Today the Seattle Mariners completed a three-way trade with the Washington Nationals and the Oakland Athletics. The Mariners receive former Mariner, first baseman Mike Morse. We have sent catcher John Jaso to Oakland. It seems like Jack Zduriencik is hell bent on acquiring as many part-time first basemen, part-time outfielders, full-time designated hitters as possible. Morse is the fourth player added this offseason, in addition to the players already on the roster, who will fill three positions. Not only that, but now there is a hole in our roster for a catcher who can hit successfully against right-handed pitching. Jesus Montero is the only catcher on our roster and from what everyone has been saying, he won’t stick at catcher in the future, so throw him into the mix for playing time at designated hitter and first base.
Let’s examine what we’re getting in Mike Morse and then we can try and figure out where he fits into the lineup. Some of you might remember Mike Morse as a shortstop who came up through the Mariners farm system drawing comparisons to another Mariners shortstop of yore, Alex Rodriguez. These comparisons were mainly based around their shared body type more than anything and not based on their skills. In the three years away from the Mariners, Morse has developed into a fairly competent power hitter but has lost almost all of his defensive value. He has played in the outfield for the Nationals to disastrous results and has logged just 125 games at first base in his career. What Morse does do well is hit home runs. Lets not take that away from him.
Let’s take a look at the projected performances of all the potential candidates for first base, third OF (either left or right depending on where Saunders plays) and designated hitter and see if we can figure out who the front runners are heading into spring training:
|Mike Morse (1B/OF/DH)|
|Kendrys Morales (1B/DH)|
|Justin Smoak (1B)|
|Mike Carp (1B/OF)|
|Raul Ibanez (1B/OF/DH)|
|Jason Bay (OF)|
|Casper Wells (OF)|
|Eric Thames (OF)|
Just looking at the projections, the Mariners currently have two above average players in Mike Morse and Kendrys Morales and then a bunch of players who would be best served as depth in any other franchise. Best case scenario, Morse and Morales take the majority of the playing time at first base and designated hitter and we choose one of Wells, Bay, and Thames to cover the open outfield spot and have Smoak and Ibanez on the bench. But that leaves who ever looses the outfield competition out of a job because Ibanez can’t just be a bench bat, he has to serve as the 4th outfielder. We’ve invested too much into Smoak to just let him go; perhaps Smoak starts the year in AAA. That would actually resolve this roster crunch a bit because then Ibanez serves as the back up first baseman and two of Wells, Bay, and Thames become our third and fourth outfielder leaving only one of those three out of a job.
That still ignores the fact that trading away John Jaso means either we’re all in on Montero being our everyday catcher or this roster needs a new catcher who can hit right-handed pitching, which we had in John Jaso. Did you know that last year, John Jaso was one of the best hitters against right-handed hitting, like top 10 in the league? If we’re all in on Montero as our everyday catcher, he doesn’t take at-bats away from Morse and Morales. If he’s does end up sharing time at designated hitter, like he should, that pushes Morse into the outfield further diminishing his value. Not only that but if Montero is a designated hitter, the Mariners are in need of two catchers because Zduriencik and manager, Eric Wedge, showed us last year that they’re not comfortable with only one catcher on the roster when Montero is DHing.
It’s pretty ridiculous that Zduriencik has so closely focused on a very specific type of player this offseason. That kind of focus really negatively affects the ability of a team to extract value from its roster. Value doesn’t just come from stereotyped and clichéd roles, we know empirically that value is extracted from every position and on both offense and defense. Trading away a valuable piece in exchange for a player who will be hard to fit into the roster puzzle doesn’t make much sense. I understand why depth is necessary but creating an unneeded roster crunch by focusing on similar players just serves to push potentially useful pieces out of the picture. Dave Cameron of USSMariner.com has a much better analysis of what I’m trying to talk about here. Long and short of it, the Mariners were focused on getting Home Runs and let a talented player go so they could accomplish that goal.