While there has been little news about the Adam LaRoche negotiations in recent days, except that nobody else wants to sign him, the Nats should still be considered the frontrunners to ink him. The waiting game can only go on for so long until, given that there are no other suitors, either LaRoche caves and accepts the Nats’ two-year deal, or the Nats surprise everyone and offer him a 3rd-year option or some other change from their current offer. In any event, it looks likely that LaRoche will be playing first base for the Nats in 2013.
With the acquisition of Denard Span, however, LaRoche would leave Michael Morse as the odd man out, left without a spot as Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth occupy the corner outfield spots. He is owed $6.75M next year, so his salary isn’t prohibitive to his sticking around, but it would be a waste to have a player of his talent, hitting .296 and averaging 30 homers per 162 games in his last three seasons, sitting around on the bench. Even though he would only have one year of control left, a player of his ability with his low salary would definitely have a good amount of trade value, especially considering the fact that he will likely merit and decline a qualifying offer next offseason, tying him to draft-pick compensation.
When thinking of trade fits for Morse, one team immediately jumps out. Which team needs a power bat, preferably at a low salary, has a wealth of pitching prospects, recently cleared a sizable chunk of salary in a trade, and is unafraid to make big moves? Why, the Tampa Bay Rays, of course. The match makes sense for a million and one reasons. The team is absolutely devoid of power now that BJ Upton and Carlos Peña, two of the team’s top three home run hitters last season, have left as free agents. The remaining leading home run hitter on the team is Ben Zobrist, who hit 20 last year. Morse’s low salary also makes sense for the Rays, who are very budget-conscious and cleared about $13M from their payroll when they traded James Shields to the Royals. The fact that Morse is only under control for one year will work well for the Rays as well, because he will not block the recently-acquired Wil Myers, Baseball America’s 2012 Minor League Player of the Year, in one of the corner spots. Even if Myers comes up in the middle of the season, Morse can move from left field to first base where the Rays are currently slotted to start James Loney, who, as any Dodgers fan can tell you, cannot hit a lick. A good year from Morse would also allow the Rays to give him a qualifying offer after next offseason, granting them an extra draft pick, which adds to Morse’s trade appeal.
To clear any further doubt, Rays VP Andrew Friedman said the team is looking for “one or two” more hitters for next season, making a Morse acquisition a perfect fit for them. In fact, the two teams even discussed a Morse trade earlier in the offseason, though the earlier trade came before the Nationals signed Dan Haren and the Rays sent Shields away, and likely included Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson.
In addition to the obvious fit of Morse in Tampa Bay, trading with the Rays makes sense on the Nationals’ side as well. Tampa Bay’s system is stuffed to the gills with pitching prospects, especially so now that the Rays added two more highly thought-of arms from Kansas City’s system in the Shields trade. The Nats’ system is the opposite, with only one top-flight pitching prospect (Lucas Giolito) after trading Alex Meyer to Minnesota, and no pitchers anywhere near being MLB ready. The team will seek AA and AAA arms first when trying to trade Morse, which Tampa Bay is rich in, such as, according to Baseball America, #1 prospect Chris Archer, #4 prospect Alex Colome, and former Royals #6 prospect Jake Odorizzi, all of whom spent time in AAA last season. While it is unclear how both teams value each others’ players, the Rays have had past interest in Morse, meaning they find him valuable, and Baseball America’s evaluations of the Rays’ pitchers likely represent something close to what the Nats think.
Archer, a candidate for the Rays’ 2013 rotation, would be a high price to pay for one year of Morse, so a trade involving him is unlikely unless the Nats sent a prospect back to Tampa Bay, such as slugging first/third baseman and Nats #4 prospect Matt Skole, who hit 27 home runs in 2012 and would be one of the best pure power hitters in Tampa Bay’s minor leagues. Barring that, however, a trade that involves Odorizzi or Colome coming back to Washington, perhaps with another minor prospect, could make a lot of sense for both sides. A scenario like this is a long way from becoming reality, but if LaRoche does indeed re-sign, watch for the Nats to shop Morse and for the Rays to have a lot of interest.