The Seattle Mariners continue to live by their offseason edict of adding more offense to the M’s lineup, completing a three-way trade that netted Seattle first baseman and outfielder Michael Morse from the Washington Nationals while sending catcher John Jaso to the Oakland Athletics. Morse will be a nice boost to the middle of the Seattle lineup, which has lacked any pop whatsoever for years, but will it be worth what they gave up?
Jaso is not a superstar name, by any means, but fans who watched the Mariners last season were looking forward to seeing him take a larger role behind the plate. Last season, he was stuck behind Miguel Olivo for playing time, but still made an impact in 108 games, hitting .276 with 10 home runs and 50 RBI. The best part of Jaso’s game last season, though, was his ability to get on base, posting an on-base percentage of .394 (the next highest was Kyle Seager at .316). He posted career highs in just about every offensive statistical category, so anticipation was high to see what he could do with more than 300 at-bats.
But instead the M’s get Morse and it could be argued, depending where you fall in the debate on how important power is to an offense, that Jaso is just as good at the plate. Morse undoubtedly offers more instant offense with his ability to hit home runs, but he’s proven to be a boom or bust player. Yes, he’ll hit more home runs, but he doesn’t take walks and he strikes out a lot. Last season, Morse walked just 16 times (compared to 56 for Jaso) and struck out 97 times (Jaso struck out 51 times).
And, like most of the Mariners’ acquisitions, Morse is coming to Seattle after a season where he dealt with injuries. Morse appeared in just 102 games in 2012 and posted a stat line of .291/.321/.470 with just 18 home runs and 62 RBI. The Mariners hope that he will be healthy this year and return to his 2011 form, where he hit .303/.360/.550 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs. However, even in his breakout in 2011, Morse was boom or bust, walking 36 times but striking out in 126 at-bats.
The move also stresses an already thin depth chart at catcher, while adding another body to a crowded outfield. Does anybody want to see Miguel Olivo back behind home plate? Because he might be the best option the M’s can come up with. With Jaso gone, the Mariners have only Jesus Montero on the 40-man roster listed at catcher. While Montero had a good year last season at the plate, the scouting report on him is clear: he’s an above-average hitter who isn’t ready to be an everyday catcher.
While Jaso had his limitations, he was still an above-average catcher who could pass as an everyday catcher (and caught Felix Hernandez‘s perfect game). With Mike Zunino not ready to get called up yet, it means the M’s will have to make another move to fill the hole they made for themselves behind the plate. As for Morse, he will likely be playing in the outfield, joining Casper Wells, Frankling Gutierrez, Michael Saunders and new additions Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez trying to get playing time.
In Seattle’s rush to add some flash to their offense, they may have only exacerbated the problem that keeps them from scoring. The Mariners struggle to get people on base and move them along when they do get on. Morse may be able to hit a few more balls out of the park, but a couple extra solo home runs aren’t going to do a whole lot to turn things around in Safeco Field.
Things could work out and Morse could return to his 2011 form, adding a power bat to the middle of the order and helping the offense become maybe not the worst in the American League. But the deal comes with plenty of risk, and, much like many of the other deals the M’s have pulled off this offseason, leaves fans with more questions than answers.