Update: The Rays are one of a number of teams interested in Mike Morse according to multiple reports. The Nationals are reportedly seeking pitching in return.
November 30: The Nationals are shopping outfielder/first baseman Mike Morse, according to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com. This report comes a day after Washington acquired center fielder Denard Span, giving the team a talented trio of starters in the outfield (Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper). With the outfield settled, and the team perhaps looking to re-sign free agent Adam LaRoche to play first base, Morse could be the odd man out—meaning the Rays might be in on his services.
Morse, whose career was derailed by PED suspensions and injuries, had a breakout season in 2011. After disappointing power showings in previous years, he belted 67 extra-base hits—31 of them home runs—in 575 plate appearances. This followed up a solid cameo in 2010, in which he hit 15 home runs in fewer than 270 at-bats. The Nationals rewarded him in January with a two-year deal for $10.5 million.
Injuries returned as a theme for Morse in 2012. The 30-year-old began the season on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain—he had left shoulder surgery in 2008—before dealing with minor hand and wrist ailments later in the season. His overall numbers took a hit; however, he finished the season with 36 extra-base hits despite missing 60 games. One might peg him as a three-outcome hitter; the type who slugs, walks, and strikes out with little in terms of batting average. But Morse doesn’t show a willingness to walk and has maintained solid averages throughout.
Standing on the extreme third-base side of the right-handed hitters’ box, with his bat almost straight up in the air, the bulk of Morse’s power comes against pitches located on the inner half of the plate. This might suggest he would be an extreme pull hitter, yet once again he proves atypical. With good extension, and steady, strong hands, the 30-year-old has shown the ability to hit for average and power to all fields. Perhaps because of his bat positioning, his most glaring weakness appears to be pitches located in the upper reaches of the zone—most notably fastballs.
At 6-foot-5 and 220-plus pounds, Morse has the look of a slugger. Since 2010, he has shown the power and strikeout rates of a slugger, too. In spite of his imposing frame, Morse rose through the minor league ranks primarily playing shortstop. He has since settled into a corner outfielder/first baseman role. First base seems to be his future role, as it allows his shoddy defense to be hidden while also alleviating some injury risk.
In terms of skills, need, and salary (one-year, $6.75 million) Morse would appear to be an obvious target for the Rays should Washington shop him in earnest. The Nationals own one of the league’s most balanced rosters, leaving a potential return for Morse unclear.