What to do with Brandon Morrow

Dave · March 23, 2007 at 8:23 am · Filed Under Mariners 

This has been a pretty boring spring, so far. Besides the Putz arm scare, there have been no injury problems of note, and besides Willie Bloomquist hitting like a man possessed, the performances have been pretty blase overall. Until last week, anyways.

That’s when Brandon Morrow showed up in Mesa with a 95 MPH fastball and a tight slider that made the heart of the Cubs order look stupid. I was highly impressed watching him, and I wasn’t alone, as Mike Hargrove used that performance as a launching point to begin publically lobbying for Morrow to make the team out of spring training. He’s continued to pitch well since that appearance, and Grover’s fondness for the kid isn’t getting any more private. After every outing, he makes it well known that he’d like to see the Mariners first round pick from last summer come north with the team as a reliever when camp ends.

While the Mariners are well known for rushing their kids through the system as quickly as possible, this certainly wasn’t the plan heading into March. Despite all the talk since the pick, the Mariners drafted Morrow as a starter, and he was ticketed for a rotation spot Double-A West Tennessee. The organization has always hoped that Morrow would develop into a starting pitcher, and he wasn’t drafted to be the closer of the future.

However, with Putz’s questionable availability for opening day and the organization short-sightedly creating a mediocre to bad bullpen behind him, Morrow suddenly looks like something of an answer to a legitimate problem on the 2007 squad. With guys like Mateo and Reitsma being handed the ball in the 7th and 8th innings, the Mariners lack a power arm who can be asked to get a strikeout in a key situation that isn’t a save possibility. Successful bullpens aren’t built around handing the ball to guys like Mateo and Reitsma in high leverage situations, so Hargrove has correctly identified the need for a legitimate quality arm to stick in front of J.J. Putz.

The question, then, becomes whether the Mariners should put the short term needs of the 2007 roster ahead of the long term needs of the franchise. Brandon Morrow, at some point in his career, needs to start some games in the minor leagues. His longest appearance in his professional career is three innings. He’s never had to go through the line-up a second time and make adjustments. He’s never had to pace himself to get through a professional game, knowing that there aren’t glaring weak spots in line-ups like there are in college. If you want Brandon Morrow to be a starter in the majors, then he has to be a starter in the minors, at some point, for at least a little while.

The question isn’t whether Morrow would be an effective major league reliever in 2007. It’s likely he would be. He’s got top shelf stuff, especially when he’s throwing max effort for 15-20 pitches, and relieving is the easiest job in baseball. The question is whether you’re willing to delay Brandon Morrow’s ascension to the rotation in order to patch a hole this year. For Mike Hargrove, whose job is on the line, it’s an easy answer. For Bill Bavasi, whose job description is to care for the franchise and not concentrate solely on winning games this year, it’s a tougher one. There is no obvious, easy answer here.

Personally, I’m torn. I want to see this team win, because I’m tired of finishing in last place, blogging about a team that has some upside but is forced to focus on the failures of its manager and the roster construction that left holes that could have easily been filled. I don’t want to see Ichiro leave. I don’t want to go through a summer of what-could-have-been as Doyle hits .320 for the Nationals while the Mariners struggle to find someone who can get on base with any kind of regularity. I want this team to win, and to win, they need a power right-handed setup guy to get to J.J. Putz. Brandon Morrow could legitimately be the answer to a problem that the team is going to have to address at some point.

But I also want the team to win in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and I think everyone will agree that those teams will be better if Brandon Morrow is throwing 100 pitches every five days than if he’s throwing 15 pitches every other day. The Mariners still have rotation holes to fill going forward, and most of the promising young arms in the system aren’t going to be ready for a few years. If the organization wants to fill those holes from within, Brandon Morrow is likely the best chance they’ll have.

While it’s pretty common for prospects to come up early as relievers and then move to the rotation, it isn’t common for those same pitchers to learn to how to pitch as professional starting pitchers in the major leagues. If Morrow is carried as a reliever this year, and then the team decides to shift him to the rotation for 2008, he’s going to have to learn on the job in front of 30,000 people. That’s not good player development. At some point, for his own best interest, Morrow needs to spend some period of weeks in the minors as a starting pitcher.

That either needs to happen this year or next year. If you carry him as a reliever this year and still intend to let him start at some point, you need to be prepared to have him begin 2008 in the minor leagues, regardless of how well he pitches out of the pen this year. And it’s nearly impossible to send a kid to the minors once he’s had success in the majors without creating all kinds of ill will with the player.

So, I can see both sides. I can see why Mike Hargrove wants Morrow on his staff, and I can see why Bill Bavasi should probably tell him that he can’t have him. Not yet, anyways. Morrow’s future as a starting pitcher is too valuable to this club to push back his timeframe on joining the rotation. Send the kid to West Tennessee and let him start for a month or two. If the team still needs a right handed power arm in June, give him a look.

