On Wednesday, the Nationals shipped away popular slugger Michael Morse to the Seattle Mariners, in a move that had been expected and long speculated — but some fans hoped wouldn’t happen. Morse spent three seasons with the Nationals, blossoming into a middle of the order hitter that helped drag Washington out of losing into a contender with his powerful bat. In return, the Nationals received three players — right-handers A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen and a player to be named later from the Oakland Athletics. With the three-team deal now complete, we take a look at what it means.
>>> Why do the Nationals want prospects? And why pitchers?
Quite simply, the Nationals dealt from a position of excess (Morse) to replenish their farm system (starting pitching). General Manager Mike Rizzo and the Nationals have made it a priority this offseason to bolster the organization’s starting depth. They have signed a handful of arms to minor league deals and, now, they added two young starters, including Cole, who was the centerpiece of the 2011 trade that brought Gio Gonzalez to Washington.
Despite Cole’s struggles in high Class A in the Athletics’ system, the Nationals still believe in his ability and potential. They signed him to a $2 million bonus out of the 2010 draft and he is only 21 years old. In Treinen, 24, the Nationals received a player who became a starter this season in high-A, has a great strikeout-to-walk ratio but gives up a lot of hits. But again, these are two young arms that the Nationals can develop and possibly rely on in the future.
>>> Who will fill Morse’s role?
Since acquiring Denard Span, the Nationals outfield became crowded with three starters: him, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper. Rizzo was prepared, and willing, to play Morse at first every day — where he played capably in his breakout 2011 season. But after Adam LaRoche agreed to a two-year deal, Morse was a man without a position — much like he was when the Nationals acquired him from the Mariners in a trade in 2009.
By parting with the Morse, the Nationals are putting significant faith in Tyler Moore — and by extension, Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina. Moore is the primary right-handed power bat off the bench now and the backup first baseman, and a potential left-fielder if anyone were to get hurt. Lombardozzi and Bernadina, however, would likely be the first ones to fill in the outfield.
Moore, 25, showed plenty of potential and displayed some of the rawest power on the team in limited playing time. He smashed 10 home runs in 156 at-bats, mostly while playing left field and some time at first. Moore could conceivably get 300-plus at-bats this season if someone gets hurt, LaRoche in particular. (Of course, Chad Tracy could also play first base, too.)
>>> Did the Nationals really make a deal with the Athletics again?
Yes. Rizzo and Oakland General Manager Billy Beane have become frequent trading partners. In fact, the entire Athletics organization has become a frequent source of Nationals players. The Nationals made three significant trades involving them in the past year: Morse, Gonzalez and Kurt Suzuki.
Obviously, both general managers have a good working relationship with each other and respect one another. Rizzo is known as a tough negotiator, a general manager that asks for much in return for his players — something that has spurned away other general managers and teams. But Beane and Rizzo have found a balance.
And, oddly enough, Beane beat out Rizzo for the Executive of the Year Award last season bestowed by Sporting News. (Also, Rizzo boycotted the movie ‘Moneyball’ out of principle.)
>>> Are the Nationals done for the offseason?
It appears so. The Nationals didn’t package Morse with any other players and, instead, will likely enter spring training with a lively competition in the bullpen for seven spots. They could have solved the bullpen logjam by trading away a reliever — but that would have defeated the purpose of adding Rafael Soriano. He was signed to provide a proven, veteran arm to the back of the already-solid bullpen — strengthening a strength — and avoid the wear and tear endured by relievers last season.
This isn’t for certain, of course. Rizzo could still trade a reliever or add another left-handed reliever or make a move he feels will help the Nationals. But for now, it appears the Nationals’ roster is complete.