The Seattle Mariners have spent the majority of their offseason trying to improve their offense with just marginal success. They made a hard push for Josh Hamilton before he chose the Los Angeles Angels and they had a trade agreement with the Arizona Diamondbacks for Justin Upton, but the outfielder invoked his no-trade clause to prevent the move. Instead, they have had to settle for past-their-prime free agents like Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay, while they were able to trade for Kendrys Morales, who is a suitable, if not sexy, pickup. Their biggest prize, though, may have finally come this week with their acquisition of outfielder/first baseman Mike Morse.
The Mariners agreed to a three-team deal to get Morse with the Washington Nationals and Oakland Athletics that sends John Jaso to Oakland and two minor leaguers and a player to be named later to Washington. For Seattle, this was a deal the team almost needed to make. Their offense has ranked at or near the bottom of the league every year since 2008 and with their troubles in trying to acquire marquee talent, a guy like Morse, while hardly a superstar, may be their best bet to add some pop to their lineup.
Morse first started truly making waves during Spring Training in 2011. He led the Grapefruit League with 9 home runs and 18 RBI. As is often the case with March success, it didn’t carry over into the regular season. He hit just .267 with 2 home runs from the start of the season until mid-May and lost playing time because of it. But his year turned around when Adam LaRoche went down with an injury and he began playing every day at first base. He ended up finishing the season hitting .303/.360/.550 with 31 home runs. He finished in the top 10 in the NL in home runs, slugging percentage, and OPS and led the Nationals in average. His performance earned him some MVP votes and put him on the baseball map.
In 2012, though, he was hampered by injury. He didn’t make his season debut until early June due to a strained back muscle. He managed to play in just 102 games and hit .291/.321/.470 with 18 home runs, which was not a bad year by any stretch, but there was a drop off from his breakout season from the year before. He also began to suffer some wrist and thumb problems in September. So as much promise as Morse can bring to the Northwest, there is an inherent risk.
The Mariners are bringing in a player who has shown he can hit for power, but has only done it for one full season and, aside from 2011, he has appeared in more than 100 games just once. Additionally, with his high strikeout rate and low walk rate, his production could slip if his power fades. But Seattle needed to add a middle-of-the-order bat of some kind and Morse could be a very valuable addition to the lineup.
The Mariners didn’t have to give up a vital player to bring Morse in, either. They only sent Jaso to Oakland to complete the deal. While he did have a career year last season, the 29-year-old catcher became expendable when Seattle brought in Morales. Now, Jesus Montero can be the full-time catcher and Morales can DH. The Nationals also picked up a couple of nice prospects from Oakland. They re-acquired A.J. Cole after trading him to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez deal of a year ago. Baseball America ranked the 21-year-old the A’s top pitching prospect. They also get 24-year-old Blake Treinen who has shown a potential to be a good strikeout pitcher.