Hard to Spin Mariners Trade Positively

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

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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