While the Nationals were in New York this week, I popped up to Baltimore to talk to the Orioles about their playoff push. And, of course, I also caught up with former National and fan favorite Michael Morse. Although it was an unusual sight to see him in Orioles orange and black, he looked comfortable in Baltimore clubhouse, yukking it up with fellow South Florida native Danny Valencia and other teammates.
Morse, 31, who struggled with the Seattle Mariners and dealt with injuries this season, was traded to Baltimore on Aug. 30. Entering the final year of his contract, the Nationals traded the slugging outfielder-first baseman this winter to the team with which he broke into the big leagues. Then, he was shipped again late in the season. Morse went from one of the worst teams in baseball to one in the thick of the American League wild-card race. He played in only 76 games and hit .226 with 13 homers before being traded.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself this year,” he said. “I’ve dealt with some things. The greatest thing about it is that when I felt like I was down I was traded to a great team, a contending team. Stuff like that energizes you and gets you right back where you want to be.”
With Washington, Morse was a mainstay in the lineup and blossomed, despite some injuries. He hit 31 homers in 2011 and was a vital part of the Nationals’ second-half offensive surge in 2012. With Baltimore, he has been relegated to a platoon role, facing mostly only left-handers. He is hitting .143 (3 for 21) in nine games and has yet to notch a hit at Camden Yards. Morse isn’t concerned about his slump; he is happy to help contribute in any way possible to his new team.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “A great team, a lot of energy. These guys are capable of doing so many great things. I don’t feel like they’ve touched what they’re capable of doing.”
Morse, who was known for his light-hearted and often goofy demeanor during his four seasons in Washington, had an interesting story to share about one former Nationals teammate. When he was traded to Baltimore, the Mariners were in Houston. He hopped on a plane and joined the Orioles in New York. All of his belongings were still in Seattle, including his car.
Jayson Werth, one of the teammates he was close with in Washington, stepped in. The Nationals were on the way to Philadelphia, so Werth drove his big white truck to Baltimore and dropped it off at Camden Yards for Morse, and then arranged for a car to take the rest of the way to Philadelphia. When the Orioles returned from their road trip, Werth’s truck was waiting for Morse — and Morse is still driving it around now.
“He’s helped me a lot when I was in D.C.” Morse said. “Not even him, too. I talk to talk [Ian] Desmond a lot. My wife is very excited. When we go on the road, she wants to drive over there to hang out with the wives.”
Morse still uses A-Ha’s “Take On Me” as one of his walk-up songs, and was pleased to hear that it is still played during the seventh inning at Nationals Park.
“I think it’s really cool,” he said. “That playoff game in [NLDS] Game 5 when fans were really on their feet in the seventh inning, I think it was, they really got into it. That’s like memories that should stay there. That song can kinda bring that back. That feel.”
Morse’s down season came at an inopportune time. He is the final weeks of the two-year, $10.5 million contract. He will become a free agent this winter with a limited market. He is a powerful hitter but with injury history and limited defensive skills; he is a better first baseman than outfielder. Among outfielders with 500 innings this season, Morse has posted a -12.7 UZR, sixth worst.
Morse said his preference is to return to first base, but doesn’t mind playing in either league. “Whatever situation is good for me,” he said. He thought about his impending free agency earlier in the season, but hasn’t much recently.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “If you would have told me I would have been in Baltimore in September looking at a playoff push, I wouldn’t have believed you. But here I am now.”