckuva hitter. He’s not a great outfielder but he catches what he gets to and I don’t recall more than a handful of Morse miscues since he came to Washington.

    And at first, he’s above average, really sound.

    The only part of his game that is lacking is speed. He has none.

    For those of you old enough to remember, picture Morse as Lou Pinella without the temper and with more power.

    Nats’ fans love Morse. We want him to go someplace where he’ll shine, and the Yankees I think would be a perfect fit.

    • Derek says:

      He’s definitely just what the Yankees need right now…the deal makes too much sense. I just hope what Cashman can offer is adequate.

      My lone concern is his reported unwillingness to DH. Morse doesn’t really have a say though since he doesn’t have a no trade clause. But, if he’s as good of a guy as you say, playing DH wouldn’t be a problem. The report is probably overblown, especially since it’s out of his control.

  3. JohnHD says:

    I was wondering, if we were to put one of the current outfields as a DH, who would that be? I am thinking a rotating outfield to keep Gardner and Granderson’s legs fresh. But that may be a poor use of the payroll on the outfielders. Nevertheless Morse does sound like a nice guy who can be a Yank. Who doesn’t love a likeable guy who can hit? haha

    • Derek says:

      If anyone, Granderson might see some DH time, but it’s going to reserved for the older players on a rotating basis (or Morse). DHing Gardner or Ichiro is not a good idea because you lose where the majority of their value comes from: defense.

  4. dp says:

    I would trade Hughes straight up for Morse.

    • Derek says:

      I think the Yankees could do better than Morse in exchange for Hughes.

      • dp says:

        I firmly disagree. Morse would be a very fair trade especially if he can back up all four corners.

        I am willing to do this because I don’t think the Yankees will sign Hughes long term where as Morse could be here a few years if he can play third.

      • Derek says:

        Morse can play left, right, and first, but no way he can play third. 9 games total there in his career, and none since 2009.

        If you trade Hughes – who’s taking his rotation spot?

        And why would the Yankees give up Hughes when the Nats only want a reliever and starting “depth”? They’re looking for a guy to step in case of injuries.

        I’m not saying the Yanks can do drastically better in exchange for Hughes, but they can definitely get a better return than Morse.

  5. dp says:

    Morse played a decent amount of third in the minors. The big issue in the minors was lack of power plus Beltre was playing third with Seattle so that was a blocked position. Even after the trade to the Nats they had Zimmerman at third so at the MLB level he never had a third base opportunity.

    I am not saying he can play third regularly but if it is possible I would want him even more.

    As for why the Nats might want Hughes? Even if he does not start he deepens their pen while also backing up the rotation in case of injury for a team with championship aspirations.

    • Derek says:

      So Morse might be able to fake it at third base if necessary.

      On to Hughes – I’m sure the Nats would find some use of Hughes, but again: why trade Phil if you can get Morse for way less? Hughes is still an important piece in 2013 and not easily replaced.

      • dp says:

        Why say fake it at third? Morse played many games at SS so I think he can play a slightly below average third.

        Hughes is not needed.

        I do not think you can trade less for Morse.

      • Derek says:

        Morse also hasn’t played shortstop regularly since 2005. He played one game at SS in 2006 and 2007. Let’s be realistic here.

        Furthermore, a guy who struggles to stay healthy shouldn’t be playing such physically demanding positions.

        And how can you just cast aside Hughes? Again, the Nationals are asking for LESS than Hughes. Just a reliever and/or swingman starter.

  6. JohnHD says:

    To be honest, I agree with Derek here. In the short term, I find Hughes to have a higher upside than the rest of the available guys in the organization and it would be a pity to lose him. From some blogs that I’ve read, I have generally got the feeling that Morse is a great hitter but a not so great defensive player. I would prefer to have a properly experienced position player to play that particular position. Being able to play multiple positions at below average or average levels sounds more like a utility player to me. I would love to have Morse on the team but I would hope the Yankees achieve the trade with a good and fair trade. Maybe trade some of the other relievers or minor leaguers as some other blogs have suggested and discussed the possibility in detail.

    • dp says:

      You’re being foolish. There is very little chance that Hughes will be with the Yankees in 2014 so why not trade him? The Yankees need more power and Morse fits the bill.

      Hughes works with the Nats as he can become the their 5 starter with Detwiler going to the pen as their needed lefty or Hughes can go to the pen.

      • Derek says:

        I agree, Hughes is probably gone after this year – but why not take the 2-3 WAR he’s likely to give? You can’t just expect to plug in a new starter with that type of performance. Plus, if Hughes pitches well, the Yankees can probably get a draft pick for him as free agent compensation. I’d rather have Hughes for 2013 + a draft pick instead of just Morse for one year.

        And again, the Nationals demands for Morse are for a reliever and a swingman starter. Why give up more than they want? Makes no sense. You’re not taking this into consideration at all.

      • dp says:

        No one know what the Nats demands are for Morse. You are making an assumption which is most likely incorrect. There are many teams interested in Morse so the price will be significant.

      • Derek says:

        An assumption that are most likely incorrect? I linked to three stories within this blog post that indicate what the Nats are looking for. Not only are there reports indicating this, but it’s also logical that they need bullpen help.

        The Yankees can do better for Hughes than an injury prone outfielder that’s also due for free agency. Yes, Morse is what they need, but they aren’t going to overpay. You have to consider any potential deal from all aspects – including what happens to the rotation. Not only is Nova-Phelps 4/5 somewhat shaky, but it also hurts the Yankees rotation depth if Hughes is dealt (there will be injuries).

        If Hughes was ever to go in a deal for Morse, I’d expect to get more than just Morse.

  7. dp says:

    I hate stupidity! YOU talk about WAR so let us…at FG over the last 2 years Morse 3.6 and Hughes 2.6.

    I have no problem trading my number 4 or 5 starter for a guy who can hit in the middle of my lineup.

    • Derek says:

      Relax…No need to escalate this – we simply disagree. I’m not the one getting all annoyed about it.

      You’re picking arbitrary endpoints in your argument. Morse put 3.3 of those 3.6 in one season. How can we simply assume he’ll do that again? ZiPS, a completely unbiased projection system projects 1.5 WAR for Morse in 2013. I would give you the projection for Hughes – but it’s not out yet. If I had to guess it’d be around 2.

      CAIRO which is a little more optimistic has Hughes at 2.8 WAR and 2.2 for Morse.

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