The Orioles are showing “strong interest” in free agent outfielder/first baseman/DH Mike Morse, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today (on Twitter). Baltimore has lost Nelson Cruz to the Mariners, watched free agent target Torii Hunter agree to terms with the Twins and could yet lose Nick Markakis to one of multiple teams showing interest in him.
As Nightengale notes, Morse could serve in a similar capacity to Cruz in 2014, spending a large chunk of time at DH while also filling in as a corner outfielder. The 32-year-old (33 in March) enjoyed a strong season with the bat in 2014 with the World Series Champion Giants, batting .279/.336/.475 with 16 homers in 482 plate appearances despite playing in the cavernous AT&T Park. Morse’s offensive contributions were 30 to 33 percent above league average, per park-adjust stats like OPS+ and wRC+.
The Orioles should be plenty familiar with Morse, as they were his final team before hitting the open market and signing with San Francisco. Baltimore acquired Morse in August of 2013 in a one-for-one swap that netted the Mariners’ Xavier Avery. Morse hit a woeful .103/.133/.103 in 30 plate appearances as he battled a serious wrist injury that eventually required offseason surgery.
When healthy, hitting hasn’t been a problem for Morse. In fact, over the past five seasons, Morse has a strong .279/.331/.485 triple-slash over his past five seasons. The problem with Morse is two-fold: he’s oft-injured and has significantly negative defensive value. Morse has played in just 565 games over the aforementioned five-season span. He’s hit the disabled list on four occasions due to calf, quadriceps, lat and oblique injuries, and he’s had plenty of minor injuries that set him back for a few days at a time.
Defensively, Morse has nearly 1700 innings in left field but a lifetime UZR/150 of -20.7 at that position to go along with a cumulative Defensive Runs Saved mark of -15. Those numbers were at -25.4 and -9, respectively, this past season with the Giants. He’s a more passable option at first base, but the Orioles have Chris Davis at that position and will likely give Steve Pearce some reps there as well.
Despite his injury woes, Morse’s bat does seem like a reasonable option to replace much of the offense lost with Cruz’s departure, and it will likely come at a fraction of the price. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd profiled Morse last month and pegged him for a two-year contract, and even if Morse surpasses that total, he should come at a significantly lower rate than the four-year, $58MM pact inked by Cruz.