On Tuesday, the Washington Nationals agreed to a deal with Adam LaRoche, re-signing the 33-year-old first baseman to a two-year, $24 million contract. This leaves the Nationals with more starting-caliber position players than they have the lineup space to use, which presumably means they will now try to trade Mike Morse.
Within a few hours of the agreement at least five or six teams had already talked to Washington about acquiring Morse, a right-handed hitter who can play first base or either corner outfield spot. So, as is always the case when a player who could potentially fill a hole on the Tribe’s roster becomes available, it’s worth asking: Would Morse be a fit for the Indians?
Morse, 30, owns a .295/.347/.492 career triple-slash and has averaged 23 home runs and 82 RBI per 162 games in his career. This past season was a down year as he hit .291/.321/.470 with 18 home runs and 62 RBI in 102 games; the decline in production can be attributed to dips in his walk rate and power numbers. But though his 2012 campaign may have been personally disappointing, such judgments are relative—per wRC+, Morse was a better hitter than every 2012 Indians regular except Carlos Santana and the now-departed Shin-Soo Choo.
We’ve now established that Morse can hit, and that should be enough to pique Cleveland’s interest. The designated hitter spot that Travis Hafner occupied (or at least had reserved for him) for a decade is now vacant, and while the team has plenty of internal candidates for the role none of them can be counted on to hit well enough to be a full-time DH. But Morse could. In both 2010 and 2011 his bat was on a level that Hafner’s hasn’t been since 2006, and even in his down 2012 campaign Morse wasn’t too far behind Pronk.
Bill James projects Morse to hit .295/.345/.501 with 23 homers and 80 RBI in 2013 despite playing only 134 games. Plug that into the Simple WAR Calculator and even assuming he’d be a full-time DH and a below-average baserunner he’d come out at 1.7 wins above replacement. For comparison’s sake, using FanGraphs’ model only six Indians hitters or pitchers topped that value in 2012. So yeah, that kind of production would look good in a Cleveland uniform.
The only real question here is price, both in what Morse will earn in 2013 and what the Nationals will want for him. Morse is scheduled to make $7 million this year. That’s a reasonable price to pay for his services, but after spending $69 million on Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, and Brett Myers the Indians may be out of spending money. And there isn’t much surplus value built into Morse’s contract, so it probably wouldn’t make sense to get into a multiteam bidding war for the right to pay him $7 million when they could instead sign Travis Hafner for less than half of that.
Morse’s bat would look great in the middle of Cleveland’s 2013 lineup, but he’s not worth selling the farm for. If they can get him from the Nationals without giving up too much in return the Indians would be wise to pull the trigger.