A Michael Morse Trade Q&A

professional athlete - Dilip Vishwanat

Answering some more questions about the Michael Morse/John Jaso trade on Wednesday, from the Seattle Mariners' perspective.

All right, some more time has passed since we all caught wind of the news the Mariners were trading John Jaso for Michael Morse. Of course some more time has passed since then -- the alternative wouldn't make any sense, as we don't live within a reality time-out. Or do we? That question will not be included in the following Q&A. However, feel free to consider it in your leisure time. Would it be possible? Would it be conceivable? What would be the implications? I feel like this should be considered over scotch, or weed. I wonder if there's a company policy about discussing weed in an introductory paragraph. I suppose I'm going to find out pretty quickly. Switching gears back to the baseball stuff!

Did the Mariners really trade John Jaso for Michael Morse?
Yes.

Really?
Yes.

Really?
Yes.

Straight up?
Yes.

Really?
Yes.

Why?
They figure it improves the team.

Why?
Presumably, they like Morse more than they like Jaso, and think he's a good fit for the current ballclub.

Michael Morse or Mike Morse?
I don't actually know and I don't like this trade enough to find out the answer for sure.

Was this a good trade for the Mariners to make?
No, I don't think so, for reasons I've already touched on. Morse can hit, but overall he's not actually that valuable, or at least he's not as valuable as his slugging percentages. Jaso can hit, and he can catch without embarrassing himself. One recalls that it was Jaso behind the plate for Felix's perfect game. Perhaps most importantly, Morse has one remaining year of team control, while Jaso has three. If anything, the Mariners should be stockpiling club-control years. Jack Zduriencik has made this a point of emphasis in prior transaction discussions. He likes to highlight how much time players have left before free agency. Here, he got a guy who's about to become a free agent for a similarly valuable guy who isn't. The Mariners, at present, are probably the fourth-best team in their own division. The Mariners are also now in need of a catcher, which Jaso is. They were not in need of a player like Morse.

Was the initial response perhaps a bit of an overreaction?
Probably, yeah, in that this isn't a disastrous trade for the Mariners. They gave up a part-time catcher for a power-hitting, average pseudo-outfielder. There's no top prospect who might come back to bite us. The Mariners didn't just pay too much for Andre Ethier or somebody awful. The magnitude of this deal is pretty limited, so it's not worth all that spent emotion. These poll results are telling, but we all feel first and think second. Jack Zduriencik probably didn't doom himself by trading John Jaso. Personally, I know I feel better now than I did at first.

So was the overreaction unwarranted?
I don't think so. There are two elements at play. You have the rational side, which considers numbers and valuation and all that. And you have the emotional side, where you think about how players have made you feel in the past. Emotions can be powerful in either direction, and with John Jaso, we have a ton of positive memories. So when we heard the Mariners were trading Jaso away for an unspectacular player, we didn't just think about the math. There was an emotional bond broken in the blink of an eye. In some tiny, tiny way, losing Jaso was like losing a loved one, and when that happens you can't be expected to think rationally, not right away. It takes time before things become clearer. When losing somebody you like, you will probably overreact negatively. When losing somebody you dislike, you will probably overreact positively. Then your feelings will plateau and begin to regress closer to the emotional mean. Emotional overreactions are emotional overreactions, and they make for insufficient analysis, but they're meaningful and they're just part of human nature. One shouldn't apologize for one's feelings.

Is Morse a good hitter?
Yes. Or, at least, he has been a good hitter in the recent past. Over the last three years, 230 players have batted at least 1,000 times. Morse ranks 23rd in OPS and 22nd in wRC+. He's posted the same 2010-2012 wRC+ as Carlos Beltran and Josh Willingham, and he's posted a slightly higher wRC+ than Billy Butler and Nick Swisher. He doesn't walk, and he does strike out, but he hits for power and he's also demonstrated an ability to hit for an elevated BABIP that at this point we probably have to take seriously. Morse has been a potent contributor, and he should be expected to be a potent contributor again in 2013, at the plate.

How about a 2013 offensive projection?
ZiPS: .272/.320/.467
Fans: .285/.339/.483

See, Morse is almost 31, and his 2012 was worse than his 2011 and his 2010. So while you can hope he slugs .550 again, it's probably not happening. That's not the 50th-percentile expectation.

