A Quick Hit on the Mike Morse Trade

After reportedly claiming every available batter that was put on revocable waivers during the month of August, the Orioles finally were able to acquire one of them, by trading minor league outfielder Xavier Avery to the Seattle Mariners for DH/LF Mike Morse.  In theory, the Orioles receive a much needed upgrade at the DH position for the price of a speedy/athletic outfield quasi-prospect who has never really hit much at any level of the minor leagues.

Morse is viewed as a slugging DH/outfielder and was considered one of the Mariners big acquisitions during the off-season in an attempt to add power to their lineup.  His career was relatively forgettable until 2010, when he received regular playing time for the first time in his career with the Washington Nationals.  Things improved in 2011 when Morse had a career year posting a triple slash line of .303/.360/.550 (AVG/OBP/SLG), hitting 31 home runs splitting time between first base and left field.  While his 2012 did not live up to the previous bar he had set, he was still an above average hitter during an injury shortened season.  It’s been a completely different story in 2013, as he’s continued to slide offensively to the point where he has been a well-below average hitter (.230/.286/.411), while also spending more than a month on the disabled list.

Basically all of Morse’s value is tied up in his bat, as he offers below average fielding at every position on (career -18.5 UZR/150 in the OF) and does not run well.  Here’s a fun fact, Morse actually broke into the major leagues as a shortstop in 2005.  His time there did not go well, as he accumulated -13 defensive runs saved in just 55 games.  In addition to his fielding and running deficiencies, Morse has a tendency to be strikeout prone (career K rate of 22.6%) and doesn’t walk very much (career BB rate of 6.0%), limiting his on-base ability if he’s not hitting for a high average.  Over his career, he hasn’t really shown a pronounced platoon split, but has hit left handed pitchers slightly better than right handed pitchers, and essentially in a best case scenario, he gives you approximately the same production against left handers as Danny Valencia, who is already on the roster.

As for what they gave up?  Xavier Avery was a second round draft pick in 2008 and has been on Baltimore prospect lists ever since.  He’s speedy and athletic, but his bat has not developed yet (and may never develop).  He’ll never hit for much power, but some scouts see his ceiling as a high average hitter with speed and good defense in centerfield.  He likely ends up as a 4th or 5th outfielder who is capable at filling in at any outfield position.  While it seems like he’s been around forever, he’s only 23 years old, which will allow for some more time for his bat to come around.  He may never be a star, but at the very least, he’ll be a useful player to have on a major league roster.

After reading all this, it’s worth questioning why the Orioles even traded for Morse.  I can potentially see their reasoning in that they didn’t need to give up much to get him, and will only owe him approximately $1.2 million for the rest of the season.  Additionally, there’s a chance he’ll catch fire during the month of September and provide production in the DH spot, which has evaded the Orioles since the very first day of the season.  Morse had a productive first 2 months in 2013 prior to going on the disabled list, posting a wRC+ over 115 in both months (more than 15% better than the average hitter), but has been miserable ever since.  He could put up similar numbers in September, especially if he’s completely healthy.

In a vacuum, this could be a good trade for Baltimore, especially if Morse can produce anything close to 2011 or 2012 levels over the final month.  However, combined with the previous trade of L.J. Hoes, the Orioles have diminished their ability to provide cheap, major league ready outfield depth in future years, especially considering the fact that the player they received is similar to a player already on the roster (Valencia).   It’s nice to see the Orioles being aggressive in July and August for another run at the playoffs.  However, even though they haven’t given up any top prospects in these transactions, the depth of their farm system has taken a hit, without adding any significant upgrades to the major league roster.

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