Mike Morse: Potential Steal?

The Beast has a new home… and he’ll be roaming around Bonds’ old stomping grounds.

I was back home in Northern California all week for a business trip that doubled as a vacation with the family, so I apologize for being late to the Morse party. I’ve definitely got my share of opinions, though, and have been making mental notes since the signing was made a few days ago. The rumors of possible LF candidates picked up some steam on Wednesday with names like Franklin Gutierrez and Jeff Baker being tossed around. In the end, Sabean found his guy, and snuck out of Orlando with Mike Morse, aka The Beast, signed to a 1-year deal. Apparently Houston was among the other clubs trying to lure Morse in. Personally, I think it was a no-brainer… 2 years to DH for the Astros, who really don’t look to be going anywhere for at least a few more seasons, or 1 year to play LF for a winning organization that’s hoping to get back in the race. Hmmm…

Anyway, Morse is a Giant for $6M, with some possible incentives that I haven’t read too much about yet. It turns out the skipper thinks pretty highly of Morse, and probably advocated to Sabean on his behalf. Bochy wanted a LF with some pop, and that’s what he’s getting with Morse. Compared to what else was available, and what other teams were asking for in trades, Morse was definitely a realistic candidate all along. Maybe he was so realistic that most people just wrote it off from the start. I think that’s what I did, although I did say back in October that I wanted Sabes to find the next Pat Burrell-type player to man LF. I’d say Morse fits the bill.

I know the reactions to this deal were pretty mixed, and I expect it to stay that way until the big guy has spent some time on the field next year. But I’ll be honest, I’m glad the Giants made this move. Obviously, Morse has his issues, but he’s also got as much upside of just about any other player that was available on the cheap. Had he performed up to expectations in Seattle this year, he’d have probably earned himself a nice little extension, or at least received a qualifying offer. Instead, his season fell apart, and the trade so Baltimore late in the year didn’t do him any favors either. So, The Beast went on the open market, looking for a reclamation deal. The Giants know a thing or two about those.

It’s already been stated that Morse is going to play everyday, and that Gregor Blanco will be the late-inning sub. This has quite a few folks in a rage, and I’m sure most of those people will be ready to strike with the old “I told ya’ so” if Morse struggles next season. Look, we all know the dude lumbers in the field. He’s a liability in left, and probably more suited for a DH role at this point in his career. But Sabean set out to find himself a starting LF with power, and Morse is exactly that. Sure, it’d be nice to have a guy with a power bat and above average defense out there… but those guys are called 5-tool players, and they general don’t come cheap on the open market. So, you just hope that Morse is healthy enough to crack a few moonshots out of the park, and trust Bochy to get Blanco or Perez into the game for defense when it’s necessary. They showed us they knew what they were doing with Pat the Bat in 2010, so it’s hard not to envision a similar situation going down next year with Morse. And I would also be willing to bet that Blanco will get his fair share of AB’s, as Morse and Pagan are both pretty injury prone out there.

I’ll tell you what I like most about this deal: Morse lengthens the lineup. The Giants now have 5 guys with legitimate 20-HR power in Morse, Pence, Posey, Sandoval and Belt. And just by walking through the door, Morse becomes the only player on the team with a 30-HR season to his name. Not a lot of guys can say that in MLB today, and those who can generally don’t come cheap. If he’s healthy, Morse is a .275+ hitter with tremendous power and without platoon splits. That’s a huge upgrade in the 6 or 7-hole over Blanco, and it also pushes Brandon Crawford back to the #8 spot. That’s what I call depth through the entire order, something the Giants haven’t always had. Yes, you’re asking for a few things to break right here, but if they do, we could be looking at a pretty stout lineup, and hopefully not a lot of Blanco-Crawford-Pitcher wasted innings anymore. I can say this though. If Morse is productive in the 7-hole, I’d expect the Giants to be very much in contention.

Let’s be clear about something: I’m not naïve to the issues the Giants face heading into next season. With the addition of Morse, we’re now looking at four players with serious health concerns (Morse, Sandoval, Pagan, Scutaro). If one of these guys goes down, as they all did last year, where’s the backup plan? Bringing in Morse definitely helps add depth to the OF, as Blanco and Perez could platoon if Morse or Pagan misses time. The infield might be a bigger concern at this point. Obviously though, if both Morse and Pagan hit the deck, it’s going to be a long season… I don’t like to speculate on things like that, but it’s definitely in the back of my mind. And of course, defense certainly could become an issue at some point. Again, though, I’m going to trust the organization’s better judgment to not let one player’s defensive shortcomings hurt the team. Bochy seems to pull the right strings with late-game replacements most of the time.

