Even after the mega-trade that wasn't with Justin Upton and Arizona sputtered out last week, it was clear that the Seattle Mariners weren't ready to throw in the towel in their search for more pop in their lineup. They landed that pop on Wednesday when Jack Zduriencik orchestrated a 3-team, 5-player trade with the Oakland A's and Washington Nationals in which the M's brought former prospect Mike Morse back to Seattle. Zduriencik said that his goal this off-season was power. His goal was offense. "We set out this winter to add offense to our club, with the addition of Mike Morse, along with the other veteran players we have added, we believe this will help us be a more complete offensive team. We wanted to add additional right-handed power and Mike is a major step in that direction."
Morse certainly does provide right-handed power as he clubbed 64 home runs over the last three seasons -- including 31 in 2011 -- for the Nats. But the move cost the club catcher John Jaso, who had a number of clutch hits and was statistically -- albeit in abbreviated opportunities -- the team's best hitter in 2012. And further complicating things, Morse is limited defensively. Although he joked on the conference call that he still felt most comfortable playing shortstop, a position that he played as a prospect but hasn't played at the big league level in nearly six years, Morse further clouds a collection of corner outfield/first base/designated hitter-type players on the M's roster. For his part, Morse stated, "I feel very comfortable at first base or in the outfield and it doesn't hurt to get a breather sometimes at DH."
Circling back around to the failed Upton deal, Zduriencik recently told MLBTradeRumors.com, "If exactly what you want to do doesn't work out then you'd better be able to go in another direction. Be ready to shift and just say 'OK, this isn't precisely what we want, but we think it helps our club.'" That seems like precisely what happened here. Once the Upton deal fell through, Morse was the target.
The Mariners looked ahead to 2013 and their clear goal was to add power and extend the lineup by adding proven hitters in the middle of the order. They were in heavy on both Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli but eventually lost out on both players. They have however now added switch-hitter Kendrys Morales, left-handed hitter Raul Ibanez, and right-hander Jason Bay to go along with the right-handed Morse. You can certainly envision the 2013 M's having a lot more offensive potential with that group.
What the Mariners lost in Jaso was a very effective hitter who may or may not have officially turned the corner in 2012 offensively thanks to his new, more upright, open stance. Jaso hit .276/.394/.456 for Seattle in 361 plate appearances, setting career highs in a number of offensive categories along the way. He was that rare hitter for the M's over the last several years that actually hit better at Safeco Field (.877 OPS) than he did on the road (.817 OPS). But he also caught only 39 games as a starter (one of those games was Felix Hernandez's perfect game) and struggled defensively with the running game and with passed balls and wild pitches. In reality, the M's parting with Jaso probably was more tied to the future of Jesus Montero and even Mike Zunino than it was to Jaso. Jaso was well liked, albeit quiet, in the clubhouse according to a source, and he certainly made a big impression on fans with his clutch hitting (1.106 OPS w/RISP in 2012), late game heroics (13 RBI in the 8th inning or later in just 77 at bats) and post-game shaving cream pie slams.
But Jaso's limitations against left-handed pitching -- against whom he has a career .164/.302/.230 lifetime line -- paired with his so-so catching skills limit him to part-time duty. And as I pointed out on Twitter, I agree that a so-so defensive catcher is more valuable to a team than a so-so defensive outfielder (which may be generous to Morse), Mike has no such career platoon split. He is a .292/.343/.487 career hitter against right-handed pitching and a .303/.357/.503 career hitter against left-handed pitching. And while Morse has had some injury issues recently (he missed time last year from shoulder, thumb, hand and wrist injuries), he averaged 115 games played over the last three years in Washington.
Morse is certainly a step (or three) down from the dream that was Justin Upton. And he has only one year left on his current deal, leading to what could be a mass-exodus of all of the above mentioned "power hitter" adds following 2013. But the cost difference in acquiring Upton (reportedly Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, Stephen Pryor and Charlie Furbush) and Morse (only Jaso) should be considered here, too. And while many people want to bash this trade, let's not forget that the M's are the ones receiving back the everyday player here.
What Seattle is banking on is that Morse can stay healthy and be that everyday player and that he returns to his 2011 form, a season in which he hit 31 home runs and 36 doubles while hitting .303/.360/.550 for the Nats. The M's may also be banking on Jaso not again being as good as he was in 2012 going forward. This link to FanGraphs shows how the two players have compared offensively in their careers.
Morse certainly has his limitations, most notably in terms of being the polar opposite of Jaso when it comes to plate discipline, walk and strikeout rates. And moving from the National League to the American League may well exacerbate that. But in all, trading a back-up catcher with good on-base skills for an everyday player with an overall better offensive profile is what the M's did here. And while the loss of three potential years of Jaso feels rough on the surface with 2012 so fresh in our minds, Seattle has added another legitimate home run threat here with Morse. The question of how all of the above mentioned players and holdovers such as Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak all get at bats remains to be answered, but as of today, the 2013 Seattle Mariners look to be much better offensively than the last several seasons of Mariners teams. And that was the Mariners goal before this winter of discontent started.P.S. - If you are interested, Melissa Lockard did an in-depth look at what this trade does for Oakland here.
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