MLB Trade Rumors: How Mike Morse to the Red Sox Would Impact the AL

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MLB Trade Rumors: How Mike Morse to the Red Sox Would Impact the AL
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If ever there was an excuse for the Boston Red Sox to walk away from Mike Napoli, a trade for Washington Nationals slugger Mike Morse is it.

The door to Boston's first base job is open until Napoli signs the three-year, $39 million contract (or some version of it) that he agreed to more than a month ago. If talks between the two sides don't wrap up soon, Morse could be the one who comes walking through said door instead.

According to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, the Red Sox are among the teams that are in contact with the Nats about Morse, who became expendable the moment Washington agreed to re-sign veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche to a two-year contract earlier this week.

The Red Sox haven't given any indication that they're ready to walk away from the Napoli, whose signing has been delayed due to a  preexisting hip issue. In fact, Boston general manager Ben Cherington insisted on WEEI radio in Boston on Thursday that there's "hope for a resolution."

But Morse's availability could be tempting enough for the Red Sox to finally wash their hands of Napoli. A trade for Morse would be an answer for Boston's first base dilemma, and the idea of the Red Sox pulling off a deal is by no means unrealistic.

Rosenthal says the Red Sox would need to part with young talent, and maybe a lefty reliever as well, to acquire Morse. Such an asking price isn't too tall of an order for Boston, which has a couple lefties to offer and the No. 5 farm system in baseball, according to Jim Callis of Baseball America.

The lefties the Red Sox could offer Washington are Andrew Miller, Craig Breslow and possibly Franklin Morales. Parting with either Miller or Breslow would weaken Boston's bullpen, but that's a chance the club could take because its bullpen is the one area where it may actually have too much depth.

As for young players the Red Sox could send to Washington, it's unlikely they'd have to part with any of their best prospects. Somebody more like Brandon Workman or Miguel Celestino would be fair compensation for Morse if one of Boston's lefty relievers was also included in the deal.

If Morse were to come to Boston, the Red Sox would find themselves with a right-handed power source at first base much like the one they're attempting to acquire by signing Napoli.

Morse has slugged 49 home runs in 1,005 plate appearances over the last two seasons, which amounts to a 162-game average of 32 home runs. His 2012 numbers slipped from where they were in 2011—31 homers and a .910 OPS—but that was partially because he was never 100 percent healthy for an extended period of time.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Morse's medical track record is a much bigger question mark than his talent.

When healthy, Morse is a high BABIP guy (.344 career BABIP) with plenty of raw power. His .218 ISO—or Isolated Power, a stat that measures a hitter's ability to hit for extra bases—over the last two seasons ties him for 24th among all hitters with Carlos Gonzalez, according to FanGraphs.

Morse strikes out slightly less frequently than Napoli, but what he can't match is Napoli's patience or power. Napoli's .277 ISO over the last two seasons is third-best among all hitters with at least 800 plate appearances, and it's no secret that the Red Sox have very high hopes for how his power would play at Fenway Park. He holds a .710 career slugging percentage at Boston's home park.

But Morse would tame the Green Monster pretty well in his own right. The majority of his career home runs have gone out to left field, and he has a .589 slugging percentage and a .255 ISO when he hits the ball to left field for his career (see FanGraphs).

Even knowing this, however, Morse's production with the Red Sox in 2013 likely wouldn't be as good as Napoli's production could be. It would be good enough, but the Red Sox are interested in Napoli because his production could be great if he were to join them.

The trade-off is that Morse would cost significantly less than Napoli, as he's only owed $6.75 million in 2013 before hitting free agency. If he were to revert back to his 2011 form, the Red Sox could make him a qualifying offer and then collect a draft pick after watching him sign elsewhere.

In the shorter term, the beauty of a Morse trade for the Red Sox would be that they will have denied a couple key enemies. Jack Curry of the YES Network and others have reported that the New York Yankees are interested, and Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com listed the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers as possible fits for the slugger.

Boston's offense would look about as good with Morse in the middle as it would otherwise look with Napoli. The Red Sox could bat him cleanup behind Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, with Shane Victorino, Will Middlebrooks or Jonny Gomes batting behind Morse.

Ned Dishman/Getty Images
Morse is no Gold Glover at first, but he wouldn't necessarily be a liability for Boston either.

That's a lineup that would do some damage, and Morse could also be a defensive upgrade over Napoli. His defensive numbers at first base (see FanGraphs) aren't better than Napoli's numbers at first base (FanGraphs), but there's more hope for Morse due to how well he held his own in part-time action at first base in every year except 2011.

The Red Sox's chances of making a run at the AL East in 2013 still depend far more on their long-lost pitching than their offense or defense, so I won't be foolish enough to try and convince anyone that Morse is the missing link in Boston. He'd merely be a very solid substitute for Napoli.

As such, adding Morse instead of Napoli really wouldn't change any of the projections that have already been made for the Red Sox with the assumption that Napoli will be at first base. A Morse trade would not be a game-changer that would drastically rearrange the AL East power structure.

The bright side, such as it is, is that the Red Sox with Morse at first base would still have the look of a team that could really take off if things were to go their way in 2013, even if they don't look like an obvious contender as things stand right now.

You can rest assured that the Red Sox would still be very much on the radar of other would-be contenders both in the AL East and the rest of the American League in general if they were to acquire Morse. Rival teams would also be well aware that a trade for Morse could work out better for the Red Sox in the long run than signing Napoli to a three-year contract.

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The Red Sox would get a draft pick if Morse were to decline a qualifying offer and then sign with another team next winter. They could then sign another first baseman to a cheaper deal, such as Justin Morneau, Kendrys Morales or Adam Lind.

That scenario would still be in play even if Morse didn't do enough in 2013 to warrant a qualifying offer, and he himself would be added to the mix of potentially cheap targets for the Red Sox.

For now, Morse is out there and totally available if the Red Sox want him. To make it happen, they just need to ask themselves whether the Napoli situation has gone far enough.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Salary and payroll information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

 

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