Mariners take a worthy risk with Mike Morse

Jan 16, 2013, 5:34 PM | Updated: 6:18 pm

By Mike Salk

Trading a backup catcher has apparently ended the Mariners’ chances to compete for the next decade or so.

At least, that seems to be the initial reaction to a reasonably low-cost move: trading catcher/designated hitter John Jaso for first baseman/outfielder/designated hitter Mike Morse.

There are legitimate arguments against the trade. Namely, Morse is 19 months older than Jaso, more expensive at $6 million and only under team control for one year (as opposed to three for Jaso). Further, Morse is not a good defensive player, has a PED ding on his record, and was traded for Ryan Langerhans just three years ago.

Statheads hate this trade because they don’t like Morse’s defense and see supreme value in Jaso and his club controlability. Casual fans hate it because they don’t like acquiring a player that was virtually given away by the same administration.

Mike Morse hit 49 home runs over the last two seasons while playing half his games in a spacious ballpark. (AP)

Again, none of these arguments are wrong.

But they only look at the downside and there is upside here, too. Remember, you could pass on Red Bryant because he can’t rush the passer, Kam Chancellor because he is too big to cover faster tight ends or Russell Wilson because he is too short to drop back and throw from the pocket 40 times per game. But those players were instrumental to the Seahawks’ success because Pete Carroll and John Schneider looked at their positives rather than getting caught up in their negatives.

Mike Morse can hit. In two years in a big ballpark in Washington, he had an OPS of .910 and .791. He hit 31 home runs when healthy in 2011, 18 in 102 games last year. The Mariners had a team OPS of .661 last year. Jaso’s was .850, though he didn’t accumulate enough at-bats to qualify for a batting title.

Morse has legitimate pop and hits righties and lefties nearly equally. That ability to hit against both pitchers makes him a potential everyday player. Jaso is not. For all of his numbers against righties, Jaso had a paltry .393 OPS verse lefties. He was and is a platoon player.

And that is before you factor in that he is also a subpar fielder – the Mariners thought so little of his catching defense that he started just 39 games behind the plate. By comparison, the defensively challenged Miguel Olivo and Jesus Montero started 68 and 55 games there respectively. The Mariners did not view him as a viable first baseman.

The Mariners traded a platoon/bench player for a starter, and yet fans are going crazy?

I’m not the biggest Morse fan. I’m not wild about trading for a player with only one year of club control remaining before free agency. But, much like Kendrys Morales, the Mariners could trade Morse at the deadline for prospects or could make him a qualifying offer next offseason to receive a first-round pick as compensation if he signed elsewhere. They upgrade their offense short term and protect themselves long term with draft picks.

I was hoping the Mariners would make a big splash this offseason. I longed for a potential superstar like Justin Upton (age 25) or Carlos Gonzalez. But when the Rockies refused to deal their players and Upton refused to play in Seattle, they made a safer move.

My response is tepid. It has more risk than the risk-free signings of Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay. It has less upside (and more risk) than the Jason Vargas-Morales swap (which I loved). But it provides a legitimate bat in the (end of the) prime of his career and the cost was a part-time player.

The Mariners will likely sign a low-cost catching option to hold the fort until first-round pick Mike Zunino arrives. Kelly Shoppach, Ronny Paulino and Yorvit Torrealba are options. In the meantime, we’ll find out if Montero can handle the position.

One other way in which the M’s are following the Carroll/Schneider lead is by creating competition. Whereas some fans bemoan the potential lost at-bats for Casper Wells, Eric Thames, etc., I welcome the increased competition for those spots. A good organization needs depth and potential major-league replacements in Triple-A; this deal should help provide that.

And who knows, maybe one of those fringe players becomes the weapon off the bench that Jaso became last year.

Overall, there is some downside in this trade and it’s not as exciting as a deal for Upton or a signing of Josh Hamilton.

But it sure isn’t the coming of the Apocalypse either. There is upside.

The Mariners sold high on a backup/platoon player that was given to them virtually for free by a smart Tampa organization just a year earlier. They needed offense and they got it. And if Morse comes close to repeating his 2011 season … well, that would be nice.

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