After months of speculation, the Washington Nationals have finally parted ways with Mike Morse, sending the corner outfielder to the Seattle Mariners as part of a three-team deal. Seattle will send catcher John Jaso to Oakland as part of the deal, while the A’s will return minor league pitcher A.J. Cole to the Nationals’ organization.
Three-team trades are always fun, and this one is no exception. However, one team in the deal is clearly having more fun than the other two.
Even though Seattle had been rumored to be interested in Mike Morse for much of the offseason, this is still a curious move by the Mariners’ brass. Morse, who began his MLB career in Seattle, has blossomed as a hitter in Washington to the point where he actually cracked the top-20 of the MVP voting after hitting 31 home runs for the Nats during the 2011 season. Injuries are something of a concern – Morse has missed 140 games over the past three years – but he does bring a solid bat to a Mariners organization that has been historically inept at scoring runs in the 2010s.
On the other hand, Seattle has spent the offseason stockpiling players who have the exact same skillset – good bat, mediocre glove at a corner outfield spot – that Morse brings to the table. The Mariners brought back Raul Ibanez in hopes he locks down left field, and they also picked up Jason Bay off the scrap heap in hopes that the BC native can revive his career. There does not appear to be any playing time at DH, either, as the Mariners acquired Kendrys Morales from the Angels right before Christmas. And while Morse does have the ability to play first base, the Mariners are likely to give Justin Smoak another opportunity to lock that position down on a fulltime basis.
So really, there is not an obvious place for Mike Morse in the Mariner lineup.
It appears that Seattle made this trade with the intention of clearing a potential logjam behind the plate. Jesus Montero might get another chance to prove he is a fulltime catcher, while top prospect Mike Zunino tore up the minors in his first season of pro ball and received an invite to spring training. Still, it looks like the Mariners simply traded one logjam for another.
When will teams finally stop allowing Billy Beane to insert himself in the middle of trades?
The Oakland general manager has done it again, somehow acquiring the best player in the deal and potentially filling a major hole in the A’s lineup while in return giving up only a minor league pitcher who has yet to rise above Single-A.
It is not entirely clear why John Jaso was never able to win over the Seattle brass. A lefty-hitting catcher with decent power and patience at the plate, Jaso was the Mariners’ most productive hitter last year and was the only player on the team that managed to hit better in Safeco Field than he did on the road. But for whatever reason, Seattle manager Eric Wedge refused to give Jaso a chance to earn the starting job on a fulltime basis.
Jaso is not without his flaws, as his platoon splits reveal that nearly all of his production at the plate came against righty pitchers. And while nobody has quite figured out how to measure defense at catcher, Jaso will never earn any accolades for his work behind the plate.
In other words, he is a classic Billy Beane trade target: a flawed player who nonetheless could be incredibly useful in the right environment. Seriously, this move could have been lifted directly from the pages of Moneyball.
Here is betting that a team that received virtually no production from their catchers last season will have no problems finding a spot for Jaso.
Much like the Mariners, Washington is receiving a player who is no stranger to the organization. A.J. Cole, whom the Nationals drafted in the fourth round back in 2010, was the centerpiece of the trade that helped bring Gio Gonzalez to the club last offseason. A righty starter who can hit the mid-90s with his fastball, Cole has the potential to be a future staff ace but has spent the past two seasons pitching at the Single-A level. He will likely be moved up a level but is still unlikely to help the big league club in the near-future.
This trade was more about simplifying the Nats’ current roster, as the team’s re-signing of Adam LaRoche earlier in the offseason made Morse expendable. Washington figures to be loaded next year with or without Morse, so trading him away for a future prospect made some sense.