Though the Pittsburgh Pirates are coming off their best season in decades, they will go into the offseason in the same position as the majority of their peers — with multiple needs to fill and limited resources to fill them.
Except this time, the team will be going through the progress as emergent contenders, making every move that they make that much more important. To build upon what they’ve accomplished in 2013 and to avoid taking a step back in 2014, the Bucs will need to check off several items on their shopping list; among them is a power-hitting corner outfielder and a platoon mate for Gaby Sanchez at first base, if not a first baseman altogether.
With a still-limited payroll and the A.J. Burnett situation still not quite resolved (they didn’t qualify him, but will he come back anyway?), that’s going to be easier said than done as they likely won’t find themselves bidding for the usual suspects in free agency, as folks like Nelson Cruz and Shin-Soo Choo are more than likely going to end up being priced out of the Pirates’ range.
Besides, it’s not as if getting into bidding wars is really their style anyway.
But what if they could kill two birds with one stone, and acquire a player who could conceivably fill multiple needs in 2014? And what if they can get this player at a discounted price? Enter Michael Morse.
There’s a caveat to the former 30-homer slugger, of course. Not only did he have an injury-plagued season that limited him to just 337 PA over 88 games (everything from finger, to eye, to quad, etc.), he also went through arthroscopic surgery on his wrist in October as well to rectify an issue that ended his season in the final days of September.
Combined with the fact that the 31-year-old hit for a career-worst .651 OPS (.215/.270/.381 triple-slash) in a dismal -1.6 fWAR season, and you could probably go ahead and slap the “damaged good” label on him.
On the other hand, there’s also enough space for a “bounce-back candidate” label in his game too. The Seattle Mariners would probably disagree as Morse’s homecoming didn’t exactly go according to plan (nor did his stint for the Baltimore Orioles, who thought they’ve be getting the boost to put them over in the playoff race late in the season), but it’s true: flaws and all, this is a player that fits the bill for what the Pirates need.
Power? Check. Even though he was largely terrible at the plate in 2013, Morse still hit 13 home runs on the season, and was a .291/.321/.470 hitter with 18 home runs over 430 PA just one year prior. This, of course, came after his 31-homer 2011 breakout that saw him post a .910 OPS. While he might not ever get back there, he should be in line for at least 25 home runs if he’s able to stay healthy for a full season.
More important than having just a strong track record of being a slugger, however, he also has the ability to play both first base and the corner outfield, which would both slot him nicely in the Pirates’ lineup. In fact, given Sanchez and Jose Tabata‘s splits at their respective positions, Morse (who doesn’t really have a L/R split) could play a sort of super-platoon role, playing right field against lefties and first base against righties.
Best of all, because of his relative struggles over the last two seasons, Morse will likely come at a discount price in the form of a make-good deal to boost his value while he searches for a long-term deal before his prime is up. Barring some sort of bidding war (which may not happen while other teams are targeting guys like James Loney and Kendrys Morales), the Bucs could stand a pretty good chance of acquiring him for somewhere around the $3-4 million range over a year (plus an option, perhaps).
Sure, he’d probably be better off going to an AL team like the Tampa Bay Rays where he can also DH; but even with his defensive inadequacies, that versatility and power potential should make him a prime value target for the Bucs.
Not that money is the only thing that the Pirates should be concerned about these days, but it probably beats getting into a bidding war for an average player like Loney, no?