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Hard to Spin Mariners Trade Positively

The Mariners traded John Jaso for an old friend in Michael Morse, except Jaso went to Oakland because it was a three-team deal. I’ve gathered—since I’m literate—that neither Dave Cameron nor Jeff Sullivan like the trade (see: here and here). So I’m going to go about this as objectively as possible, perhaps with things like new-fangled “statistics.”

We should all know Jaso by now. He’s a sabermetric darling with that 13.4% career walk rate, and perhaps it’s fitting that Oakland nabbed him. He caught a perfect game once, if you heard, and he proved over the course of the season that he wasn’t an incompetent catcher by any means. He was also our best hitter last year by just about every measurement. Except stolen bases.

Since joining the Nationals in 2009, Morse has spent significant time in the corner outfield positions and at first base. He has also spent significant time sucking at those positions. In about a season-and-a-half in the outfield, Morse cost the Nationals about 23 runs by UZR standards or 7 runs by DRS standards. So maybe it’s more accurate to say, “maybe he’s awful, or maybe he’s just bad.” In any case, outfield defense is not his strong suit, and it’s not like there’s room for him at first base at the moment. Morse was definitely not brought in for his glove.

The Mariners traded for Morse not because he can field, but because he can hit! Sometimes. His major attraction comes in the form of 31 homeruns in just 575 plate appearances during the 2011 season. His ISO power since joining the Nats has been well above .200, and everyone likes power. Morse has always been able to turn contact into hits well, posting a career BABIP of .344 in 1690 plate appearances. Bill James projects that it all adds up to a .360 wOBA in 2013. This is becoming a list of good news, but the good news seems to halt there.

After turning 30, Morse saw his ISO dip below .200 last season in his 430 plate appearances. That could be random noise, or it could be the natural aging process that seems to be a thing after 30. His career walk rate of 5.9% is well below league average, and his high flail-rate (36.7% vs. league-average 29%) suggests that this low walk rate is for real. And even that .360 wOBA projection is worse that Jaso’s .372 last season, which is not even park-adjusted.

It would have been awesome to add Morse without giving up a player of Jaso’s caliber. In other words, Morse is not a bad player. But when Jaso is the guy we lose, I have a hard time supporting this deal in and of itself. Since I believe that Jack is a smart baseball mind (pending), I’m going to optimistically assume this is part of another move. The Mariners obviously need a catcher now after the trade, and maybe he has something set up to nab a catcher and something else shiny in a trade. Maybe this was the only way to swing it. Maybe. Otherwise, stay healthy, Mike. Hit 40 out if you could, please.


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Tags: John Jaso Michael Morse Seattle Mariners

  • Eric Reining

    Yeah, this deal doesn’t make a lot of sense to me from the Mariners perspective. It certainly made Oakland better, but the net of adding Morse while losing Jaso is probably a loss of one win. Maybe closer to two.

    Now the M’s basically have 3 players available for two spots (1B/DH), and if you add Justin Smoak to the mix, you have 4 players available for two spots. If you add a catcher like Kelly Shoppach, which would be smart, then you have 5 players for 3 spots (1B/DH/C).

    I’m not comfortable with Jesus Montero playing catcher every day. I’m also not comfortable with Kendrys Morales or Mike Morse playing 1B. But if Smoak is your everyday 1B, and Morales is the primary DH, that means Morse will have to play COF. So if you add a defensive catcher like Shoppach, what do you do with Montero?

    I’m sorry, just trying to figure all this out in my head.

    • JJ Allen Keller

      You aren’t comfortable with Morlaes or Morse at 1st? Why? It’s the easiest position on the field, and poor defense there doesn’t cost you much, especially if it means getting a bat like Morales out there. We have seen that pitching and D alone don’t work. We can afford a loss of D at the least important position if it means adding 130 wRC+ to the lineup that would t have been there otherwise

      • Eric Reining

        See, now you’re contracting yourself. Morse, over the last two years, has logged close to 950.0 innings in left field, and he’s produced a cumulative UZR/150 of -44.9. That’s incredibly terrible, way way way below league average.

        Also, a wRC+ of 130 would be excellent, but it stands to reason that it will take a severe turn for the worse playing in Seattle, and he’s not good enough on defense, nor is he fast enough on the bases, to justify whatever his offensive production will be. Which is basically why he’s a 1.0-2.0 fWAR player.

        He costs the team about as many runs as he produces, relative to league average.

    • JJ Allen Keller

      Also, Morse is going to play Lf. That’s pretty much set it stone unless Smoak goes

  • Scott Goin

    I think it’s more likely that Morse’s issues last year had to due with his torn lat at the beginning of the year and various hand/wrist issues in August/September. 30 or 31 isn’t that old and any projection you find on Morse won’t have taken those injuries into account.

    I think Morse will be a very nice bat for us this year. It’s just too bad that we had to give up 3 years of Jaso to get him.

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