Brandon Morrow should be kept around in the 2009 MLB off-season to be groomed as the team’s future closer.
Morrow has been the subject of fan dismay for the past few seasons. After being drafted a handful of spots ahead of 2008 Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, then bouncing between the bullpen and the starting rotation—by both his own and the front office’s volition—he’s become a target for frustration.
I even wrote an article early in the season, claiming that he’d started his own clock on his departure upon re-joining the bullpen.
That still stands true.
Blogs and traditional journalism outlets have called for an off-season trade. Morrow may still have value disproportionate to the results he’s produced, based solely on his immense physical talent.
Morrow sports a mid-90s fastball, and developing off-speed pitches. Though he’s exiting his traditional prospect years, baseball traditionalists will note that most pitchers don’t reach their athletic prime until their late-20s or even their early-30s in some cases.
But it would be a huge mistake if the Mariners traded him this off-season for something comparable to his present value.
The mishandling of Morrow is something that has not gone understated, but is perhaps underestimated.
I’m not a proponent for the closer position. I think that the undue pressure is put on single players at the end of the game, and that the most important outs of a game are quite frequently before the final inning.
Baseball has become a game of specialization and if the ninth inning is considered the most important, it seems hypocritical to leave swap pitchers for handedness match-ups in earlier innings, but to remain a slave to convention come the end of the game.
But the Mariners are running out of time to maximize Morrow’s value.
I also don’t buy into the idea of a closer needing a “special mentality.” But while I think that the “special mentality” is an overvalued asset, I respect its existence.
I also recognize that my opinion doesn’t matter, and that the value of a position is dictated by the market.
The same market netted the Mariners Franklin Gutierrez among other players this off-season, when the team traded J.J. Putz and others to the New York Mets in a three-team deal that also involved the Cleveland Indians.
Morrow has struggled in an attempted conversion to a starter, but there is reason to believe that he could return to form in the bullpen.
The team has David Aardsma in the closer role presently, and in 2008 they drafted Joshua Fields, the top reliever in the 2008 draft, a closer from the University of Georgia.
Aardsma should be a great example of the randomness of “creating” a closer. Typically great closers are failed starting pitchers: Dennis Eckersley, John Smoltz, Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon, and Eric Gagne come to mind.
As starters, in the latter three would have had very little value on the free agent or trade market, but as closers they were or are extremely valuable.
But Aardsma is going to become more expensive soon, and if he can reel off another season or two of solid relief work, he could be very valuable in a trade.
As Morrow approaches his arbitration years, the team could conceivably risk repeating the situation that the Mariners were in when Joel Pineiro entered the 2006 off-season recovering from an elbow injury.
Pineiro, amidst his arbitration years, was non-tendered, as he’d reached such a level of compensation that the team couldn’t justify keeping him considering the obvious risk for re-injury, delayed rehab, or decreased effectiveness.
The team was ultimately right, but it marked the third of a trio of formerly untouchable prospects: Pineiro, Gil Meche, and Ryan Anderson who would ultimately see their Mariners careers reduced in some way due to injury.
The logic, at least in the case of Morrow, is that while two years ago his value may have been at its peak, that doesn’t mean it can’t rise from the valley it is in.
And ultimately the potential return on Morrow, even if he leaves with no compensation, is probably more valuable than any prospect he’d be traded for right now.
If all goes well, he’d eventually be replaced by Joshua Fields, as the Mariners continue to cycle through relief pitchers, exploiting a flaw in the market valuation of closers.