General Manager Jack Zduriencik has made his fair share of trades over the years; but the three-way trade completed earlier today may be the most important one of his career. The trade very well could decide his fate as the Seattle Mariners general manager.
3-team trade, still not announced, is this: Morse to Mariners, AJ Cole and PTBNL (from Oakland) to Nationals, Jaso to A’s. @mlbonfox— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 17, 2013
So as everyone knows now, this trade is done and Mike Morse is officially a Mariner again. In theory, this is a win for the Mariners if you thought the Mariners' only problem before the trade was adding one more power bat. But in reality, this trade creates more questions for the Mariners than answers.
The problem with this trade for the Mariners is that it didn't really improve the lineup at all. As a matter of fact, one can make the argument that the Mariners just traded away their best hitter from last season for an older player with only one year left on his current deal.
By adding Morse to the fold, the Mariners brought in a power bat who struggles defensively in the outfield and is better suited to spend time playing at first base or as the designated hitter. Dave Cameron wrote for Fangraphs.com earlier this month about Morse and pointed out that defense isn't the only shortcoming the slugger has:
His career UZR/150 in the OF is -15, which is pretty close to the line at which you see teams decide that the lack of range is too much of a problem to continue the experiment. He’s also been a negative baserunner for most of his career, and last year, only David Ortiz, Jesus Montero, Prince Fielder, and Billy Butler were worse at advancing around the bases. Morse is a guy who fits best as a 1B/DH, and if he doesn’t hit, he’s not particularly useful.
The problem with acquiring someone like Morse is that the Mariners went out and got Kendrys Morales earlier this offseason, who fits the exact same bill. This continues to jam up three positions for Seattle, as first base, designated hitter and an outfield spot are currently being fought over by Justin Smoak, Mike Carp, Kendrys Morales, Mike Morse, Jesus Montero and Casper Wells.
The other problem is that by trading away backup catcher John Jaso, Seattle was left with Jesus Montero as the only catcher on the 40-man roster. This would be fine if Montero were considered a decent defensive backstop, but he's not. This leaves the Mariners with a gaping hole at catcher unless Mike Zunino some how makes his way on to the 2013 roster.
Jon Morosi of Fox Sports pointed out that even though he wasn't involved in the trade, Montero's development behind the plate is truly the key to this deal:
If Montero can catch, then Morse-1B/LF, Morales-DH/1B, Ibanez-LF/DH. If Montero can't catch, it's a boondoggle.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 17, 2013
Morosi continued to point out the other questions this trade leaves for the Mariners:
3 Mariners questions: o/u Justin Smoak PA’s for SEA this year; o/u Jesus Montero starts as catcher; Mike Zunino debut date.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 17, 2013
This trade truly puts the Mariners in a bind on what to do with incumbent first basemen Justin Smoak as well. If the Mariners decide to trade Smoak, they could be left with no first baseman in 2014 as both Morales and Morse are in the final year of their contracts. If they decide to keep him, Smoak will be holding a roster spot with no real place for him to play this season. At this point, it appears as if Smoak will be spending his time down in Triple-A Tacoma unless Morales or Morse goes down with an injury.
Finally, Cameron pointed out on U.S.S Mariner that the trade is blatantly flawed and even tries to offer his idea on how the M's front office will try and spin the trade to the fanbase:
The Mariners needed to improve their offense, specifically, hitting for power. Mike Morse is a better hitter than Jaso, and because he doesn’t have Jaso’s large platoon splits, he can effect the line-up everyday. As a platoon catcher, Jaso’s value was limited to only playing against right-handers, and with Mike Zunino on the way, he didn’t have a future behind the plate for the Mariners. Jesus Montero and Kendrys Morales were going to make it difficult to get him at-bats at DH, and the team had hole in the outfield. Thus, by trading a C/DH for an outfielder, they’re dealing from a position of strength to fill a void.
Sure, some fans are going to buy that argument and believe that this was a good trade for the M's, and it very well could be. If Montero can prove to be an everyday catcher, Morse can hold his own in the outfield when Morales is at first and Seattle can find a quality backup catcher, then the Mariners could be fine.
But if Morse can only play first base and Montero still shows he isn't ready to handle life behind the plate at the major league level, then the Mariners will have too many players competing for the same positions
The Mariners may have solved their power issues for now, but they have created even more questions than they had before the deal was even made.