Michael Morse Rumors

Jocketty: Reds Free Agent List Includes Morse, Aoki

The Reds have outfielders Michael Morse and Nori Aoki on their list of free agent targets, GM Walt Jocketty tells John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer (Twitter link). Jocketty said that he would prefer to find the outfield bat that the team needs on the open market rather than via trade.

Left field was a problem area for the Reds last year, as Ryan Ludwick performed at a below-replacement-level clip. The team did not pick up his option, preferring to pay a steep $4.5MM buyout rather than exercising it at $9MM.

Cincinnati does not figure to have a ton of payroll space to use in pursuing a replacement. After opening last year with a club record $114MM payroll, only to miss the postseason, the Reds currently have about $80.5MM in guaranteed money on the books for 2015 with upwards of $40MM in potential arbitration payouts yet to come.

Morse, 32, swings an impressive stick but has one of the league’s worst gloves on the outfield grass and comes with a reasonably concerning medical sheet. I recently predicted that he would ultimately land a two-year, $22MM deal this offseason, while noting that he probably makes more sense as a first baseman/DH playing in the American League. The 32-year-old Aoki, meanwhile, is more of an on-base specialist whose selling point is his all-around solid play. He could be somewhat cheaper than Morse, though he should receive wide interest.


NL East Notes: Stanton, Mets, Nationals, Tomas, Hamels

As expected, the Marlins have begun extension talks with star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports on Twitter. President of baseball operations Michael Hill tells Spencer that the team has “reached out” to Stanton’s representatives and that “negotiations are ongoing.”

Here’s more from the NL East:

  • At present, the Mets are more inclined to fill their needs in the corner outfield via trade than through a free agent signing, reports Marc Carig of Newsday. New York is still hesitant to give up any of its best young talent in a swap. But veterans like Michael Morse, Alex Rios, and Torii Hunter all seem more like fallback options that the team would pursue if value can be had and nothing better has materialized. The Mets are said to prefer to add a right-handed bat.
  • One other hypothetical possibility, Nick Markakis, is not presently engaged with the team in any way, according to Matt Ehalt of The Record (Twitter link).
  • As they weigh their options at second, the Nationals are not unmindful of the Cuban market that has begun to materialize in recent weeks, James Wagner of the Washington Post reports. The primary possible targets, per Wagner, are 26-year-old Jose Fernandez and high-upside youngster Yoan Moncada. The 20-year-old Moncada will draw immense interest, with Ben Badler of Baseball America saying he is talented enough that he would be the odds-on favorite to go first overall in this year’s amateur draft (were he eligible).
  • The Phillies are still the favorite to land Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, with A.J. Burnett‘s decision to decline his option possibly burnishing Philly’s chances. That does not mean they are without competition, of course. Other clubs that have seen (or will soon see) Tomas since his showcase include the Rangers, D’backs, Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Red Sox, and Mariners.
  • Also per Heyman, the Phillies could clear yet more payroll space and add young talent through a deal for pitcher Cole Hamels, with the Cubs still showing interest in the lefty.

NL Notes: Morales, Cuddyer, Morse, Romo, Tomas

Free agent lefty Franklin Morales, most recently of the Rockies, has moved his representation to the Boras Corporation, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports on Twitter. The 28-year-old had a rough 2014. He put up a 5.37 ERA over 142 1/3 innings, including 22 starts, while striking out a below-average (against his career) 6.3 batters and walking 4.1 per nine.