So, Morse is a Giant for a year, and maybe another offseason steal. We’re hoping he’ll hit 20+ HR and not kill us on defense. Can he stay healthy? Who knows? But for the price, I’ll gladly take a shot on that upside. He’s big and charismatic, and I think he’ll fit in well with the rest of the club. It looks like the roster is mostly set at this point, except for a few bench and bullpen spots that should play out in spring training. We’ve got plenty of time to look at what this group has to offer going forward, but for now, at least we don’t have to speculate about LF anymore. That job belongs to The Beast… and hopefully he makes the front office look like geniuses by this time next year.



13 thoughts on “Mike Morse: Potential Steal?”

  1. I’ll give credit to Grant over at MCC for changing my thinking on Morse. Grant pointed out something I was previously unaware of: Last year, the Giants ranked 4’th in the the NL in wRC+ but only 11’th in runs scored. I did a little more digging and found out that they ranked # 4 in all of MLB, in non-pitching WAR and #11 in wRC+. They also ranked #21 in runs scored and #29 in HR’s.

    Hmm…..you don’t suppose that #29 in HR’s might have had something to do with the discrepancy between wRC+ and runs? Maybe with the Giants using their positioning savvy and defensive subs, they can minimize the negative impact of his defense, much like they did with Pat the Bat in 2010.

    The Giants are betting more on Morse than they did on Pat the Bat, but pretty much everything in baseball is more expensive now than when they signed The Machine. The clincher for me is it’s just for 1 year and it’s not for so much money that the Giants won’t ditch the plan if it’s not working out.

    Sabes loves to talk about “catching lightning in a bottle.” He’s done it enough times that it is probably more than just “luck.” Personally, if Morse earns 2 WAR while hitting .280/.320/.500 with 25 or so HR’s, I will enjoy watching it a lot more than if Blanco puts up 2 WAR mostly on the defensive side even if the two are equal in terms of games won. I figure if Mike Morse is hitting 7’th in a lineup, then #1-6 must be pretty darn good!

    1. Seems like the Giants had some sequencing issues with their hits and walks. Not enough RISP hits? And it seems like those RISP hits weren’t XBH hits. Runners held up at third. Events like stranded leadoff triples will kill you every time.

      I’m also under the impression that the long ball needs a weightier coefficient in the wOBA calculation. Probably not, but it just feels like the HR is somehow undervalued in the metrics. Mark Trumbo and his 34 HRs, 100 RBI’s come to mind.

      Lengthening the lineup is an effect that cannot be captured by WAR. When the opposing pitcher has to run through Belt, Posey, Sandoval, Pence, and Morse; he’s going to be tired and make mistakes. So the thinking goes.

      Great write up, KG. Good response Doc. And of course Lefty below (watch out for her, she’s a smart cookie).

      1. Thank you. During the majority of their mid-season slump, the Giants were really a singles-hitting group. Pablo had about the biggest power outage of his career after the DL stint/weight issues. After coming out gangbusters to start the season, Belt and Crawford really cooled off… I’m pretty sure Crawford drove in something like 4 runs over two months. Not good! Even Posey struggled to hit for extra bases in the second half. And when things started to even out in August, Belt and Pence were the only real power threats out there. Hopefully a fresh start, a healthy club, and the addition of Morse into the lineup will help cash in some of those runners, be it through the long ball or otherwise.

    2. So I’ll admit that I don’t know what wRC+ is, but I’d imagine we’re talking about a discrepancy between runners scoring after getting on base… am I in the ball park? If so, it really doesn’t surprise me at all, as batting with RISP was really at the heart of the major depression the offense fell into mid-season.

      I certainly don’t have all the numbers at my fingertips right now, but if memory serves me right, the Giants had a well above average offense for the first 6 weeks or so of the season… after all the late-inning dramatic finishes were out of the system, that’s about when things started to fall off. The injuries to Pagan, Pablo, Scutaro and Crawford, paired with major slumps from Posey, Pence, Belt and Blanco pretty much undid the 2013 team from an offensive standpoint. Even when things started to even out in August, Pence and Belt were the only real power threats in the order.

      So, if we take some of those things into account, the addition of Morse to the lineup should help close that gap somewhat. If there are 2 outs and runners on base, Morse has the ability to the club one out of the yard and change a game, much like Burrell and Huff did in 2010. That was Burrell’s greatest asset… his ability to change a game with one swing… and some of those swings catapulted that team down the stretch. If Morse can stay healthy enough to do the same next season, he’ll be well worth the money.

      1. wRC+ is fangraphs version of OPS+. I’ve had a lot of fanboys earnestly tell me its much, much superior to OPS+ because of 3 year averages, but I have my doubts. There are too many changes in the majors year to year.

        It was pretty interesting to me that Fangraphs ignored their own 3 year leaderboard. Morse scores extremely high in wOBA, wRC+ and HRs among eligible free agents. That might have screwed up the narrative that the Giants are idiots.

