After insisting on a three-year deal, but ultimately failing to land one, first baseman Adam LaRoche agreed to re-sign with the Washington Nationals for a two-year deal with a mutual third-year option (via ESPN).
Now that the Nats have a permanent solution at first base and a full outfield after trading for Denard Span, it appears Washington is ready to field offers for Michael Morse (per ESPN's Jim Bowden).
Morse enjoyed a solid 2012 season, batting .291/.321/.470 with 18 home runs. Hitting at least .289 in each of the last three seasons, he could certainly add a middle-of-the-order bat to a team seeking an offensive upgrade.
For a team like the Tampa Bay Rays, who struggled offensively while third baseman Evan Longoria dealt with a hamstring injury for most of the season, Morse could help in this area.
The Rays ranked just 27th in the MLB in batting average. While they did acquire some decent players via trade and free agency, a combination of Yunel Escobar, James Loney and eventually Wil Myers won't propel their offense to the top of the league this coming season, especially given the departures of B.J. Upton and Jeff Keppinger.
Tampa Bay also lacks a true power bat in its lineup. Last season, first basemen Carlos Pena and Luke Scott failed to fill this clear void, and the need still exists.
While Morse's 18 home runs last season are solid, he is only one year removed from hitting 31 homers. If he can return to form at Tropicana Field, the Rays would be a considerably improved team.
Therefore, it makes sense to add another bat. With a free-agent market largely picked over at this point, Tampa Bay may look into upgrading its lineup through a trade, and Morse would certainly be on their radar.
How do you think the Tampa Bay Rays should address their need of a power hitter?
Defensively, Morse is capable of playing several positions. While he is considered a poor defensive outfielder, he could fill in from time to time when necessary. He could also play first base, especially against left handed pitching, as Loney hit just .217 against left-handers last season and .218 for his career. Against right-handers, Morse could act as a designated hitter given the fact that Loney hits a career .287 against right handers.
The Rays truly value this type of versatility. Looking at their roster, players like Ben Zobrist and Ryan Roberts, who are capable of playing several positions, fit well in Tampa Bay, as manager Joe Maddon routinely tweaks his lineups for each situation.
The only drawback to acquiring a talent like Morse is his contract. He makes $7 million next season, which is considered costly for a team like the Rays. Because he only has one year left on his deal, he would likely depart after the season.
Morse would be a great fit, but because he only has one year left, it is vital that the Rays don't overpay to acquire his services. Given the fact that Tampa Bay just dealt James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals, the Rays have to be careful about trading too much pitching—especially with Cy Young winner David Price likely leaving sooner rather than later.
The Rays would be smart to acquire Morse, but only at the right price to ensure that a strength doesn't become a need.
General manager Andrew Friedman has already made a few trades this offseason and is always looking to improve his ballclub. At the right price, Morse would be a great short-term addition to a squad desperate for a power hitter.