Here’s more from Colorado and the rest of the National League:

  • The Rockies‘ extension of a qualifying offer to free agent outfielder Michael Cuddyer was the big surprise on the QO front. Colorado’s rationale for the move, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets, is to remain flexible to trade from its outfield depth. Cuddyer, meanwhile, had hoped to land a three-year deal, per Rosenthal, and the offer makes that a more difficult proposition. In my view, it makes little sense to create outfield depth to trade from by adding a contract with negative trade value; the move seems irrational unless the club has good reason to believe that Cuddyer will turn down the QO.
  • While teams can always simply price in the loss of a draft choice in assessing how much to offer a compensation-bound player, the presence of the QO can in some cases be a significant enough deterrent that it keeps a team out of the market altogether. That appears to be the case for the Mets vis-a-vis Cuddyer, as Marc Carig of Newday reports that New York had been quite interested in pursuing the veteran but has little interest in giving up the 15th overall pick in doing so.
  • The Mets may, however, be more willing to pursue non-QO-bound Michael Morse, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post. Morse would represent an option in the outfield and, perhaps, part-time platoon mate at first.
  • Giants righty Sergio Romo hopes to re-sign with San Francisco, he told MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM (via host Jim Bowden). But the former closer is looking forward to testing the market, and should draw plenty of interest.
  • Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas worked out at third base in a tryout yesterday with the Diamondbacks, according to a tweet from his agent Jay Alou Jr.  The 24-year-old had been talked about primarily as a corner outfielder. Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com first tweeted that Tomas had spent time with the D’backs.


Indians Notes: Francona, Free Agency, Lindor

The Indians should be poised to contend for the AL Central title next year because the Tigers and Royals are going to take a hit in free agency, opines Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group in the latest edition of his “Hey, Hoynsie” column. Free agency won’t damage the White Sox, Hoynes adds, but they are in need of pitching to complement their power while the Twins are still putting together the pieces after four consecutive seasons of at least 92 losses.

Here’s more on the Indians from Hoynes:

  • Manager Terry Francona had clauses inserted into his contract when he was hired by the Indians allowing him to leave if President Mark Shapiro or GM Chris Antonetti are fired. Would Francona ever follow Joe Maddon’s lead? Hoynes notes Andrew Friedman left the Rays voluntarily and isn’t sure whether such a departure by either Shapiro or Antonetti would trigger Francona’s opt-out.
  • The Indians will not be bidding on the premier bats available in free agency (e.g. Pablo Sandoval (#5 on MLBTR’s 2014-2015 Top 50 Free Agents list), Victor Martinez (#6), Russell Martin (#8), and Nelson Cruz (#9), according to Hoynes, who sees the club setting their sights on the likes of Michael Morse (#28) and Ryan Ludwick (unranked) once other moves are made.
  • Jose Ramirez will be the Indians’ 2015 Opening Day shortstop, Francisco Lindor is probably ticketed for Triple-A, and Zach Walters, acquired in the Asdrubal Cabrera trade, will have to make the team as a bench player.
  • The Indians are not in the position of needing to trade their core players, so Hoynes would be surprised if Corey Kluber, Yan Gomes, or Michael Brantley are dealt this winter.

Free Agent Profile: Michael Morse

Michael Morse has provided notice that he is still a force at the plate, but his defensive limitations remain a major factor in his market. He made good on the one-year, $6MM deal he signed with the Giants, but what kind of contract will he achieve in his second successive turn at free agency?

Strengths/Pros

You could probably write this section fairly in just one word: bat. Over 482 plate appearances with the Giants, Morse put up a strong .279/.336/.475 slash with 16 home runs. That line does not quite reach the monster figures he tallied in 2011 with the Nationals — .303/.360/.550 with 31 long balls – but nevertheless indicates that his down season in 2013 can be chalked up in large part to a nagging wrist injury that required offseason surgery.

MLB: NLCS-St. Louis Cardinals at San Francisco Giants

Notably, the right-handed-hitting Morse is productive against both righties (121 career wRC+) and lefties (121 career wRC+). Though he may never again be a truly elite power hitter, he has bumped his ISO back to just under the .200 level and could well improve on his career-low 15.1% HR/FB rate with a move to a ballpark that better suits his notable pop to the opposite field gap.

