BY John Hickey 07:02PM 01/16/2013

Hickey: Morse adds to M’s crowded power slots

The Seattle Mariners had a guy in their system in 2009 with some serious offensive promise.

His name? Mike Morse. He came up in 2005 and played bits of the next four seasons in Seattle, but never saw a 2009 big league game with the Mariners. It was in the middle of that season that first-year general manager Jack Zduriencik, feeling the need to get a more balanced defensive player, dipped into Triple-A Tacoma roster.

Just like that, Morse was dealt to the Washington Nationals.

The player the Mariners received in return, outfielder Ryan Langerhans, was never more than a part-time player with Seattle before being traded to the Angels in 2011.

In 2011, Morse had 31 homers and 95 RBIs while hitting .303. He hadn’t had much of an impact in D.C. the year of the trade, but the next three seasons he hit 64 homers and was a major power threat when injuries weren’t keeping him out of the lineup.

And now Morse is a Mariner once more. Seattle, the Oakland A’s and the Washington Nationals executed a three-way trade Wednesday, with the A’s getting catcher John Jaso from the Mariners. The Nationals, who signed free agent slugger Adam LaRoche earlier, let Morse head to the Northwest while getting two minor leaguers and a player to be named later from the A’s.

Morse is the fourth player the Mariners have acquired this off-season with at least one 30-homer season in his past. Given the dearth of power, manager Eric Wedge’s lineup should be packing much more punch.

Or should it? The jury is out on that one. None of the 30-homer seasons came in 2012. Jason Bay, 34, had his last 30-homer season aback in 2009. Kendrys Morales, 29, had his only 30-homer season in 2010. And Raul Ibanez, 40, had his last 30-homer season in 2009.

But Morales and Morse, after overcoming injury issues in 2012, had most of their best production the second half of the season – 14 homers and 40 RBIs in 59 games for Morales after the break for the Angels while Morse came in at 14 homers and 46 RBIs down the stretch.

“I didn’t get to play spring training,” Morse said Wednesday night, referring to a back injury that cost him about 50 games. “When I got back, I had maybe 20 at-bats in rehab (before being pushed into duty). And I still hit .291 with 18 (homers). I feel I can hit the ball out of the Grand Canyon.’’

The Mariners would like to think so. They are banking on it. At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, Morse is no longer the shortstop he once was, although he repeatedly lobbied for a chance get some time there, because it’s where he feels the most comfortable. At this point, however, most realists see Morse as a first baseman, a corner outfielder and occasional DH. The Mariners are getting a little packed at that position.

Bay and Ibanez are corner outfielders. Morales is a first baseman/DH. Jesus Montero is a DH when he’s not catching. Michael Saunders can play all three outfield positions, but won’t play center over the now-healthy Franklin Gutierrez. Mike Carp fits the outfield/first base/DH mode. Casper Wells, like Saunders, can play all three outfield spots, but he’s looking at a tough road to playing time this spring.

“This gives us some big pop in the lineup,” Zduriencik said. “We were looking for a banger, and in Michael, I think we got that.’’

As some cost, it should be noted. The Mariners are now desperately in need of a backup catcher, and Zduriencik confirmed that he’s already had talks aimed at filling that gap. Jaso and Montero were going to share the catching chores, and while the Mariners believe they are deep at the position in the minor leagues, particularly with 2012’s No. 1 draft pick Mike Zunino, they need someone with veteran cred.

“In Jaso, we know what he is and what he can do,” Zduriencik said. “He was going to be a part-time player. When you are in position to acquire an every-day guy who can hit the ball hard and hit the ball far, that helps.

“We’re going to be shopping (for a catcher), there’s no doubt. We had some discussions yesterday when it seemed this might happen. We like our catching in our organization (but the club needs help) right at the very top.’’

Based on his past, Morse isn’t a big-time acquisition. Based on the numbers he put up with the Nationals, however, he could turn out to be one.

And he’s up for the challenge. Ibanez, who is a close friend and workout partner in Florida, texted Morse to say “now we can contend; now we’re ready.”

Morse went so far as to thank Zduriencik – the man who traded him away without giving him an at-bat – for bringing him back.

“I’ve grown as a player; I’ve grown as a hitter,” the 30-year-old said. “I’ve put in a lot of hard work, been through rough times and good times. I’m happy, more than that, really excited. It’s great.

“I know there were teams involved (in trying to trade for him) and I knew Seattle was one of them. That’s one of the teams I was hoping for. I was telling Jack that I had unfinished business in Seattle. I never got the chance to prove the player I could be. This is another opportunity for me to show Jack and help this club be the World Series champ (I think) it could be.”


YourThoughts

  • mark_proulx

    Perhaps we’ll get Jaso back after he’s washed up, too.

    • notaboomer

      right on. and . . . . ouch!

    • art thiel

      Hey, when you were a kid with a sled in the snow, you loved downhills!

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Proulx/1075714876 Mark Proulx

        That was then. Now that I’m much older, falling down hurts.

        BTW…love your bits on KPLU!

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.g.williams.965 David Gordon Williams

    Hmm, I guess if this is part of a move to steal Napoli from Boston, I like it.

