Today the Mariners traded away left handed hitting catcher John Jaso for right-handed outfielder Mike Morse. Over on USS Mariner Dave Cameron is trashing the trade based on value. Cameron is right to trash the trade but one doesn’t have to crunch the numbers to wonder what the hell Jack Zdurencik is thinking.
John Jaso was arguably the M’s best hitter last year. Maybe not in terms of cumulative stats, but in his 361 plate appearances he had a slash line of .276/.394/.456 and led the team in OPS. His OPS+ was 144, also team leading and last year had a WAR of 3.3. Jaso played catcher, a real position, DH’ed, and provided plenty of late inning heroics with clutch pinch hitting. More than any other Mariner, he took a mature approach at the plate, worked the strike zone, took walks when they were there, and was willing to take what the pitcher gave him. Jaso wasn’t much of a catcher, but he also wasn’t terrible. Jaso was a valuable player, relatively young and still under team control. He wasn’t a guy that was going to make the team a winner, but he was a useful piece.
When last we saw Mike Morse, he was being helped from the field after tearing the labrum in his left shoulder diving for a ball on April 22, 2008 against the Angels. The Mariners tried to move him from the infield to the outfield with disastrous results. Eventually he was traded to the Nationals for the immortal Ryan Langerhans, and in Washington he made a career for himself. In 2010 he hit .282/.359/.519 with 15 homers in 293 plate appearances. 2011 was an even bigger year with .303/.360/.550 with 31 home runs in a full season. During those seasons he played mostly first base with stints in the outfield and DHed in interleague games. Last year, not so good. Fighting through a back injury, Morse chiefly played in left and right field hitting .291/.321/.470 and 18 dingers in 430 plate appearances. Morse is not a good outfielder. Age 31, never blessed with an excess of defensive acumen, he is often mistaken for a statue in the outfield corners (though he does move too quickly for birds to nest in his hair.) With the Nats’ signing of 1B Adam LaRoche, Morse became expendable.
The Mariners, obviously frustrated by the failure of.the Justin Upton trade have become desperate for a bat, any bat. This team is now loaded with wannabe sluggers, former sluggers, aging sluggers they hope will kindle some offensive spark under this boring, low scoring team. However, in constructing this roster, Jack has catered to the lowest strata of the blog forum denizens-those who forget that baseball is not the same as Home Run Derby. It is an athletic contest played by athletes who must do more than try to swat a baseball 400 feet.
The Mariners entered the off season with clear needs: upgrade offensively at any position possible, find another corner outfielder, add at least one starting pitcher, they needed an effective utility player that didn’t just give away at-bats. Let’s see the scorecard:
- Added Robert Andino-can play 2B, SS, and 3B, hits enough to be valuable; check off utility player.
- Added Jason Bay-recently released from his massive contract with the Mets, Bay hasn’t played well the past few injury-riddled years. Hoping to catch some lightning in a bottle with the M’s. Needless to say, my breath is not held. The corner outfielder is one of those low risk/high reward guys Zdurencik loves.
- Added Kendrys Morales-Adds power to the lineup; can play 1B/DH, but not much else; power upgrade-check.
- Subtract Jason Vargas-puts 200 inning hole in the starting rotation. Reliable starters reduced from four to three. Uh-oh.
- Added Raul Ibanez-can play either corner outfield spot, badly, on his 40 year old never terribly swift legs. Or can DH or play 1B Adds some power, leadership and experience. What should I check?
- Added Mike Morse-Not much of an outfielder, can play 1B/DH. Adds offense, though we’ll need to see if he recovers from a down 2012 season. Power upgrade, but at what is now a crowded 1B/DH and scary corner outfield situation, what do I check?
- Subtract John Jaso-part of the catching platoon. Jaso was the M’s best hitter last year in limited at bats. Hits lefties poorly. Opens the spot for another catcher, maybe Zunino later in the summer, but we don’t have another catcher right now. Oops, new need, catching partner for Jesus Montero.
Look, I know it’s important to have a lineup that puts some fear into one’s opponents. But I also think there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that. In adding power to this team, Zdurencik has merely created a cluster-fuck of bats at a few positions and overlooked the need for players that can actually play a position. Despite moving in the fences in left, the outfield at Safeco Field is still roomy and outfielders must be able to go get a ball. Morse, Ibanez, and Moales are all DH/1B material and none should grace a major league outfield. Especially Safeco’s expanisve cow pasture. This is merely an effort to show the blog commenters the M’s are doing something-even if it doesn’t make the team better. And that doesn’t even begin to answer questions about what happens for Justin Smoak or Casper Wells. This seems almost Bavasi-like (shuddering as he typed the words.)
Next a look at the M’s outfield defense and what it might mean for Mariners pitching.