Before examining the cost and benefit of obtaining outfielder Mike Morse from the Nationals, let’s first recognize that just because Jon Heyman tweeted it doesn’t mean it will actually happen. For better or worse, we’ve gotten used to every rumor becoming a Ruben reality.
It could happen, of course, it’s just that it does not make a whole lot of sense for the Nationals. Morse is coming off of his best year as a major leaguer, slashing .289/.352/.519 with 15 homers and 29 total extra-base hits in 293 plate appearances. His big year resulted in a $700,000 raise, but he will still only make $1.1MM in 2011.
Cheap? Check. Productive? Check. These are two reasons right off the bat that the Phillies should want him, but the Nationals should probably keep him.
Aside from Werth, this is a mix-and-match group. ESPN projects the alignment to be Ankiel in left, Morgan in center, Werth in right. MLBDepthCharts projects Bernadina in left. Neither site has Morse starting.
Ankiel, Morgan, and Bernadina are all left-handed hitters. Against same-handed pitching since 2008, Ankiel’s OPS is 200 points lower than it is vs. righties, and Morgan has hit .194. While the Nats are somewhat high on Bernadina, he only has 552 middling plate appearances under his belt. It will take another year for the team to fully trust him.
For these reasons, Morse is a key player for the Nats. He would start in left against a southpaw and could even spell Adam LaRoche at first base from time to time. He would be the first man up in case of injury.
(This all goes without saying that Morse is currently the second best outfielder on the team, and should be starting every day anyway.)
Why would the Nationals, a team that spent like mad this offseason, trade a cheap, productive, necessary component to a division rival? Trading Morse for a middling prospect or two would be a contrarian approach for GM Mike Rizzo, who currently faces the unenviable task of trying to build while competing.
But what if the Phillies didn’t offer a middling prospect? What if they offered the Nats legitimate major league help?
What if the Phils offered Joe Blanton?
At first, the idea of trading a 32-start pitcher for a platoon outfielder may seem iffy, but my proposed trade is Blanton (and his entire salary) for Morse and a throw-in. The second player could be a low-level middle infielder or an organizational depth starting pitcher like Craig Stammen, a guy the Nationals don’t plan to use in 2011.
The Phillies would shed close to $7.5MM while filling a hole and acquiring an outfielder on the upswing – a player not dissimilar to the Jayson Werth of 2007.
In fact, the similarities between Morse of now and Werth of 2007 are eery:
- 28 years old
- Intriguing, early draft picks
- Falls from grace – for Werth, injuries; for Morse, injuries and a 10-day steroid suspension.
- Only one impressive season on the resume
- All the tools to suggest more production will come
Despite Heyman’s follow-up that the Nats are “disinclined to trade Morse anywhere,” it’s hard to believe that Rizzo would immediately decline an offer centered around Blanton and Morse.
The cold, hard truth is that his team needs starting pitching. Any team sending Livan Hernandez out on Opening Day needs starting pitching.
The Phillies need a right-handed outfielder, the Nats need a pitcher. The Phillies have a crowded rotation, the Nats have a crowded outfield.
Stranger things have happened.