  • Will

    It’s somewhat difficult to criticize a decent triple-A team such as the Mariners, after all, they have a moose and a new tv screen.

    • art thiel

      And “improved” ticket prices.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1107457176 Kage McClued

    Well, “flexible ticket pricing” will fix all that garbage.

  • notaboomer

    how can we lose with morse and rauuuuuuuuul?

  • jafabian

    I’m amazed the Nats gave him up. Gives me hope someday the M’s can get Adam Jones back! (I know, wishful thinking) Now the M’s finally have that #3 hitter they’ve been lacking for some time now. Disappointed that Jaso was part of the deal but Jack Z has hopefully made a quality trade here on par with when he acquired Cliff Lee.

    • JimC

      Me too. I live in suburban MD now and I got to see both Morse and Jones thrive. I almost wanted Morse to go to the Phillies, just so I got to see him more often, and he’s a naturally scruffy fit for the Phils. But the writing was there after the Nats amazingly resigned Laroche (after his career year), and HRs are easier to come by out here. The Nats are loaded deep with young cheap talent. Everybody went ape for Harper, but I like Tyler Moore, too. Laroche and Werth are the oldest guys on the team? Wow.

    • art thiel

      Cliff Lee? I almost forgot about him. Do you know what’s left of his trade on the roster?

  • Effzee

    … or we could have just kept him in the first place. Can you say “Pandering” ?

    • jafabian

      I think ownership wanted to get rid of him when he was suspended for using PED’s. The organization had a lot of their players found to have been using at least in the minors and when he came back and then was injured for a whole season they were willing to get rid of him.

  • Tian Biao

    the Ms: leading the league in lateral moves. we’ve traded our best hitter (and catcher) for a guy who can also maybe hit. where’s the net gain? but then again, Wedge doesn’t like guys who can hit, or he would have given Jaso more chances last year. also Z doesn’t want to give up on his personal project, Smoak, when everyone else can see that he’s a washout. Go Ms!

    • RadioGuy

      So letting go a 29-year-old part-timer with .256/20/121 numbers over three years and getting back a 30-year-old with .296/64/199 numbers in the last three years is a “lateral move?” And Wedge “doesn’t like guys who can hit?”
      Uhhhhhh, okay.

      • Tian Biao

        Sorry, maybe I should explain that a bit better: Jaso was our best hitter, by 15 B.A. points, but he got fewer than 300 at bats; wedge just didn’t seem to like him, for some reason, and it’s not like we were loaded with hitters. And with Morse, I worry that he’s injury prone, because he’s missed an awful lot of games over the past five years, and if he’s on the bench, he’s obviously not helping us. But yes, in a larger sense you’re right, it’s too early for me to be so sour. I’ll try to lighten up . . . there is, I suppose, some tiny ray of hope out there somewhere.

        • RadioGuy

          I liked Jaso too, Tian, but I wonder if Wedge was being leaned on to play Montero more by the front office (who had a lot invested in that trade). Jaso was a nice bonus with his hitting and what he brought to the clubhouse. He was definitely a steal when all we gave up was Lueke. Morse will be at least as good a hitter as Jaso was and a positive clubhouse influence, although I worry about his history of injuries, too.
          I generally reserve my worst Mariners pessimism for mid-June, when we usually know whether it’s going to be a good season or another looooong season and there’s a chance I’ll be badmouthing these guys by summer. I’ve got a “feeling” about this year’s team, though. You could see the raw talent in so many youngsters last season, but they needed more veteran leadership (not to mention a lot more offense). Zduriencik is bringing in some older guys who’ve been productive hitters, played in the postseason, are known as good teammates…AND their contracts are up after this year if they don’t work out.

          • art thiel

            Mid-June? Radioguy, you’re usually packing it in with everyone else at MemDay. But to be fair, Z is backfilling from the blue-light table to be respectable for 2013 then ramping in 14.

  • maqman

    The M’s are going to be better than a lot of people, including some so-called fans, believe and not just because of Morse. I liked Jaso but he was surplus to immediate need because everyone was screaming for BATS! Now we have got Morales and Morse (the M&M Boys) hopefully they will cut Z some slack. He knows what he has and what he needs and he’s still got all of our good prospects. 82 to 88 wins this season, take it to the bank.

    • Will

      … can hardly wait for the new batch of M’s TV commercials. Often the best part of their season.

      • art thiel

        Never good to peak in spring training

    • RadioGuy

      I think they’re going to be a lot better than expected, too. They already have the pitching and defense and now they’re adding some bats with pop. These guys aren’t that far away. Oakland made the playoffs last year with a lot less talent.

    • Kevin Smyth

      Yes, they are going to hit more homers and score more runs, but it’s coming at a cost. Outfielders have to catch fly balls. How long will Gutierrez stay healthy? Saunders only played about 140 games last year. Yes, I like Morse and Ibanez, but how many games will we be forced to watch them try to chase down ball in the vast Safeco gaps or down the line? These moves may be great for the fans, but baseball is not home run derby. Pitchers depend on their outfielders to get to fly balls. It will be interesting to see what happens to Felix’s stats.