In truth, there is not much to dislike about Morse’s bat. Detractors could point to a slightly rising strikeout rate, but there is no spike that is way out of line with his career numbers. And Morse has had plenty of success with the same general mix of Ks and free passes. Likewise, his numbers in 2014 should arguably be downgraded due to the fact that he carried a sizeable .348 BABIP. (Notably, Morse’s rough 2013 season was driven in part by a .254 average on pitches he put in play.) But despite his lack of speed, Morse has put up three seasons of .330-or-better BABIP figures because, well, he hits the ball really hard. With all of his batted ball, pitch recognition, and contact numbers lining up cleanly with his career norms, Morse seems a good bet to continue to produce at a solidly above-average rate with the bat.

All said, Morse would be quite valuable even in a pure DH role, especially since he does not need a left-handed-hitting platoon mate. But that may still sell short his value somewhat. While Morse is widely acknowledged to be a very poor defensive outfielder (more on that below), he has somewhat surprisingly seen relatively little action at first in his career. Over 1,259 2/3 career innings at that spot, he has rated out as a slightly below-average defender. While that may not seem at first glance to be much of a feather in his cap, that decent performance in sporadic playing time provides hope that Morse could be a more reliable option if he were to open the spring with a first baseman’s mitt and use it steadily over a season. And it bears recalling that Morse started out his career as a shortstop, and even saw 450 big league innings there in his rookie season with the Mariners. Though he’ll never be graceful, it seems plausible to think that Morse could take on a full-time job at first.

Weaknesses/Cons

A hot start, mid-season swoon, and late-year rally is generally not the worst way to hit your walk year. But for Morse, that year all but ended when August flipped to September. Sidelined with a strained oblique, Morse saw just two plate appearances in the season’s final month. And as of this writing, Morse has taken just four trips to the dish during the Giants’ postseason run, though the most recent produced a memorable home run.

That slightly unfortunate, essentially minor injury could probably be forgotten in large part were it not for Morse’s lengthy docket of maladies. The towering slugger has missed significant time over each of the last three seasons – to say nothing of several earlier DL stints – for various aches, pains, and strains. In the aggregate, since that 2011 full-season breakout, Morse has averaged 107 games and 416 plate appearances a year. In particular, acquiring teams that intend to utilize him in the outfield will need to account for the distinct possibility that a full year of production may not result.

Of course, whether to use Morse as a regular outfield option at all is open to question. Among players with at least 1,000 innings in the outfield over the last three years, Morse ranks fifth from the bottom in total negative defensive value by measure of both UZR and Defensive Runs Saved. And the eye test tends to support these findings.

Baserunning, likewise, is a clear negative for Morse, who was one of the league’s worst runners this year and probably will be for the rest of his career. He will turn 33 just before the start of the 2015 campaign, though that is still a fair sight younger than several other first base/DH options set to hit the market.

Personal

Morse, who was married in 2012, currently lives within walking distance of AT&T Park, according to this profile from Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle. He grew up in Florida, ultimately being drafted by the White Sox out of high school, but also spent time in Jamaica as a child.

Bearing a nom de guerre of “the Beast,” Morse is one of the most colorful players in the game. Whether performing his “Samurai Cobra Snake” routine before entering the box, spinning “Take On Me” before his third plate appearance of a game, or re-enacting a ghost swing before trotting out a grand slam after a review, Morse is undeniably an entertaining presence at the ballpark.

Market

While the Giants signed him as an outfielder, Morse’s time there in a regular capacity probably should and will come to an end. Though National League teams in need of a first baseman could make a slight roll of the dice on Morse’s defense, the most obvious landing spot remains with an American League club. Lacking platoon splits, he would be an attractive option to share time at first with a more platoon-oriented hitter while taking the rest of his hacks from the DH spot.

Clubs like the Rangers, Mariners, and White Sox seem to be possibilities, and the Royals may be in the market for a Billy Butler replacement. Were Victor Martinez to find a new team, it is possible to imagine the Tigers giving Morse a look to share first base and DH duties with Miguel Cabrera. And several N.L. teams – the Padres, Brewers, Marlins, and possibly the Pirates come to mind – could see merit in installing Morse at first. Should consideration be given to using him in the outfield, it is conceivable that the Giants, Reds, and Mets could get involved. Depending on how the Phillies proceed with their situations at first, third, and the corner outfield, Morse could theoretically land there as well.

