Yesterday, the Washington Nationals chose to re-sign Adam LaRoche to a two-year, $24 million contract instead of sticking with Michael Morse at first base. It’s certainly debatable whether the move was a smart one for the Nationals, but the important consequence of this trade-off for the Yankees is that the Nationals are now shopping a right-handed designated hitter who won’t bog down the payroll in 2014. Yes, that player is Michael Morse, and yes, that is almost exactly the type of player the Yankees have been looking for. Let’s go over those points again.
1. Right-handed hitter
Now I’m generally not a big believer that a lineup needs to be perfectly balanced between left and right-handed hitters (as well as hitter types), so for me, this isn’t a huge factor. However, with Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Ichiro Suzuki, and Brett Gardner, the Yankees would surely rather have a right-handed hitter to mitigate the effects of the pitching platoon.
2. Designated Hitter
To be clear, the fact that Morse is a bad defender is not a positive. The thing about the DH spot is that anyone can play it. The best defender in the game can be a DH. So it’s not as if Michael Morse is a good fit because he is a bad fielder, and the DH needs to be a bad fielder. He’s a good fit because good fielders cost more, and if they play at DH, that extra cost is wasted. The fact that Michael Morse is more of a DH-type than a full-time outfielder means that the Yankees won’t have to give up as much to get him.
I want to take a moment to address Morse’s fielding. Many are calling him an outfielder, but I don’t think that should be the expectation if the Yankees are to trade for him. Since 2010, Morse’s UZR ratings have been -8.9, -13, and -6.5. However, that both includes his generally positive numbers at first base, and is based on a couple partial seasons. If we use UZR/150 [games] and just include his time in the outfield instead, his numbers are as follows:2010: -18.6 2011: -21.6 2012: -16.0
That’s pretty bad. That’s Raul Ibanez bad. Maybe worse. And sure, Ibanez played in the outfield in 2012 due to Gardner’s injury, and he wasn’t a complete mess, but that might have been more luck than anything else. We can’t expect Morse to provide any value in the outfield, so he would really be limited to first base, to rest Mark Teixeira, and DH.
3. Only One Year Left
Normally, having only one year left on a contract is a negative. However, because the Yankees are trying to decrease their payroll for 2014, the fact that Morse will be a free agent after next season is a big positive. The Yankees want as little money tied to players for 2014 as possible. Morse could, theoretically, provide good value to the team in 2013, and then walk away after the season, his spot filled by a younger, cheaper, option.
I’m going to add one more factor to this list that I failed to mention before.
4. Has Power to the Opposite Field
Take a look at Morse’s career wRC+ (an all-encompassing stat where 100 is average) and Isolated Power to Left, Center, and Right:Left (pull): 151 wRC+, .255 ISO Center: 197 wRC+, .250 ISO Right (opposite): 191 wRC+, .272 ISO
Morse is actually a fantastic opposite-field hitter, which is perfect for a right-handed hitter at Yankee Stadium. Lefties hit 16% more home runs in New York than in the average field, which is mainly due to the short porch in right. Morse’s opposite field power can take advantage of that, making him a great fit for the Yankees.
Now, the big question, given all this, is cost. Unfortunately, I’m no insider, so I’m not sure what sort of package the Nationals are looking for. They reportedly want a left-handed reliever and/or prospects, but I’m not sure of what quality. Would a package of something like Boone Logan + Adam Warren do the trick? Possibly, but I have a feeling that the Nationals would want more than that.
Because of this uncertainty, I’m not sure if the Yankees should trade for Morse or not. However, if they could find a reasonable trade, such as the one I suggested above, Morse would be a perfect fit for their needs right now. He would give the offense a boost, keep the Yankees competitive for 2013, and not cost them any money in 2014 or beyond.