Is Morse a good defender?
No.

Anywhere?
No.

Really?
Do you remember Michael Morse?

Do you really think you should be trusting the advanced defensive metrics?
This isn't just about the advanced defensive metrics, although, indeed, they're pretty down on Morse, especially as an outfielder. UZR doesn't like him. DRS doesn't like him. Whatever Baseball-Reference uses doesn't like him. Forget about the numbers and look at Morse. Consider Morse and maybe watch a few clips. Does he feel like a good defender to you? Do you think he's more good, neutral, or bad? Do you think he's likely to be better or worse now that he's older and he's been through more injuries? Whatever your personal defensive evaluation -- that has value. That affects what Morse is worth. His defense matters, and he isn't a gifted defender.

Won't the adjusted Safeco fences make the outfield easier to play?
Only a little bit. Hardly enough to mask a liability.

Is Morse a good baserunner?
No, he's not good at that either. That also affects his value.

Why add to the major-league roster while subtracting from the major-league roster?
That's a good question, especially given the matter of the reduced club control. The Mariners, pretty clearly, think the gap between Morse and Jaso in terms of value is bigger than what the publicly-available numbers suggest. If they didn't, this wouldn't have gotten done. The Mariners must care a lot about Jaso's mediocre defense, and poor numbers against left-handed pitchers.

Is it understood that Jaso can't hit left-handed pitchers?
Not really. It shouldn't be, anyway.

Is the industry just down on John Jaso? That is, does he end up overrated by outsiders?
I don't think we can dismiss that Jaso has now been traded two times for seemingly too light a return. Once for Josh Lueke, by a great organization, and once for a year of Michael Morse, by the Mariners organization. To put a lot of stock in this is to disagree with the idea that the Rays might've simply screwed up. Every organization screws up, even the most brilliant ones. It was curious that Jaso came from the Rays so cheaply. But I don't think we can just defer to insider knowledge; I think maybe the Rays just screwed up, and the Mariners didn't like Jaso as much as the fans did.

So is Mike Zunino on the fast track?
He already was. But yeah, now there's one fewer player standing in his way. The Mariners will add another catcher soon -- they have to, because they have only one of them -- but that catcher'll probably come at a low commitment. If Zunino doesn't fuck things up, he could arrive in a matter of months.

Wasn't Zunino going to force a move like this anyway?
Two things. One, you can't assume a prospect's development. Do not take Mike Zunino for granted as a quality big-leaguer. He's still got a long ways to go. Two, that doesn't mean this had to be taken care of now. Who knows what would've been the situation with Jaso or Montero down the road. And even if the Mariners were effectively forced to trade John Jaso, it seems to me they could've and/or should've done better than one year of a decent veteran. Jaso does some things few players can do, and he's affordable.

Who's going to be the Mariners' new second catcher for the time being?
I don't know, but somebody, and probably one of the current free agents. Kelly Shoppach is out there, and so is Rod Barajas, and so is Yorvit Torrealba, and so is Miguel Olivo! Miguel Olivo is out there! Ready to be signed by a team!

What about George Kottaras?
The A's just designated Kottaras for assignment to make roster room for Jaso. I'd be fine with Kottaras, but it stands to reason that if the Mariners were interested, they would've just asked for him to be thrown in since the A's are dropping him anyway. I'm not saying it's impossible that Kottaras could end up in Seattle, but it would look weird.

So Jesus Montero is the regular catcher?
For now, he'll get that shot. And then he'll presumably lose that shot if and when Zunino arrives because Zunino's supposed to be a full-timer. Montero probably still isn't a catcher long-term, no matter how well his offseason has been going (and I don't know if it's been going well).

Does Morse truly upgrade the 2013 Seattle Mariners?
I'm unconvinced, and if he does, he doesn't seem to do it by a lot. Morse, for example, is a superior hitter to Casper Wells, but Wells is the better runner and the better defender, and we don't need to get into all of this again. Overall value is what matters and Wells' overall value is at least comparable to Morse's when you take everything into account. Don't get blinded by Morse's average or power numbers. Wells contributes in ways that Morse just does not. Wells just isn't a favorite of the Mariners and that's why he's seen other guys get acquired in front of him.

