Once you wrap your head around that nauseating word blitz, think long and hard about who you’d like to see manning first base for the 2013 Red Sox. While Mike Napoli — the guy who reportedly inked a three-year, $39 million deal with Boston earlier this offseason — remains the primary target, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Red Sox are one of the teams in contact with the Nationals regarding Mike Morse, who became expendable after Washington re-signed Adam LaRoche earlier this week.
Morse provides a lot of pop from the right side of the plate, meaning he’s more than capable of putting a few dents in that big, green wall out in left field. But he’s also never met a pitch he didn’t like, which is why he should remain the Red Sox’ Plan B at this point in time.
The Red Sox’ focus this offseason has been on bringing in high-character guys, and Morse appears to fit that bill, with the exception being his 2005 suspension that stemmed from steroids he claims to have taken in 2003. General manager Ben Cherington and skipper John Farrell seemingly prefer hitters who take a patient approach and work the count, though, which means it’s probably unlikely that the club will immediately jump at the opportunity to trade for Morse — at least until seeing if the Napoli situation gets resolved.
Morse’s 2012 walk-to-strikeout ratio (0.16, 16 walks to 97 strikeouts) was the worst in baseball among hitters with at least 400 plate appearances. His 2011 walk-to-strikeout ratio (0.29) was the 14th-worst in the majors. So while being a free swinger doesn’t inherently mean someone is a poor hitter, it becomes problematic when the player has a high strikeout rate, and that’s the case with Morse, whose career strikeout rate sits at 21.8 percent.
All indications are that the Red Sox are still working toward a contract agreement with Napoli. They reportedly would like to alter the original deal due to a hip issue detected during Napoli’s physical, but clearly he was a top priority this winter. He’ll likely remain such unless anything further develops on that front.
Morse certainly wouldn’t be a bad alternative, especially when you consider the free-agent options available — Casey Kotchman, Nick Johnson and Carlos Lee, to name a few. He does have some power, which could translate well to Fenway Park, and as Rosenthal points out, he’d require less of a financial commitment than Napoli. Morse is under contract for $7 million in 2013 and is then slated to become a free agent following the season.
But while the money aspect sounds nice on the surface, it’s actually one of the drawbacks of a Morse trade, as it could potentially leave the Red Sox scrambling again next offseason.
Boston’s farm system lacks depth at the first base position. Mauro Gomez, at age 28, can hardly be considered a prospect any more, and 22-year-old Travis Shaw, who spent 2012 split between High-A and Double-A, likely won’t be ready to grab the keys for a team looking to contend in 2014. That means if the Red Sox were to trade for Morse, and he then opted to walk via free agency, there’s a chance the Sox could be in a similar position next winter, only with less young talent because of what they’ll have to give up in the trade.
Obviously, there’s a chance that Morse could have a big year, which would make a deal worthwhile, even if the Red Sox don’t contend in 2013. A productive season would at least open up the possibility that they’d make him a qualifying offer, and thus be in line to receive draft-pick compensation if Morse was to turn down that offer. (This year’s leaguewide qualifying offer figure — the average of the top 125 salaries of 2012 — stands at $13.3 million, which, coincidentally, is around the average salary of Napoli’s reported deal).
That scenario is a huge “if,” though. While the Sox could get the Mike Morse that hit 31 home runs, racked up 95 RBIs and hit .303 in 2011, there’s also a chance they get the guy who hasn’t played more than 102 games in any other season. Napoli’s hip might be a cause for concern, but Morse doesn’t come without his own injury history.
Would Morse be a nice bat to have in the lineup? Sure. The Red Sox clearly need a first baseman, and his power alone puts him near the top of the list when it comes to available free agents or trade targets. However, the guy at the very top of the list, Napoli, is who the Red Sox are still pursuing, and who they should continue to pursue.
Patience, both at the plate and in decision-making, is something the Red Sox need to exhibit to regain AL East supremacy. Going after Morse wouldn’t quite qualify — in more ways than one — as a patient approach.
Photo via Flickr/Keith Allison