The Michael Morse Trade and Organization Building

As soon as the Morse trade happened, the debates began. I should know as I
was involved in a few of them myself. The main one I got into had to do with
the inevitability of injuries. There are going to be players on the
2013 Nats that spend time on the DL, and the hope should be that it is the 15
day version and not the longer 60 day one or that if someone does land on the
60 day DL it isn’t a season ending injury. That would be bad and it would be
hard for the Nats to recover from it no matter who the injured party is or who
they have on the bench.  

In the light of the Morse trade though,
the argument was that enough players could get injured that the presence of
Tyler Moore, Chad Tracy, Matt Skole, Corey Brown, and Anthony Rendon in the
organization would be voided. Those five players are the Nats depth at corner
positions, and enough injuries were to occur, leading to all five appearing on
the MLB roster at the same time, it won’t matter that Michael Morse isn’t one
of them. In order for them all to be on the roster it means something went
terribly wrong. That somehow a ball was hit in the perfect location for
Zimmerman, Werth, Harper, and LaRoche to all go for it and they all came out of
the ensuing collusion with season ending injuries. That isn’t
likely.   

One or two of those players could end up
hurt at the same time like one or two of the Nats corner players ended up hurt
at the same time in 2012 (one of those being Michael Morse, who has only once
played greater than 140 games). With Morse starting the season on the DL and
Werth hitting it in May the Nats went with some combination of Lombardozzi,
Moore, Bernadina, Harper, and Ankiel in the outfield until Morse returned in
early June. Losing two corner position players at the same time to injury
wasn’t a huge deal in 2012 and it shouldn’t be a huge deal in 2013 unless those
corner players happen to be Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper. Let’s put that one
into prospective though. Zimmerman in a down year in 2012 was a 4.5 fWAR player
and Harper 4.9. Losing either of them to significant injury would be costly and
not something even the career high 3.3 fWAR of Morse could cover.  

The other aspect of the Morse trade that
was hotly debated was how it didn’t make sense in the light of the Soriano
deal. Without Morse the Nats bench of Tracy, Moore, Bernadina, Lombardozzi, and
Suzuki/Ramos is still one of the better benches in baseball. The Nats bullpen
in 2012 with Sean Burnett ranked seventh in ERA but twelfth in FIP. It was a
good but not great bullpen that had gotten worse by losing players to free
agency. By adding Soriano the Nats took what was the weakest part of the team
and brought it closer to on par with the other parts of the team. The addition
of Soriano also allows the Nats to use Clippard and Stammen, who have both been
well above average at getting lefties out, as match-up guys. If the sixth or
seventh inning is full of left handers the Nats may decide to go with Clippard
or Stammen to get them out that, of course if it is full of right handers they
may go with the same two pitchers. Both of them are good at getting outs with
the handedness of the batter not meaning a great deal. Still, having
Stammen available for the sixth inning and Clippard the seventh was not a
luxury the Nats had before signing Soriano, and now they do.    

The Soriano signing made the Nats bullpen significantly stronger whereas the
trade of Morse has at most a minor impact on the Nats bench. It isn’t 100%
telling, but it is still meaningful that in 171 PA Tyler Moore had a 0.6 fWAR
and in 430 PA Morse 0.3. Morse’s fWAR was brought down by the fact that he
played more innings in the field giving his poor defense more time to
negatively impact his overall rating. Just going by offensive numbers Moore had
a .361 wOBA and Morse .340. Morse also had a down year and Moore is new and the
league hasn’t had time to adjust to him, but there is enough evidence to
suggest than in 350 PA Moore can be just as good as Morse, and to be useful
Moore doesn’t even need to be that good.  

In 2012 the average bench player hit .225/.299/.342 when entering the game
as a sub. That includes a lot of defensive replacement types so those numbers
can likely be ignored but the average pinch hitter in 2012 hit .225/.304/.344.
No one ever claimed pinch hitting was easy and a lot of players struggle with
the role of sitting on the bench all game for one meaningful at bat late in the
ballgame. It isn’t an easy role, but Davey knows how to use his bench and likes
having a power threat from the left and right side. Meaning the Moore will
primarily pinch hit when he has the platoon advantage, and if Tyler Moore’s
2012 numbers and his .268/.321/.491 minor league batting line are any
indication he should be better to much better than the average major league
bench bat. Considering that Moore was worth 0.6 fWAR in 2012 in 171 PA and that
Morse for his career averaged 0.0036 fWAR per plate appearance. Moore only has
to be a 1.26 fWAR player in 350 plate appearances to equal the projected
production of Morse.    

The last part of all this is the return the Nats got. Two class A starters,
one of which they already had, and a player to be named which may or may not be
another starting pitcher. Many were hoping that the Nats would add a major
league piece, namely a lefty for the bullpen, but they didn’t. Instead they
added minor league pitching. Something the Nats were in desperate need of after
trading away Brad Peacock, Tom Milone, and AJ Cole last off-season, losing
Daniel Rosenbaum in the rule 5 draft, and trading Alex Meyer for Denard Span.
The Nats now have AJ Cole back and he joins a list that includes Nathan Karns,
Robbie Ray, Sammy Solis, Lucas Giolito, and Matt Purke as the pitchers from
which a solid major league starting pitcher can blossom in case Jordan
Zimmermann bolts for free agency after the 2015 season.

Mike Rizzo’s job is only partly to build
the 2013 Nats. It is also to build an organization that can sustain and win
over a period of time. If the goal was to be as good as possible for one year,
win the World Series, and not care about anything else then the Strasburg
shutdown no longer makes sense. The trade of Michael Morse gave the Nats one or
two or maybe even three more minor league starting pitchers that from which
they hope one can emerge and be a decent major league starter to take the place
of Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Haren, or Ross Detwiler when that time comes. Trading
Michael Morse has an almost zero net effect on the 2013 season, but the
pitchers the Nats got could have a big impact on the future of the organization
and help to sustain the winning stretch the Nats have just begun.

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