The deal is official. Adam “AdaMVP” LaRoche, 2012 Silver Slugger and Gold Glove award winner, is returning to the Nationals for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
With the infield and outfield set for April, Mike Rizzo will now turn his attention to bulking up the bullpen with left-handed relievers via trading Michael Morse. As DoD’s own Jared Book notes, there are a number of teams that have excess lefties to deal and would love a middle-of-the-lineup slugger like Morse: the Tampa Bay Rays, Seattle Mariners, and the Texas Rangers, all of which have been previously linked to the 1B/OF this offseason. One name I’d like to add to that list is the Kansas City Royals. Let’s look at each option:
Tampa Bay Rays:
Before the Nationals signed Dan Haren earlier this offseason to a one year, $13 million deal, it became evident that both the Nationals and Rays were interested in a trade that would send a formidable, end-of-rotation starter to D.C. in exchange for some sort of package including Morse and potentially Danny Espinosa. When the Rays decided to send powerhouse pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City instead, the Nationals were forced to look elsewhere for a starter. Nevertheless, I personally believe the Rays would still love to have a guy like Morse in its lineup in 2013. He hit for a .291 average and 18 homeruns coming back from injury last season in 102 game appearances, and will only be making $7 million next year in salary–a reasonable price for thrifty Tampa Bay. A big upgrade from Carlos Pena, I’d say. What makes this possible deal so desirable for both teams is that the Rays have a number of lefties they could reasonably deal to the Nats in exchange for Morse. First and foremost, Jake McGee. McGee had a phenomenal season for Tampa Bay in 2012, going 5-2 with a 1.95 ERA and 0.8 WHIP in 69 relief appearances. Another guy the Nationals could grab from Tampa is Cesar Ramos, who has spent the last three seasons going back and forth between Triple-A and the major league squads of the Padres and Rays. He’s shown tremendous promise, especially having pitched very well this past September with the Rays and finishing 2012 with a commendable 2.10 ERA. This is the ideal option for the Nationals, in my opinion, mainly because of the top-notch McGee, who pitched even better than recently-linked-now-Dodger J.P Howell.
Another team that could certainly make a big play for Morse is the Seattle Mariners. Forgettably for Seattle fans, the M’s finished dead-last in the American League in hits, runs, RBIs, and batting average last season. It seems clear Michael Morse could and would boost those statistics in 2013. A couple of relievers the Nats could secure from the Mariners’ system include Charlie Furbush and Oliver Perez. Furbush is probably more desirable of the two, as the LSU product pitched extremely well in both August and September following a return from a triceps injury, ending 2012 with a 2.75 ERA in 49 game appearances with the major league squad. Perez is probably a safe bet to be traded as well if the Mariners acquire Morse, as he has shown tremendous durability as both a MLB starter and now reliever with Seattle last season. He gave up just seven runs in 29.2 innings for the M’s for a 2.12 ERA.
With Josh Hamilton destined for Hollywood and Los Angeles, the Rangers will now look to revamp their outfield as they will contend for yet another AL West division title this coming season. Unquestionably, they have plenty of money to spend and would absolutely love to have a slugger like Morse replace Hamilton in the middle of an already star-studded lineup. A couple names that come to mind for which the Nationals could trade are relievers Robbie Ross and Joe Ortiz. Though he struggled late in the season, Ross had a solid year for the Rangers in 2012. In just his first major league season, he finished with a 6-0 record and 2.22 ERA in 65 innings pitched. Shadowed by one of the best groups of starters in all of baseball, Ross certainly held his own and made a name for himself for years to come. While Ortiz has never played in the majors and just came into the Rangers’ farm system this offseason, his strong minor league numbers make him a potential early call-up in 2013. His 2.15 ERA in 62 innings should be commendably noted.
A final team that I’d like to add to this list of suitors for Morse is Kansas City. As aforementioned, the Royals recently traded one of the top prospects in all of baseball in Wil Myers for top-end starters James Shields and Wade Davis earlier this offseason. They clearly have a “win-now” attitude, and I believe that alone puts them in the market for Morse. Billy Butler seems to be destined as KC’s DH and Eric Hosmer struggled mightily as the Royals’ first baseman last season, making a play for Morse ideal. Tim Collins is a guy the Nationals could seek in such a deal, as his 3.36 ERA in 72 appearances is quite noteworthy. Donnie Joseph is another lefty prospect Rizzo could also covet in such a deal, although he is a career minor leaguer.
It will be very interesting to see where Michael Morse lands later this offseason, but for now, expect solid, playoff-ready lefties to come into D.C. to fill the gaps left by the departed Sean Burnett, Tom Gorzelanny, and Michael Gonzalez, on which the Nats relied heavily in its incredible 2012 campaign.