If you carry him as a reliever on opening day, you may never have the chance to get him back to the minors. And asking him to learn how to be a starting pitcher at the major league level just isn’t fair to Brandon Morrow. The long term risk outweighs the short term rewards. Resist the temptation. It’s not worth it.


66 Responses to “What to do with Brandon Morrow”

  1. MKT on March 23rd, 2007 2:20 pm


    Find some other decent reliever on the scrap heap to shore up the ‘pen…

    Yup. High quality relievers are nice to have, but just like decent-hitting first basemen, it’s relatively easy to find relievers who are decent — and who don’t require the Mariners to sacrifice a potential future starter.


    Especially with the offseason we just had w/r/t starting pitcher salaries, you can’t help thinking that most GM’s are hoarding their SP prospects…

    Yup again. Good starting pitching is scarce and valuable, not to be frittered away.

  2. Dave on March 23rd, 2007 2:30 pm

    Not that I am rooting for it, but it just seems like Soriano’s arm is going to fall off very soon. I agree he was very above average in the past, it just doesn’t seem likely to me him maintaining that level.

    This is the only defense of that trade. Basically, the Mariners are banking on Soriano’s career essentially ending at some point in the next 12-18 months.

    Of course, if you’re going to put the track record of the Mariners and Braves organizations against each other in terms of evaluating a pitchers future abilities, I’m going with Atlanta. If John Schuerholz, Bobby Cox, and the crew they have in Atlanta think he’s got something left, that means a lot more to me than if Bill Bavasi and Mike Hargrove don’t.

    And yes, Grover’s displeasure with Soriano’s unavailability last year had a lot more to do with this trade than was reported.

  3. gwangung on March 23rd, 2007 2:39 pm

    And yes, Grover’s displeasure with Soriano’s unavailability last year had a lot more to do with this trade than was reported.

    Grrr. As if we need any MORE proof what an incompetent boob Hargrove is….(Um, hello….first year back from Tommy John surgery, and you’re angry that he’s not consistently available?????)

  4. rd on March 23rd, 2007 3:09 pm

    49: Uh, yeah, because no one has ever come back from Tommy John surgery to have an effective career, right?

  5. Thom Jimsen on March 23rd, 2007 3:17 pm

    A big point to consider is that Morrow’s bullpen goodness is unlikely to be a big difference-maker in the Mariners’ 2007 fortunes. They’ve got so many other bleeding holes on the roster, and are counting on 90th-percentile performances from so many players unlikely to deliver them, that I think, at best, Morrow is likely to be a solid performer in a third-place, 83-79 season.

  6. PositivePaul on March 23rd, 2007 3:26 pm

    Eight pitches for three outs today. Ugh. I soooo wanted him to get lit up.

  7. marc w on March 23rd, 2007 3:32 pm

    49 – Storm Davis didn’t move to the bullpen until his 10th MLB season, after which he’d piled up 200+ starts. Did you mean Mark Davis (quick check…nope, he started as a, er, starter)?

    Bryan Harvey is a decent point, but he pitched several years before his arm was chewed up, and retired after his age 32 season; it wasn’t like he had one good year and was done (a la Mark Fidrych, or something).
    I think it’s tough to devine a pattern in any of this: PITCHERS, not starters or reliever, often break down after X number of years/innings and become ineffective. I don’t think relieving is any more ‘dangerous’ for a pitcher’s long-term health than starting.

    I’m actually with you in that I often wonder how much he has in the tank – I was worried that he never really regained ALL of his velocity after the TJ surgery, but it’s not like that prevented him from being effective. Still, I wondered if perhaps there weren’t other structural problems in his arm that the surgery didn’t correct that meant his old 98MPH, blowing past Nomar FB was down to a still impressive 94-with-deception. I guess we’ll see. I would say that it’s generally bad to make trades based on hunches and gut feelings, especially when the guy you’re getting in return has been injured so often. Having a gut feeling about how much a guy has left in the tank, combined with a gut feeling that Horacio’s gonna get everything worked out if he just got a change of scenery = baaad trade.

  8. Mat on March 23rd, 2007 3:50 pm

    I like Dave’s take on this.

    This team needs some luck to win much of anything anyway. That, as much as anything, seems like a good reason to me to hold off on bringing Morrow north to man the bullpen. Wait a couple of months and see where the team is at. If they’ve had some things go their way, and they look like they can make something of this season, then put Morrow in the bullpen for a while. If, on the other hand, things have gone poorly for the M’s, and they are 10-11 games back in June, then just let the kid keep starting games in the minors.

