For much of the offseason the guys over at MLBTR have taken a look at a number of possible candidates for contract extensions prior to reaching free agency. Tim Dierkes, the man behind the site, has authored most of the discussions and tackled the Nationals’ own Michael Morse with his latest installment. Morse won’t reach free agency until after the 2013 season, but let’s see how his situation is viewed and question whether a contract extension might be something the organization should look into.
Morse first started to truly break out in the second half of the 2010 season, when he batted .282/.347/.518 with 11 HR and 32 RBI after the All Star Break. It was the first stretch of his career where he would receive regular MLB at bats. Then, in 2011, he was an everyday regular for the first time – improving his offensive output to a career best .303/.360/.550 line with 31 HR and 95 RBI in 575 plate appearances – totals that were nearly all higher than his career to date entering the season. He split the season between left field and first base, holding his own at each position despite not being a superior defender.
The breakout season was of particular significance when you take into consideration where the Nationals are, as an organization, right now. It would seem, at least at the moment, that Morse is slated to return to left field in 2012, provided Adam LaRoche is actually healthy enough to play first base daily. However, LaRoche will likely be gone by the end of the 2012 season, at which point Morse will move back to first in all likelihood. By all accounts the team is nearing the stage where they will be thought of as a true contender in the NL East. We’re fairly optimistic about the future of this team here at DoD, but I think we’d all admit that they aren’t quite there just yet. Keeping a player of Morse’s caliber in Washington beyond the 2013 season would certainly be a step towards getting this team to that level.
Later this month the team and Morse will go through the arbitration process for the second time. Projections have estimated his 2012 salary will likely come in somewhere around $3.9 Million. Ultimately the extension terms that Tim suggests seem like a strong starting point:
Morse, ACES, and the Nationals might have to forge somewhat new territory. I propose $3.5 Million for 2012, $6 Million for 2013, and $9 Million for 2014, for a total of $18.5 Million over three years. The Nationals will probably want a club option for a fourth year, perhaps at $10 Million. If the $18.5 Million range seems low, remember that Morse earned only $1.35 Million in 2011 and his 2012-2013 salaries will stem from that amount.
Three years, $18.5 Million. That would cover Morse’s final two arbitration seasons and his first free agent year. The club option could bring the total value of the deal to just under $30 Million over four years. All in all, it’s not a bad proposal. It provides Morse the security and continuity that every player desires while the team can lock in valuable production on a reasonable cost schedule. There is certainly some risk involved. Morse had never been an everyday player prior to last season and while he had a fantastic year at the plate, there’s no certainty that he’ll either repeat or improve upon that production.
One other factor to keep in mind, an extension such as the one proposed would not financially handicap the organization from making additional moves. Morse would receive adequate compensation, pending an improvement in performance, while keeping in line with the organization’s future payroll goals. That said, such an extension would have other affects on the team’s roster moving forward.
Morse is capable of playing either first base or a corner outfield position. Both Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper will need to occupy a corner outfield spot for the coming years – considering neither is really able to handle center field – which will push Morse to first base. However, let’s not forget the constant discussion in the past few weeks about the team’s interest in signing Prince Fielder. Should that move happen, Morse is pushed back to the outfield and somehow the organization will need to justify benching – or somehow trade – Werth and his contract (because let’s face it, Harper won’t be the odd man out here).
Forgetting for a moment the Fielder possibility, the Nationals need to consider where Morse is going to play before offering him a contract extension, not simply what value he’ll provide the lineup on a day-to-day basis. Should this prove to not be a significant factor, then an extension could be a real possibility in the coming weeks and/or months. Morse was a valuable piece of the 2011 Nationals and a solid 2012 season will further increase his future earning potential. Extending him sooner rather than later, provided there is a plan in place for where he plays, could make sense for both Morse and the Nationals.