As for comps, recent contracts given to Marlon Byrd (2/$16MM), Adam LaRoche (2/$25MM plus loss of a draft pick), and perhaps Mike Napoli (2/$32MM plus sacrifice of potential draft compensation) seem the most relevant points of reference. Byrd’s age and near-past disappearance from relevance certainly had a major impact on his market, though he is a more able defender than Morse. And Napoli’s strong work at the plate and in the field, combined with an age, seem to make his number out of reach. As for LaRoche, it is hard to ignore the fact that he was coming off of a 33-home run year and was generally well-regarded as a defensive first baseman (whatever the metrics may say).

Ultimately, even without the qualifying offer penalty, Morse seems likely to land shy of LaRoche’s deal. That is especially so given the fact that he faces relatively steep competition from bat-first players such as LaRoche (now again a likely free agent), Michael Cuddyer, Billy Butler, and (on the high side) Nelson Cruz and Victor Martinez.

Expected Contract

Morse’s representatives at ACES will probably ask for three years, but there is sufficient market competition that I see a shorter pact as the likelier outcome. Though a qualifying offer is unlikely to weigh down his value, Morse has his limitations as a player. Ultimately, I predict that he will land a two-year, $22MM contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Quick Hits: Reaction Time, Schafer, Morse, Iglesias

Several MLB clubs have dabbled with neurological training in a bid to improve their hitters’ pitch recognition, as Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal writes. The Red Sox, Cubs, and Rays have already initiated programs, but more could be on the way. As Boston GM Ben Cherington explains, the purpose of taking this approach is to help young batters develop a stronger mental connection between seeing a pitch and deciding whether or not to swing. Quick reactions — physical and mental — are all the more important given rising fastball velocities around the league. One mark of that: at least 52 minor league hurlers have been clocked at or above 100 mph this year, according to the count of Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper.

Here are a few notes of interest from around the league:

  • Twins center fielder Jordan Schafer has had an up and down time since becoming a professional, as Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes. Most recently, he was claimed by Minnesota over the summer after he failed to live up to a solid 2013 campaign with the Braves. The speedy 28-year-old has put up excellent numbers in his new home: a .298/.365/.386 slash with 15 stolen bases over 131 plate appearances. He will be eligible for arbitration for the second time after the year.
  • As the Giants welcome back Michael Morse from injury, other developments could limit his playing time over the last few weeks of the regular season and the playoffs to come, as Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com reports. With Brandon Belt returning to the fold and Gregor Blanco having performed well in Morse’s stead, a regular spot may no longer be available. Though Morse rebounded from a mid-year swoon with a strong August, his defensive shortcomings have become more of an issue, according to Baggarly. Morse remains a difficult player to peg as a pending free agent: the 32-year-old has a productive .280/.338/.477 line with 16 home runs over 480 plate appearances, but defensive metrics paint a rough image of his contribution in the field.
  • The Reds are still contemplating whether Cuban free agent signee Raisel Iglesias will take the mound competitively over the winter in Puerto Rico, reports MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon. Iglesias, a 24-year-old righty, has been working on strength and conditioning since inking a seven-year, $27MM deal with Cincinnati, and only just began long-tossing. He is under reserve with the Santurce Cangrejeros, and would throw for that club if he does play winter ball.

West Notes: Darvish, Giants, Athletics, Diamondbacks

The Rangers and Yu Darvish would be wise to shut down the prized righty, opines Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, who says that the “macho baseball culture” that would suggest otherwise is simply wrong. As Passan rightly notes, minor injuries (like Darvish’s, according to reports) can often be a precursor to a more significant problem, and that risk is simply not worth it with Texas playing out a clearly lost season.

