Michael Morse becomes trade bait

January 8, 2013

Alex Brandon/AP

 

Adam LaRoche’s agreement with the Nationals today, coupled with an outfield chocked full of players whose contractual rights the Nationals control for years to come, leads to the clear conclusion that Michael Morse is odd man out and will almost certainly be traded before the Nationals report for spring training in five weeks.

Manager Davey Johnson has admitted he could not foresee both LaRoche and Morse returning with Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth taking up any potential outfield spot for Morse. The Nationals have Morse under control for another season at $6.75 million. As Johnson said at the winter meetings: “Once you have everyday players that have established their credentials in the major leagues are pretty good, it’s hard to start sharing roles.”

General Manager Mike Rizzo said he has been fielding calls about Morse for roughly the past month. Rizzo did not rule out keeping Morse, surely in part to not give the impression he would accept lesser value than what he perceives him as — a middle-of-the-order hitter with an affordable contract.

“There’s not going to be a time limit when we’re going to do it and if we’re going to do it,” Rizzo said. “If we can get the right deal for Mike, we’ll certainly think about trading him. We’re not going to make a bad deal just to move the player out of town. We don’t have to do it financially.”

Morse, a popular player with fans and teammates, could read the writing on the wall. Shortly after the news of LaRoche’s agreement broke, Morse tweeted that he’d be taking a social media break.

 

The Nationals would prefer to receive young, starting pitching prospects or a major league reliever, particularly a left-hander, in return for Morse. As a 30-year-old, legitimate power threat with an affordable contract, he has already garnered significant interest. He hit 64 home runs over 1,194 at-bats and slugged .516 with a 132 OPS+ over the past three seasons. But his lack of long-term control and injury history, many executives have said, will limit his value.

The offense-poor Mariners – who traded Morse to the Nationals in 2009 – and Orioles have shown interest in him. One major league executive, based on roster needs and makeup, expected the Yankees and Rays to make a play for Morse.

If and when the Nationals deal Morse, it will close one chapter of a career renaissance for him and a huge payoff for the Nationals. He came to Washington to play for a 103-loss team, straight up for Ryan Langerhans. By last year, packed stadiums chanted his walk-up music. The team made him into a bobblehead, replete with his torso-twisting at-bat warmup.

Morse made himself into one of the National League’s best pure sluggers, and he helped turn the Nationals from a disaster to a World Series contender. The relationship may be close to an end, but it was great while it lasted.

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.
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James Wagner · January 8, 2013

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