With the Winter Meetings complete, there are two players I’d like to discuss as potential Nick Swisher replacements. Both would have to be acquired by trade, but shouldn’t be overwhelmingly expensive. Each player also fit into the 2014 budget plan, as they will be eligible for free agency at the end of 2013.
Michael Morse and Corey Hart are the two targets I would be eyeing. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has already confirmed that he’s fielded offers for Morse, and the Brewers have “considered” moving Hart.
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.
If Morse can stay healthy, he would be the right-hand threat the Yanks need. It’s a big if, though, but perhaps that keeps the cost a little lower. Right now, Washington’s outfield consists of Jayson Werth, Denard Span, and Bryce Harper. Morse currently may be penciled in to play first base, but if Adam LaRoche re-signs, he certainly could be on the move.
Corey Hart would be the more expensive of the pair. Hart will also be 31 in March, but has been able to stay on the field for the most part. He’s made two DL trips in his career: in 2009 and 2011 with abdomen injuries, costing him 55 total games. While Hart’s power is a tad less than Morse (.215 ISO), he is more patient at the plate (7.1% BB rate). Hart is not as balanced as Morse in terms of platoon splits, but does pound lefties to a tune of a 137 wRC+ in his career. He’s no slacker vs. righties, though: 110 wRC+. In the field, Hart is also below average in right per UZR.
A roadblock to a potential Hart deal is his limited no-trade clause to 15 clubs, as mentioned in the linked MLB Trade Rumors post above. Apparently, he prefers Spring Training in Arizona, which would rule out the Yankees. Getting Hart to waive the clause would probably force the Yankees to pay him, perhaps in terms of an extension, which would probably be a trade killer.
A deal framework of Phil Hughes for Hart might make sense: the Brewers are searching for a starter, and the Yankees need a corner outfielder and right-hand bat. However, Milwaukee may be more inclined for a guy with more team control (Ivan Nova or David Phelps). Again, though, with the partial no-trade clause, don’t expect anything to happen on this front. Additionally, it sounds like Milwaukee would have to be overwhelmed to move him.
I don’t think the same framework would happen in a trade for Morse, given the fact that the Nationals rotation is already set. While that article says the Nats may look for depth, Hughes doesn’t exactly fit the category of an extra starter. With lefty Sean Burnett bolting Washington for the Angels, they certainly could use a replacement. Obviously, no deal would get done centered around Boone Logan (if only), but maybe it could be a starting point with some prospects added. In terms of rotational depth, Phelps certainly could be the type of guy the Nationals are looking for, too.
While I prefer Hart to Morse, a trade for the latter is more likely. There is injury risk, but he undoubtedly fills a desperate need and would be in accordance to the 2014 budget. Figuring that he’ll be less expensive than Hart also lessens the blow of letting him walk at the end of 2013, too.