More than a month after agreeing to a three-year contract with free agent Mike Napoli, the Boston Red Sox have yet to finalize the deal and still lack a starting first baseman for 2013. With alternative options rapidly dwindling, the team should explore a trade for the Washington Nationals’ Michael Morse.
The hold-up in Napoli’s deal is focused on a medical issue with his hip that was discovered during his physical, according to FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal. In order to protect themselves, the Red Sox are seeking to renegotiate terms in light of the discovery.
Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe reported that Boston is still “hopeful” of completing Napoli’s contract. However, with the already shallow pool of first base candidates continuing to thin out, it may be time for the team to cut bait and make a run at a player like Morse.
Adam LaRoche had been viewed as a likely backup plan for Boston if they couldn't come to terms with Napoli. That speculation ended yesterday when the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore reported that the Nationals re-signed the free agent to a two-year contract with a mutual option for 2015.
The signing of LaRoche eliminates Boston’s primary alternative, but it likely frees up another candidate in Morse. Although he’s been a regular in the outfield and at first base since midway through the 2010 season for Washington, it appears he has lost his starting status.
LaRoche will be the full-time first baseman in Washington, while Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and the newly acquired Denard Span are the outfield starters. This logjam makes Morse a likely trade candidate.
Who should the Red Sox pursue to play first base in 2013?
Washington is still seeking a left-handed pitcher for its bullpen, as it looks to build upon last season’s success that saw the team reach the playoffs.
The right-handed Morse, who will turn 31 just before the start of the upcoming season, broke out in 2011, hitting .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBI. He started last season on the disabled list, but rebounded to hit .291 with 18 home runs and 62 RBI in 102 games.
He has only played 123 major league games at first base. At 245 pounds, he’s a lumbering sort who has struggled on defense, posting a combined dWAR of minus -4.5 for his career. Despite such shortcomings, his offense could make him appealing to the Red Sox.
His bat is not without some downside. While he has a career batting average of .295, he has drawn only 94 unintentional walks during his 485 major league games. Typically, the Red Sox value hitters with more patience, but might already have enough of those to compensate for Morse.
Playing first base seems to agree with Morse from an offensive standpoint. In 375 career at-bats while playing that position, he has hit .331 with 23 home runs, 74 RBI and a .985 OPS.
Boston would face stiff competition for Morse. ESPN.com’s Insider Rumor Central reports that at least 10 teams are interested in the displaced slugger.
The team that is currently being most closely linked to Morse is the New York Yankees. John Harper and Christian Red of the New York Daily News wrote the team is trying to assemble a trade that would send lefty reliever Boone Logan to the Nationals.
However, ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden tweeted that it will take more than a reliever to pry Morse loose:
Nats won't just trade Morse.Has to be good deal for both teams.Morse for just a LH reliever WON'T get him;they need fair deal..need pitching— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) January 8, 2013
If the Red Sox felt inclined to go after Morse, their deep bullpen would allow them to dangle a southpaw reliever like Craig Breslow or Andrew Miller in addition to a prospect, or a spare outfielder like Ryan Kalish or Daniel Nava.
Morse will make $6.75 million in 2013, which is his final season before becoming eligible for free agency. Accordingly, he could end up being just a one-year rental.
With Casey Kotchman and Lyle Overbay as the top remaining free-agent first basemen, Morse should look even better to a team with a hole at that position.
If the Red Sox decide that they can’t or don’t want to work things out with Napoli, they should turn their attention to Morse. However, they may not want to wait long because it sounds like he could be gone before they know it.
Statistics via BaseballReference