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Thursday, January 17, 2013
Mariners continue miserable offseason

By David Schoenfield

I hate to pile on, but a few opinions of the three-way trade that netted the Mariners Mike Morse while sending John Jaso to the division rival A's:

Keith Law, ESPN Insider Insider:
They give up three years of Jaso for one of Morse, and will pay Morse handsomely even though he missed large chunks of three of the past five seasons due to injury. Morse is a very limited player, best suited to DH duty or first base, with a poor overall approach at the plate -- he's a dead fastball hitter, and has been his whole career outside of the anomalous 2011 season, with consistently mediocre walk rates.
Joe Sheehan, from his newsletter:
You're doing it wrong. Having traded Jaso, the Mariners will now end up adding some OBP nightmare catcher, making their OBP issues that much worse. The team was much better off, given its makeup, with a high-OBP, low-SLG 350-AB catcher and assembling a left fielder from the Eric Thames/Casper Wells/Raul Ibanez group already on hand, than it is with Morse and something from the Yorvit Torrealba group of free-agent catchers. The Mariners' offense isn't improved for making this trade.

This is why (Jack) Zduriencik should and will lose his job soon enough. It's one thing to make mistakes evaluating talent. It's another to not understand why your team can't score. The Seattle Mariners trading OBP for SLG and giving away age, control, money and defensive value in the deal is a step backwards. This trade is awful for them.
Dave Cameron, U.S.S. Mariner:
John Jaso, with his inability to hit left-handers and his poor throwing arm, is still an above average Major League catcher. He’s comparable in overall value to Alex Avila, who was the starting catcher for the team that just won the American League. Because there are so few catchers in baseball who can hit, even a bad defender who can hit right-handers like Jaso can puts him in rare company.


OK, OK, almost everybody hates this trade for the Mariners. Jon Shields of Pro Ball NW does have a little different take and doesn't think the deal was so bad:
Swapping Jaso for Morse is not nearly as risky as (Bill) Bavasi's moves, but there is still a chance at a payoff. Morse struggled with hand/wrist injuries last season, dropping his batting line to .291/.321/.470. That looks great by Mariner standards but was well short of his 2011 result: .303/.360/.550 with 33 home runs.

Few expect Jaso to repeat his 2012 breakout season; fewer expect him to best it. A somewhat-healthy Morse could easily outproduce Jaso at the plate. There's more upside there. This could turn out OK in 2013 as long as the Mariners don't let Morse give all his value back on defense and are able to do a half-decent job patching up the hole left by Jaso.


I guess that's reluctant approval. Look, there's no doubt the Mariners needed a right-handed bat -- with Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley, Kendrys Morales (a switch-hitter stronger from the left side) and Raul Ibanez all their "best" hitters were left-handed. Jon mentions this as a possible lineup against right-handers:

2B: Dustin Ackley (L)
3B: Kyle Seager (L)
RF: Mike Morse (R)
1B: Kendrys Morales (L)
DH: Raul Ibanez (L)
C: Jesus Montero (R)
LF: Michael Saunders (L)
CF: Franklin Gutierrez (R)
SS: Brendan Ryan (R)

Against left-handers, you could put Casper Wells in the outfield and move Morse to first base, with Morales the DH. It's possible that catcher Mike Zunino could be ready by midseason, pushing Montero to a DH role. Justin Smoak will have to have a huge spring to get some playing time. And that's the problem with the current makeup of the Seattle roster: Too many DH/1B/LF types (don't forget Jason Bay!).

Landing Morse was probably not what the Mariners envisioned this offseason in their search for a big bat. No Justin Upton. No Josh Hamilton. Morales came at the expense of Jason Vargas, who doesn't wow anyone with his stuff but has been a reliable 200-inning guy the past three seasons.

As for Zduriencik, this is starting to look like a make-or-break type of year for him, even if he has done a nice job rebuilding the farm system into one of the game's best. But his moves at the big-league level have been a mixed bag: He got Cliff Lee for nothing, but then traded him for Smoak, who hasn't developed; the Brandon Morrow/Brandon League deal was a bad one at the time, a starting pitcher with big upside for a relief pitcher; the Doug Fister trade has proven to be a bargain for Detroit (a rotation with Felix Hernandez, Morrow and Fister would look pretty good right now); he had Morse a few years ago and traded him for Ryan Langerhans; the Chone Figgins contract didn't quite pan out.

On the other hand, he got Jaso for a relief prospect; he acquired Vargas as a throw-in the J.J. Putz/Franklin Gutierrez three-way deal; he got Brendan Ryan from the Cardinals for another relief prospect; he found guys like Tom Wilhelmsen and Steve Delabar on the scrap heap.

If I had to read the tea leaves, I would guess those above Zduriencik put pressure on him to build a more "exciting" club in the wake of declining attendance, especially with the Safeco Field fences moving in. In 2008, the final year of the disastrous Bavasi regime, the Mariners went 61-101 but drew 2.33 million. Since then, attendance has dropped to 2.20 million, 2.09 million, 1.90 million and 1.72 million. The Mariners led the AL in attendance in 2001 and 2002, but ranked 11th in 2012. Yes, a boring, low-scoring club is part of the reason for that decline.

But you won't increase attendance by hitting more home runs; you increase attendance by winning more games. Maybe that will happen if Ackley improves and Seager and Saunders continue developing and Zunino turns into a star and some of the young pitching prospects hit the majors running. But it won't happen because of Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez and, most likely, Mike Morse.