Washington Nationals' Michael Morse: Don't Tell His Fans He's Not Legit.

I've written several times recently about the phenomenon D.C. Skipper Jim Riggleman talked about earlier this winter on Chad Dukes and LaVarr Arrington's 106.7 the Fan show when asked about the unresolved situation at first base now that Adam Dunn is no longer the Washington Nationals' first baseman:

"I think, really our fans are very adamant about putting Mike Morse over there. I get a lot of comments about that from people, 'Just put Mike over there,' [and] that's certainly an option, there's a couple left-handed hitters we still have our eye on though, and so what we feel like is that we're going to have a good offensive player at first base."

The Nats don't necessarily expect to find Dunn-like offensive contributions on the free agent market, but someone who can be, in Mr. Riggleman's words, a "...pretty good defensive player over there who's going to put up decent offensive numbers and give some protection for either [Ryan] Zimmerman or [Jayson] Werth in the lineup." While the Nats' Manager and a certain (vocal) contingent of NatsTown believes the 28-going-on-29-year-old SS-turned-OF-and-now-1B is up for it, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling during the Winter Meetings as quoted in an article entitled, "Nationals still prefer to go outside at first, Rizzo says", that his preference would be for the Nats to, "add a new option at first," rather than relying on Josh Willigham (before he was dealt) or Michael Morse filling the role. "'I'd rather do it externally,' Rizzo said. 'That tells you how comfortable I am about doing it from within.'"

Don't tell that to the Morse-backers though.

Even after the Nats reportedly pursued Carlos Pena, Derrek Lee and now Adam LaRoche as options to replace Dunn at first, they still want to know why the Nats don't just put the former White Sox and Mariners' prospect there and see what he can do over a full season, even though he's never played more than last year's 98 games at the Major League level. Morse hit .289 with a .352 OBP, .519 SLG, 12 doubles and 15 HR's in 266 at bats, and according to Bill James' projections, Morse should be good for a .287/.337/.461 slash line with 17 doubles and 11 HR's in 98 games or .280-.290, 20-25 HR's and 80-90 RBI's if he's given a full season at first. Why does it feel like Jim Bowden's trying to sell me on another toolsy outfielder when I hear this stuff?

Morse's 162-game average has him hitting .293 with a .353 OBP, .456 SLG, 23 doubles and 14 HR's over a full 162-game season. Defensively? Morse might not have committed any errors in right last year, but you don't get errors when you don't get a glove on the ball, and there were a few flies an average defender gets to that eluded Morse. Word is that barring any further additions to the outfield, or a surprise Spring from a Corey Brown or Justin Maxwell, Morse is expected to split time in left with Roger Bernadina, who D.C. GM Mike Rizzo went so far as to say, as he did in Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell's article entitled, "Ownership, GM are finally on same page", plays, "...almost Barry Bonds defense," in left, (and I think he means young Barry Bonds, not the fairly range-less late-career Bonds.)

A part-time role for both Bernadina and Morse as part of a platoon in left, and some time spent backing up at first for Morse, doesn't that sound like a role more suited to a player who'll turn 29 before the seasons starts, who through injury and circumstance has yet to play consistently or put in a full season at the major league level. Why are you convinced one way or another about Michael Morse? Is he a journeyman with little exposure in the NL who'll be exposed given a full-time role, or an undervalued asset just waiting to prove he's another Jayson Werth?

Before the season ended, the Nats' General Manager was already talking about a platoon in left field, telling MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling, as quoted in an article entitled, "Mike Rizzo on the Nationals' offseason", that Bernandina and Morse remained, "'a little bit of an unknown.'":

"'We don't know what they're going to do on an everyday basis, if they're going to be a platoon system or if one's going to take the job from the other...but I like the progression that both of them have made and together, the numbers - if you put those two sets of numbers together - it's a pretty reliable corner outfield position.'"

Judging either player based on Bernadina's one full season's worth of starts in the majors played over three years or Morse's production in a half of a season last year is fruitless. Bernadina struggled late in the season and posted a .246/.307/.384 slash line with 18 doubles and 11 HR's over 134 games and and 414 at bats. Morse's .289/.352/.519 line and 12 doubles and 15 HR's in 98 games and 266 at bats are impressive, but that's also the first time he's played over 72 games since his rookie campaign in 2005 when he was 23...Spring Training will decide this position battle, but each player's got a lot to prove going forward.

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