Michael Morse Trade Is Not the Answer to Fill New York Yankees' Lineup Holes
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
The good news for Adam LaRoche means bad news for Michael Morse.
LaRoche agreed to a two-year, $24 million contract with the Washington Nationals (via Washington Post), with whom he had a career year last season. With 33 home runs and 100 RBI, LaRoche was the Nats' most valuable hitter as the team went on to win 98 games.
However, the re-signing of LaRoche and trade for center fielder Denard Span leaves no spot in Washington's lineup for Morse. First base is obviously taken for at least the next two seasons (LaRoche has an option for a third year) and Bryce Harper will slide over to left field to accommodate Span.
That makes Morse expendable, and there should be heavy interest in a player who hit 31 home runs with a .910 OPS and 95 RBI in 2011. According to ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand, the New York Yankees can be counted among the teams checking in on Morse.
The Yankees could certainly use a right-handed bat in their outfield with Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Ichiro Suzuki projected as the starters.
Of course, the Yanks lineup could also use some power from the right side with Alex Rodriguez out until at least July now that his hip surgery has been pushed back, according to Anthony Rieber of Newsday.
Last season, a lat injury kept Morse out until June, yet he still notched 18 homers and 62 RBI in 430 plate appearances.
Would Morse be a platoon outfielder with the Yankees? If that's what general manager Brian Cashman envisions, it would be a waste of Morse's talents. With Morse set to be paid $6.75 million in the final year of his contract, that would be a waste of money also.
As the right-handed side of a platoon, Morse would naturally play less. But his recent splits also indicate that he may actually be a bit better against right-handed pitching. Last season, Morse batted .290 with a .755 OPS versus lefties. Against righties, he hit .291 with an .804 OPS.
That could be a result of Morse getting three times the number of plate appearances (319 to 111) against right-handed pitching. Maybe he's just better as he gets more at-bats.
The difference was even more pronounced in 2011, Morse's best MLB season. Two seasons ago, he batted .297 versus lefties with an .892 OPS. But against righties, he hit .304 with a .915 OPS, 25 home runs and 74 RBI.
Those splits are obviously something the Yankees should consider. Is Morse really best suited for a part-time platoon role where he shuffles among the two corner outfield spots and maybe helps out at first base when Mark Teixeira needs a rest?
If Morse were to play at designated hitter, he might be able to get the regular plate appearances he needs to be productive. But there's one big problem with that idea: Morse doesn't want to be a DH.
According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Morse is "strongly opposed" to playing such a role, even if metrics such as FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating indicate he actually hurts his team with his limited defensive skills.
Perhaps Morse would ultimately accept a DH role if he knew that would give him the most at-bats during a season. But if he's vehemently against such a move, the Yankees surely don't want to bring in a player who could sulk about his position on the team.
Morse wouldn't be the first player to balk at being a DH. Gary Sheffield never really warmed up to it when he was with the Detroit Tigers in 2007 and 2008. It took Adam Dunn until his second season with the Chicago White Sox to adjust to not playing in the field.
Though Morse does fulfill Cashman's preference for a player signed for one year as the Yankees try to stay below the $189 million luxury tax threshold for 2014, and would offer more production than the recently signed Matt Diaz or Russ Canzler, he might not really be the ideal fit in the Bronx.
Morse could find a better mix elsewhere. Rosenthal mentioned the Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers as possible destinations. The Baltimore Sun's Eduardo Encina reports that the Orioles are interested in adding Morse, probably at first base or left field.
According to The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, the Nationals are looking for young starting pitching prospects in return for Morse. That might be too high a price to pay for a player is only under contract for one more season, however.
The Nats would also accept a major league reliever, preferably a left-hander to replace Sean Burnett, who left via free agency.
Of the teams reportedly showing interest in Morse, the Mariners have the greatest apparent need for him.
Given Seattle's inability to acquire an impact power hitter this offseason through free agency, the trade route seems like the best way for GM Jack Zduriencik to get some pop for the middle of his batting order. The Mariners also have more of the young pitching that the Nationals are reportedly seeking.
Would the Yankees be willing to deal someone like Manny Banuelos—whose star has fallen in the organization—for Morse at this point? The bullpen also features two left-handers with Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada, but the Yanks need those two relievers for themselves.
Had Morse been available earlier in the offseason, perhaps the Yanks wouldn't have re-signed Suzuki or might have worked harder to trade Granderson. Or, maybe Cashman would have had more time to try and convince Morse that being a DH with the Yankees was the best move for both him and the team.
With the number of teams in pursuit, Cashman might have to give up more in a trade than he really wants to. Though the idea of adding a batter with Morse's power to the lineup has to be appealing, he doesn't appear to be the best answer for the roster that the Yankees have constructed to this point.
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