        I have a generally positive view of Morse. I know he isn’t a good defender. I also know he was rocking the joint early in the year with power before getting hurt. Yes, taking the field is very, very important. If Morse had taken the field (as you pointed out) he would be looking at a big time payday right now. Instead of getting picked up for 1/6MM.

        Right handed power is at a huge premium right now. I think its a great gamble, and they have obvious backup plans, so I’m fine with this move.

      2. Thanks for the explanation. Hunter Pence was near the top of the NL big fly leaderboard… Power is certainly a premium! We know spring training doesn’t count for squat, but between March and April, Morse knocked something like 18 HR. If he’s healthy, you’ve got a 4-5 hitter at 6-7, and two of the more powerful RHH in the West.

  2. Thank you for one of the most balanced posts on this topic that I’ve read yet. I can’t believe the way people are overreacting to a one-year deal for a modest (these days) amount of money. To put it into perspective, they’re paying Morse what they paid Freddy Sanchez not to play at all in 2012, what they paid Affeldt to completely stink up the joint in 2013, and LESS than what they paid Wilson to throw 2 innings in 2012.

    You have to evaluate the Morse signing in terms of what the real options were:
    (1) stand pat and go with a Blanco/Perez platoon
    (2) sign someone more proven than Perez to platoon with Blanco
    (3) spend big money, multiple years, and a draft pick to sign someone like Ellsbury, Choo, Beltran, or Cruz.

    Having already signed Pence and wanting to keep the draft pick, the Giants made it clear that (3) was not a route they were going to take. Maybe (2) would have been wiser than signing Morse–the folks at Fangraphs certainly seem to think so–but you know, they just did (2) in 2013, and it didn’t seem to work out especially well. And you can bet the torches and pitchforks would have come out if (1) had been the outcome.

    All that considered, signing Morse is a low-risk way to, as you said, lengthen the lineup and add pop. And Bochy has proven (Pat the Bat) that he knows how to manage the defensive risks. It’s as simple as that. It’s not like this contract is Aaron Rowand 2.0.

    1. Thanks for the comments, and the compliments… it’s very nice to have your following. In today’s market, there’s no doubt Morse was a bargain. $6M for a 32 year-old player with major power potential is fine by me. If the Giants were paying for his defense, that would be one thing. But paying for a year of his bat is worth the risk in my mind. The Morse deal is very similar to Huff’s signing in 2010… and if I remember correctly, that was a very under the radar move that panned out pretty well for the Gigantes.

      Morse is certainly not the perfect move, and it remains to be seen if he can stay healthy all season. But I think he’ll be a great fit in the clubhouse, which the Giants (wisely) seem to value more than a lot of teams. If he is healthy, I think the naysayers may very well fall in love with the long ball, which fans in Washington and Seattle know is The Beast’s specialty. Thanks again for the comment!

    2. Great comment, and I’d add that the Giants did try other options. They were in on Chris Young, they most likely were telling him they were thinking platoon, and I doubt they went to 7.25MM as the Mets did. The Mets trying him as a full-time guy has a big time potential to fall on its face. They were in on Hart, he went to Seattle because of the drafting connection with Jack Z, and incentives to double up his contract. They definitely kicked it around with the various short term deals. This was the best (in their opinion) as far as the money involved and the years. Personally I’d rather have Morse on a 1 year than Hart on a double up or worse – the Giants going over the top and giving him 2 years and more money.

      He is easily discarded if its no working, and the all-defense angle is in place already.

  3. Thanks for the comments everyone. I’d love to respond to each of you, but it will probably have to wait until I get to the airport this afternoon. I feel like there were so many things I could have said about the Morse signing that this post would have been incredibly long. Had to cut it off at some point, but there were definitely some things I had to leave out.

  4. Your post is pretty much “spot on” to my thinking KG. 1 year and 6 million is chump change (did I really just say that) in baseball today. Mark Derosa says Morse is a great clubhouse guy and if he can hit .280 with 20 bombs I would think we are in it.

    The way I see it, which meshes well with DrB’s line of thinking, is that the pitching was toast last year. Sorry Bum, not talking about you. I really think Cain and Vogelsong were pitching on fumes and were dead-armed last year. Cain seemed to go thru a period when he could not keep the ball down, a product of a tired arm, and when that happened the ball flew out of the park. Vogelsong lost both control and velocity from what I think was also due to fatigue.

    1. Thanks for the comment. The Giants needed an every day guy, and that’s what they got with Morse. Can’t complain too much about it. From what I saw last year, I don’t know if I see a .280 hitter anymore. But I do know that he’s still more than capable of hitting HRs in bunches when he’s healthy.

      History says Cain will bounce back just fine, aided by his 2.36 2nd half ERA. I really don’t know about Vogey. We can certainly hope, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him come out with decreased velocity again. At least this time there seems to be some better coverage behind him if things don’t work out.

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