The Nationals have announced that 1B/LF Michael Morse has signed a 2-year, $10.5m extension, which buys out his last two years of arbitration eligibility. Morse was the lone offensive bright spot on the team last year, hitting .303/.360/.550 with 31 homers and finishing 19th in the NL MVP race. The deal does not extend his time with the Nationals, but merely sets his salary for the next two years.
It is easy to read too much into this deal with regards to Prince Fielder, but it does have some significance. On the surface, it gives the team some salary certainty for this year and next year because they do not have to wait for Morse’s 2012 performance to dictate his 2013 salary. Deals like these are common in the arbitration process, and the deal does little to change Morse’s standing with the team. However, Morse’s set salary does make him easier to trade, which would likely happen if the team signs Fielder.
If the Nationals sign Fielder, it creates a bit of a logjam at first. Prince would take over the position, leaving LaRoche to ride the pine or be traded. Then in 2013, when Bryce Harper, Mystery CF, and Jayson Werth fill out the outfield, Morse would be left without a spot. He would almost certainly have to be traded, and other teams would be much more amiable to that if he has a set salary. However, if Fielder signs elsewhere, Morse will likely play LF in 2012 with Adam LaRoche manning first. Once the team exercises its $1m 2013 buyout for LaRoche, Morse will return to playing first and, assuming he keeps up similar levels of production, he could get a nice extension. This extension would help the Nats trade Morse, which is necessary in the event of Fielder’s signing, but also keeps him around with a team-friendly deal if Fielder is not signed. While this deal could help facilitate a Morse trade to make room for Fielder, it serves other purposes as well and does not indicate any impending moves in the Fielder market.