  9. davepaisley on March 23rd, 2007 4:18 pm

    Any scenario that makes Mike Hargrove’s firing less likely is bad (evil, wicked bad) in my book, so there should be no way Morrow makes the club out of Spring…

  10. Ralph Malph on March 23rd, 2007 5:13 pm

    Just to play devil’s advocate on this, but suppose he sticks with the big club and is in the bullpen all year. I would think he fills the Lowe role from last year — setup man to get a key strikeout in the 7th or 8th inning. Which means he won’t pitch very many innings.

    Couldn’t he still go to winter ball in the fall and get some starts there? And wouldn’t that do as much for his career as a month or two in AA early in the season?

    I’m not saying I think he should make the team — he shouldn’t, he’s pitched a total of 16 professional innings, and even in college he was really only effective and starting regularly in 2006; in 2004 and 2005 combined he started 10 games and pitched 54 innings total in two years.

    But my objection isn’t that it will set his career back; it’s that even if he’s been terrific in a few spring training innings I don’t think he’s likely to be an effective pitcher yet, given how little he’s pitched.

  11. Ralph Malph on March 23rd, 2007 5:32 pm

    Sorry Dave, I missed your earlier post on winter ball.

  12. wilymo on March 23rd, 2007 7:27 pm

    Just a few thoughts on Soriano…

    Dave pretty much has it correct – that he was traded based on the team’s belief that he was a huge injury risk and that they were annoyed with his unavailability at times. However, in response to the second point, think about it from Soriano’s point-of-view. Many pitchers tend to hide small injuries/soreness because they don’t want to be labeled as injury-prone. While Soriano’s eventual Tommy John surgery may have happened regardless, he sometimes wonders if it may have turned out differently had he taken it easier at the first notice of discomfort and let the team handle it accordingly. Unfortunately, he thought it was something that would just go away, that obviously didn’t.

    So going into the 2006 season, Soriano wasn’t about to take any chances, coming off the surgery. After Hargrove’s overuse in the first half of the season (for a guy just coming off a pretty major surgery), eventually Soriano began to tire as would be expected. Rather than just pitch through it, he chose to basically self-monitor himself and let the team know on days he didn’t feel right. Obviously, this irked management quite a bit, as can be seen when you see some of the quotes regarding Reitsma and his “wanting to pitch every day” comments. Nonetheless, I’m not sure you can really blame Soriano for approaching it this way, especially considering if given the chance, Hargrove might have thrown him out there every day if he could have.

    Lastly, I’ve been in Orlando watching Soriano pitch this Spring and he’s looked great consistently hitting 93-95 giving up just 1 run and 3 hits in 6 innings to go along with a 8/0 k/bb ratio.

  13. CouchGM on March 23rd, 2007 7:30 pm

    I just had a thought: What’s up with Arthur Rhodes? Is he contributing? does he have a fork in his back?

  14. JMHawkins on March 23rd, 2007 11:17 pm

    And yes, Grover’s displeasure with Soriano’s unavailability last year had a lot more to do with this trade than was reported.

    So this was another Carlos Guillen trade then. Someone had a hissy fit, so we gave away a talented player for next to nothing.

  15. gwangung on March 24th, 2007 12:24 am

    So this was another Carlos Guillen trade then. Someone had a hissy fit, so we gave away a talented player for next to nothing.

    Hey, he didn’t carry himself like a baseball player or acted like a baseball player should—he took care of himself after an injury.

    naturally, this irks the hidebound management….

  16. eponymous coward on March 26th, 2007 11:23 am

    True, but you don’t waste a Top 5 pick on one, esp. over other potential TOR starters with equal or more potential. It’s like drafting a DH in the Top 5 when 5-tool players of equal talent are on the board.

    The odds are prohibitively high against EVERY high draft pick having a great MLB career (and having a stretch where you’re a legitimate 1-2 is a great career). To put this another way: here’s the 1990 first round draft:


    Look at the P’s on it- you have one outstanding one (Mussina) drafted 20th, one who had a decent career that ended at age 31 due to injury (Alex Fernandez), and a bunch of guys like Steve Karsay, Todd van Poppel and Lance Dickson.

    Here’s the 1995 draft, as another example:


    Better, but you still have your Jonathan Johnsons, Ariel Prietos and Mike Drumrights.

    So a career as a very, very good reliever is nothing to sneer at, if that is what Morrow goes on to have. Very good relievers aren’t as good as very good starters, but they are sure a lot better than mediocre starters, or guys who wash out in minor league ball- and not all first round draft choices will pan out.

    That being said… I still basically agree with Dave. You should try and get a better idea of what Morrow’s ceiling is as a starter in the minors before putting him into the bullpen.

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