Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE
The Washington Nationals were willing to deal Michael Morse to the Seattle Mariners last week, in a three-team trade that included the Oakland A's, because they're confident in the moves they've made and the fact that Tyler Moore can provide some of the pop Morse added to their lineup.
The trade that brought Michael Morse to the nation's capital in late June of 2009 in a straight-up deal for Ryan Langerhans, was made, at least in part, to give Langerhans a chance to play every day when he wasn't going to in the nation's capital. The Nationals were happy to get Morse at the time, but as then-first-year GM Mike Rizzo told MLB.com's Bill Ladson, "'We also made the trade to reward Ryan for his loyalty to the organization. [Langerhans] had a big Major League opportunity, and I didn't want to stand in his way.'" The trade last week that sent Morse back to the Mariners too was made, at least in part, to give a player (Morse this time) the chance to make the most of his current situation by sending him somewhere he was likely to get more time in the lineup when he was the odd man out in Washington.
In talking about the three-team trade with the Oakland A's and Seattle that resulted in Morse returning to the Mariners' organization, the Nats' GM told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier last week that once the Nationals got the return they were after they pulled the trigger, at least in part, so Morse could play more than he was expected to in 2013 in D.C. since Adam LaRoche had signed on to return and play first and the acquisition of center fielder Denard Span pushed Morse out of the outfield which barring any injuries, setbacks, etc., will feature Bryce Harper, Span and Jayson Werth.
The Nationals made the deal, Rizzo said, because power right-handers A.J. Cole, Blake Treinen and the PTBNL Washington got in return from Oakland could help restock the system after trades the last two winters depleted some of the pitching depth, but it would also give Morse, "... an opportunity to play every day and to show what he can do."
"It's a contract year for him," the Nats' GM said, "and it's a way for him to further his career and have a good year and then become a free agent." As soon as LaRoche signed his 2-year/$24 million dollar deal, Rizzo, who'd entertained offers for Morse at the Winter Meetings, was open about the fact that he would once again listen to anyone who had interest in Morse, though he didn't feel they had to trade the big middle-of-the-order bat.
"We'd move him in the right deal," Rizzo said, "We're certainly not going to give him away, but if we can make the right deal that works for Mike and for us as a franchise, we certainly will do that deal." Once the deal with the M's and A's was completed, however, with catcher John Jaso going from Seattle to Oakland to make it all work, the 52-year-old general manager was open about how comfortable he was with the idea of parting with Morse and having Tyler Moore back up LaRoche at first and play left field when necessary as the 25-year-old Moore had last season in his rookie campaign.
"They have very similar skill sets and to have two of them is almost redundant," Rizzo told reporters, referring to Morse and Moore, while fielding questions at the press conference in Nationals Park in which he also introduced new closer Rafael Soriano last week. "And Michael with one year left of control only," the Nats' GM explained, "we felt that we had an ample substitute in a more-controllable Tyler Moore and we figured that with the outlay of prospects to get the club that we have, we felt that Mike would recoup some of those prospects for us. Especially with the trade of Alex Meyer to obtain Denard Span, we felt that A.J. Cole kind of replaces his spot in our minor league system."
The GM's comments and the Morse trade are clear statements about the team's confidence in OF/1B Tyler Moore, the soon-to-turn-26-year-old, Brandon, Mississippi-born, Mississippi State University-educated slugger they drafted three times and finally signed after selecting him in the 16th Round in 2008. In his first sustained run in the majors after back-to-back 31 HR seasons in the Nationals' system in 2010-11, the 2010 Nats' Minor League Player of the Year, who debuted in D.C. in late 2011, hit nine doubles and 10 HRs in 75 games and 171 plate appearances as a bench player with the NL East champs, over which he had a .263/.327/.513 line. At Triple-A in the Nationals' system in 2012, Moore had a .307/.374/.653 line with six doubles and nine home runs in 29 games and 115 PAs. Clearly, the Nationals think Moore is ready to show what he can do in a full season at the major league level.
The Morse deal says a lot about the Nationals' GM's opinion of Moore, but also of A.J. Cole, since Alex Meyer, 23 and Washington's second 1st Round pick (of 3) in the 2011 Draft, was considered the best pitching prospect in the organization before he was dealt to Minnesota straight-up for Span. In spite of Cole's struggles at High-A in the A's system in 2012, Rizzo said this past week that trading the 21-year-old, 2010 4th Round pick was the hardest part of the deal with the A's last winter that brought Gio Gonzalez to Washington from Oakland. Cole was scouted extensively this year, and the Nats' GM said he believed the right-hander remained on the right track developmentally.
"The velocity is good," Rizzo told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Casey Stern last week when asked about Cole, "He's a big, strong guy who's never missed a start and never had any tweaks or anything like that so we feel that he'll be a 21-year-old player in High-A and possibly Double-A this year and he's still on a good track and developmental curve and we like where he's at stuff-wise and performance-wise." Cole helps rebuild the pitching depth in the organization. Moore, and behind him 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Matt Skole, gave the Nationals enough depth that they were willing to let Adam LaRoche walk if he chose to, since they felt Moore and Morse could handle first base while Skole continued to develop in the Nats' system.
Will Moore and Cole continue to improve and reward the faith the team is showing in the two of them? The Nationals were able to acquire Gio Gonzalez in the trade with the A's last winter because they had depth with pitchers like Tom Milone, an '08 10th Round pick the organization developed, and Brad Peacock, an '06 41st Round pick who was the 2011 Nats' Minor League Pitcher of the Year before he debuted late that season, available to offer Oakland as part of the package with Cole and catcher Derek Norris (an '07 4th Round pick) that got the deal done. The Nationals' scouts saw something in Morse and helped bring it out of him over four years in the nation's capital, when he'd struggled to stay healthy and never quite broken through at the major league level with Seattle. The Nationals clearly trust in their own ability to identify and develop talent and they're taking a chance in dealing Morse that they can continue to do what they've done before.