Maybe Justin Smoak ends up starting in Tacoma and Morse gets time at first base and DH, effectively splitting with Kendrys Morales and sometimes Raul Ibanez. It's easier to make the argument that Morse is an upgrade over Smoak, and Smoak does have that one option year remaining. But because Morse is average, or maybe a little bit better than that, it's not like the Mariners' 2013 playoff odds just skyrocketed. They added a Morse, to play at some position, and they lose a Jaso. John Jaso just had a .394 OBP.

Were the Mariners desperate?
I don't think the Mariners were desperate. There's some difference between desperation and urgency, and it's not like the Mariners were begging other teams to make a deal. But I do think there was pressure to make a move, especially after the Justin Upton negotiations fell through. Only so many moves were available to the Mariners for them to make.

Is this about PR? The pro-dingers angle?
I suspect the Mariners aren't making moves for PR reasons. I suspect the Mariners understand the best thing you can do for PR is win. So, the best thing you can do for PR is just try to make the team better by whichever means possible, because fans respond more to wins than they do to dingers or superstars or stolen bases. I'm sure the Mariners don't mind that Morse will win people over with his power, but that's not what drove these negotiations.

Did ownership force Jack Zduriencik to do this?
There's no reason to think that.

Didn't the Mariners have to do something?
This is a popular line of reasoning. No, I don't think that they did. What does that mean? Like, the Mariners had to do something in order to make the fans happy? You can't let fans determine roster construction. This gets back to the PR stuff. Even if it would've been negative PR for the Mariners to have an underwhelming offseason, making questionable moves doesn't make things any better. That's slapping a band aid over a wound that might not heal on its own. Again, winning is what gets the most attention, and moves that don't get you closer to winning are moves that don't help, regardless of the timing. The alternative to doing something now is waiting and using available resources to do something later on, when there are more opportunities. For example, by not trading for Justin Upton, the Mariners still have all those pieces to try to trade for Giancarlo Stanton at some point. The Mariners could've conceivably held onto the money they tried to spend on Josh Hamilton. Then they could've invested that money later, elsewhere. The Mariners were not approaching any meaningful deadline. The option that's always in between "do something good" and "do something bad" is "do nothing", and doing nothing is better than doing something bad.

Could the Mariners trade Morse during the season for a prospect return?
Of course they could, if and when they fall out of contention, so long as Morse is producing a little bit. He'd have market value, and then the Mariners could add a young piece or two.

Could the Mariners hang onto Morse and turn him into a draft pick?
Sure, if Morse is good enough in 2013 to be worth extending a qualifying offer. Even in that event, the Mariners would be looking at a sandwich-round pick, instead of something higher in the first round. It would be a prize, but a modest one.

Could the Mariners hang onto Morse beyond 2013?
There's nothing preventing the Mariners and Morse from working out a contract extension. Morse, for his part, certainly seems excited to be re-joining the Mariners, and he's leaving probably the best team in baseball, so that tells you something. Morse might love Seattle and he might love the idea of staying in Seattle for a while. But then the Mariners would have to figure out whether he's a guy worth paying market prices for, assuming he wouldn't grant a significant hometown discount of sorts. Morse isn't getting any closer to his prime.

Final thoughts?
I'm over hating this. That doesn't mean I don't dislike it -- it means I'm done feeling it so acutely. That's what happens when you give something a little time and some thousands of written words. John Jaso was a beloved Mariner, because he was good, and his approach was amazing, and he came through in the clutch, and he hardly cost anything of value. I'm going to miss him, and I'm going to miss the confidence I felt in every single one of his plate appearances. Those memories will fade, and in time I'll just remember Jaso fondly as having been a good Mariner for a little bit. Morse is going to hit for power, and some of those power hits are going to come at good times, and he'll create new positive memories. Unless he completely sucks. He could completely suck. But no matter what, Morse presumably won't end up torpedoing a would-be championship season, and losing Jaso presumably won't keep the Mariners from becoming what they want to become. Not on his own. I have my concerns about the thought process behind this deal, and in a lot of ways the thought process is more important to understand than the maneuver itself, but the Mariners are still about their young core. This was a move on the periphery. I won't feel truly devastated unless the Mariners do something truly devastating. This -- this, I just don't like very much.

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