Outfield Trade Possibility: Mike Morse

Back in my 2011 plan, I proposed trading Russell Martin for a late-20s right-handed outfielder with some positional flexibility and a penchant for crushing lefty pitching, Ryan Raburn. Obviously, that didn’t happen; Martin’s in New York, and Raburn’s staying with Detroit. That doesn’t mean the need has been filled on the Los Angeles end, though. I don’t have to remind you that the Dodgers desperately need a right-handed bat with some power to play the outfield, and the interest in Bill Hall shows that they would value the ability to play more than one position, if only as a secondary skill.

So I ask you this: what about going after a similar player to Raburn, Mike Morse of the Nationals?

The massive (6’5″, 240) Morse was a 3rd-round selection of the White Sox in 2000, and spent the decade bouncing between the systems of Chicago, Seattle, and Washington. He made his big league debut in 2005, and though he’s seen MLB time in every season since, he’s only received 685 total plate appearances during that time. We should note that he was suspended in 2005 for taking performance-enhancing drugs while a minor-leaguer in 2003, an accusation he admitted to. Morse landed in Washington in exchange for the immortal Ryan Langerhans in a minor June 2009 trade, and saw only 55 PA during his first season as a National. It seems he never quite broke through because of the suspension, questions about his defense, and injuries, though in parts of 5 AAA seasons he did manage an .814 OPS.

2010 didn’t start out much better – just 17 PA through the end of May – but once Morse finally got a chance, he was outstanding, putting up a line of .289/.352/.519 with 15 HR in just under 300 PA. If he’d had enough plate appearances to qualify, his .870 OPS would have ranked 24th in MLB, ahead of Ryan Braun, Ryan Howard, and Andre Ethier. Though he handled righty pitching just fine, he was deadly against southpaws, putting up a .999 OPS in 2010, and a .893 OPS over his career.

Morse came up as a shortstop – he actually started 50 games there for Seattle in 2006 – and he has some experience at the infield corners, though he’s become primarly a right fielder in Washington. The small sample sizes during his time in the bigs make his defensive skill hard to accurately examine; he was reportedly a below-average shortstop and hasn’t been a plus right-fielder, though one would think someone who made the bigs as a shortstop could be at least adequate in left field.

Now you might be wondering, why would a team as atrocious as the Nationals be interested in trading a player who made such a big splash in 2010, particularly when he won’t even be a free agent until 2014? Well, the thought occurred to me when D.J. Short of NBC’s Hardball Talk noted the offseason moves by Washington seem to leave Morse as the odd man out. Clearly, Jayson Werth is assured of being the club’s right fielder, and today’s signing of Rick Ankiel puts him in position to battle Roger Bernadina in left field. Not that Morse was playing center, but they have Nyjer Morgan there and prospect Justin Maxwell in the mix as well. Then there’s also bench bat Matt Stairs, who can (sorta) play a bit of outfield, and at 1B, the Nats are rumored to be pursuing Derrek Lee to fill that hole. As Short says, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of room left for Morse.

So what is Morse worth in a trade? Honestly, his value is hard to pin down. There’s a lot to like; he mashed in 2010, he’s got a good minor league track record, he can play several positions, and he’s very cheap. On the other hand, the Nationals don’t appear to value him, he’s hardly a household name, he’s not a plus defender, he doesn’t have a long MLB track record, and after his hot summer he struggled through a lousy September last year.

Still, even if he’s not perfect, a righty-power bat is exactly what the Dodgers need, and shouldn’t they be in the business of taking a low-cost chance instead of the assured mediocrity of a Scott Podsednik or Jerry Hairston? Don’t take this as anything more than a fun comparison of stats, but Morse has an .810 OPS with a HR every 29.4 at-bats through his age-28 year. At the same age, Werth had a .793 OPS with the same HR rate. In parts of 5 AAA seasons, Morse’s line is .292/.354/.461; Werth, in parts of 4 AAA seasons, had .268/.355/.472. I’m not saying it’s definite or even moderately likely that Morse will become the next Werth (Werth is a far better fielder) but it seems like a chance worth taking, and at the least he could fit as the righty platoon bench bat the Dodgers don’t currently have.

As for the cost, well, the Nationals have made their preference for rebuilding their pitching staff known. Morse’s age, record and Washington’s offseason moves don’t suggest a large return, nor would I want the Dodgers to take a costly chance here. But the Dodgers do have some out-of-options players (Chin-lung Hu, Xavier Paul, Ronald Belisario, Blake Hawksworth) and a good supply of fungible relievers (Ramon Troncoso, Travis Schlichting, Jon Link, Hawksworth, etc.) so it seems like a fit could be found there.

Would Schlichting be enough? He could help the Nationals bullpen right away; if that’s not enough, toss in Hu, who’s probably going to be lost on waivers. The Washington middle infield is constantly in flux, and while Hu has just about no trade value, he could be a useful backup option.

It’s not sexy, of course, and it won’t sell any extra tickets, but if you can turn some extra assets into a lottery ticket who isn’t a Podsednik or a Hairston, why not?

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