Here’s more from the game’s western divisions …

  • Looking ahead to the offseason, the Giants face many impactful and emotionally difficult decisions on pending free agents, GM Brian Sabean said in an interview on The Sports Virus podcast. Emphasizing the club’s oft-noted loyalty, Sabean indicated that monetary constraints would play an important role in how the offseason unfolds (while also seemingly to imply that he could make a run at bringing back Michael Morse). [A]t the end of the year, your starting third baseman, your closer, one of your starters, and your left fielder that you’ve fallen in love with has got a chance not to be back with the team, or you may have to pick and choose due to budget considerations,” he said. “… I don’t remember a year about to end … with those kind of decisions at hand, including keeping it all within a manageable budget.”
  • Athletics GM Billy Beane said that his club’s recent struggles do not change the considerations that led him to deal away Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester, as John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group writes“I’m happy to have Lester’s three wins,” said Beane. “Those are three wins I don’t know we’d have without him.”
  • Diamondbacks hurler Patrick Corbin is likely not to return until June of next year, at the earliest, as Adam Lichtenstein of MLB.com writes. The club is taking a fairly conservative approach with its prized young lefty.
  • Though Arizona surely has plenty of needs to address after a fairly miserable 2014 campaign, one fairly specific desire is to add an on-base machine to the lineup, GM Kevin Towers tells Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic“It would be nice to have another bat that was not only an offensive player, but somebody who works the count, gets on base and can create more scoring opportunities,” said Towers. The club is looking to find that package in an outfielder, Towers added, and has already begun scouting possible free agent or trade targets. Players like Nori Aoki and Chris Denorfia could fit the profile, says Piecoro.

NL Notes: Hamels, Morse, Diamondbacks, Walker

There was some great news out of New Jersey today, as venerable Hinchliffe Stadium was designated a National Historic Landmark. As MLB.com's Mark Newman reports, the Art Deco structure is one of just a few still standing to have hosted Negro League action. 

Here are some notes out of the National League:

  • The Phillies are close to welcoming back Cole Hamels from the DL, reports CSNPhilly.com's Reuben Frank. Assistant GM Scott Proefrock said that the lefty may return as soon as next week. Needless to say, a healthy Hamels is absolutely critical if Philly has any hope of contending — and avoiding the need for a possible sell-off of veteran pieces — in 2014.
  • Michael Morse has looked to be an excellent addition for the Giants in the early part of the season, writes Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News. The hot start for Morse has answered the question whether he could return to health, and validated manager Bruce Bochy's internal push for the slugger. For his part, Morse says he was guided to San Francisco by former Giant Mark DeRosa and 49er running back Frank Gore. While Morse is never going to look good in the outfield or on the basepaths, Bochy has managed that issue by frequently replacing the lumbering 32-year-old late in games. Morse will re-enter the open market after playing out his one-year, $6MM deal, and should be an interesting player to watch as the season goes on.
  • Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall says it is too early to throw around blame for the team's rough start, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Hall said that "it's far too early to say" that either GM Kevin Towers or manager Kirk Gibson are in danger of losing their jobs. "I wouldn't say anybody's in trouble at this point." The tandem was extended over the offseason, but nevertheless could face hot seats if Arizona cannot turn around a 4-14 start that has left them already 7 games back in the division.
  • Pirates second baseman Neil Walker has seen promising returns on his offseason work to revamp his swing from the right-handed side of the plate, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Though he has just a few regular season plate appearances so far, the switch-hitting 28-year-old has continued the solid work he did off of southpaws during Spring Training. For his career, Walker has touched righties for a .799 OPS, but has only notched a .665 mark against lefties. Set to reach free agency after the 2016 season, Walker could significantly increase his utility, value, and potentially his extension candidacy if he can up his production from the right side.

Giants To Sign Mike Morse

DECEMBER 17th, 3:06pm: The Giants announced that the deal is official.

DECEMBER 12th, 9:59am: Morse's base salary is an even $6MM, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

9:15am: Morse will receive a base salary of roughly $5MM, and his contract contains additional incentives, according to ESPN's Buster Olney (on Twitter).

8:41am: The Giants have agreed to sign Mike Morse, according to Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area (on Twitter). John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that it's a one-year deal for Morse, who will serve as the Giants' left fielder (Twitter link).

Morse-Mike

Morse, who is represented by ACES, battled significant injuries in 2013 en route to a career-worst .215/.270/.381 batting line with 13 homers between the Mariners and Orioles. His 2010-12 seasons were a different story, however, as Morse posted a gaudy .296/.345/.516 batting line with 64 homers in 1298 plate appearances for the Nationals as a first baseman/outfielder.

The caveat with Morse is that even in his most productive seasons at the plate, he's still a defensively challenged player. Morse has a career UZR/150 of -18.3 in left field, meaning he'll need to return to his 2010-12 form at the plate to provide a significant level of all-around value to the Giants. Morse also has experience at first base, where he's a more passable defender, so the Giants could at least entertain the idea of flipping him and Brandon Belt if Morse's glove is too rough in the outfield.

Morse will join an outfield alignment that will have Hunter Pence starting in right field, Angel Pagan manning center field and Gregor Blanco likely seeing plenty of time as a late-inning replacement for Morse in a fourth outfielder's role.

Earlier today it was reported that the Giants still hoped to add a right-handed swinging outfielder. The Giants were said to be in negotiations with Jeff Baker as recently as yesterday afternoon, but clearly elected to go a different route.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


AL West Notes: Wilson, Young, Angels, Morrison

The Rangers made headlines today by selecting Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft.  Before going on to NFL stardom, Wilson was selected by the Rockies as a second baseman in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, and Colorado retained its rights to Wilson until this morning. Wilson will report to Spring Training and talk to the Rangers' minor leaguers in a motivational capacity.  "We decided if he ever wanted to play again, he'd be a guy that we'd want with us," Texas assistant GM A.J. Preller told reporters, including MLB.com's Richard Justice.  The Wilson selection isn't a gimmick,  ESPN's Richard Durrett writes, and Jon Daniels is excited to have Wilson's winning qualities in the organization, though Daniels stressed that the club isn't trying to distract Wilson from his NFL goals.  Here's more out of the AL West…

  • Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz remain unsigned, which is good news for the Rangers, ESPN Dallas' Richard Durrett writes.  The Rangers like both players and are hoping that their asking prices drop the longer they stay on the market.  Daniels said that his team's pursuit of Choo was "unchanged" from yesterday.
  • There is a chance that Michael Young could rejoin the Rangers if both parties see a fit, MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez tweets.  Texas dealt its longtime franchise staple to the Phillies last offseason and Young was subsequently dealt to the Dodgers in August.
  • Despite recent rumors linking the Angels to Matt Garza and Raul Ibanez, general manager Jerry Dipoto told reporters (including Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times) that his team doesn't have any outstanding offers to free agents.
  • In a special piece for FOX Sports, new Mariners first baseman/outfielder Logan Morrison wrote about the experience of being traded to a new team. Morrison's piece is particularly fascinating in that it was written prior to the trade that sent him to Seattle. LoMo says he doesn't have any ill feelings toward the Marlins organization, adding that contrary to public opinion, owner Jeffrey Loria was "great and generous" to Morrison and his family. Loria allowed Morrison and his family to use his personal plane to get to Kansas City for the funeral of Morrison's father.
  • The Astros spoke to the Marlins about Morrison and also pursued Corey Hart and Mike Morse, MLB.com's Brian McTaggart reports.  Jose Veras rejected the Astros' initial contract offer but the two sides still share a mutual interest in a reunion.
  • The YankeesIndiansBravesPhilliesBlue JaysTwins and Indians were all involved in trade talks for Brett Anderson before the Athletics sent the right-hander to the Rockies, writes Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.

MLBTR's Mark Polishuk also contributed to this post