Morse: The Lesser of Two Evils

Dave · January 17, 2013 at 1:23 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Obviously, I’m not a big fan of yesterday’s trade from the Mariners perspective. I don’t think it makes the Mariners better in the short or long term, and I think how the Mariners evaluated the relative merits of the two players suggests a problematic approach towards valuing different skills. A few years ago, the Mariners were focused on adding value in any form they could find it; today, the Mariners are focused on scoring more runs. It’s an understandable reaction to the offensive struggles of the last few seasons, but it’s regrettable at the same time, and the focus on simply improving the team’s run scoring instead of their run differential is going to make it less likely that the team is competitive in 2013.

So, no, I haven’t talked myself into liking this move a day later. But, I will say that we should probably realize that this Mariners team, with this coaching staff, might be slightly better off with Mike Morse than they would have been with John Jaso. Because, whether it is rational or not, John Jaso wasn’t going to be a significant piece of the Mariners team next year. The world in which John Jaso got 450 plate appearances and was the team’s regular catcher against right-handers was a fantasy that simply wasn’t going to happen.

It may very well happen in Oakland, since the A’s think about baseball differently than the Mariners do. And I think we could make a pretty strong case that it should have happened in Seattle, and that the evidence points to the team’s unwillingness to use Jaso behind the plate more often being a mistake, but it was always going to be a hypothetical. Had the team gone into camp with Jaso and Montero as the catching tandem, the likely outcome was Montero taking a larger bulk of the duties, with Raul Ibanez or Justin Smoak sliding into either the 1B or DH spot so that the team could keep Jaso on the bench and not have to carry a third catcher on the roster this year. We’ve talked about the inflexibility that the team has because of all the defensively challenged players on the roster. The Mariners solution to that problem was to not put both catchers in the line-up on the same day.

Had the Mariners not made this trade, John Jaso’s value almost certainly would have gone down over the next six months, as the staff would have relegated him into a role that gave him even less playing time than he got last year. We would have spent the entire year screaming about the daily line-ups, with Ibanez regularly slotted in as the starting DH while Jaso sat on the bench. It would have been not too dissimilar to last April, when Jaso was buried as the 25th man and hardly ever played, and his presence was more a source of frustration for the fans than a source of value for the team.

That shouldn’t have been the alternative, but that’s what life in Seattle held for John Jaso in 2013. And so, yes, Mike Morse will likely provide more value to the team next year than Jaso would have, because Jaso as the regular catcher against right-handers wasn’t on the table. This trade didn’t end that possibility, because that wasn’t a consideration even before the trade. That’s simply not a job that this organization was willing to entrust him with.

Or, to use a metaphor, John Jaso was a t-bone steak in a vegan’s refrigerator. If that vegan converted into being a carnivore, they had some delicious dinner waiting for them, but as long as they remained a vegan, they just had an item taking up room in their cooler that wasn’t ever going to be used. So, the vegan found a carnivorous neighbor who had some extra celery root and a few carrots that he didn’t need anymore, and now the neighbor gets a free steak dinner and the vegan gets to go on with the type of dinner they prefer.

Trading John Jaso for Mike Morse is a sign of the organization’s commitment to baseball veganism. John Jaso doesn’t provide the kind of package that they want in a catcher. We can argue about whether or not they should value him as a catcher, but this trade is simply a byproduct of that evaluation, and that evaluation was made a long time ago.

I’d rather have Morse on the roster than have Jaso as a 200 PA catcher who wastes away watching lesser players get his playing time. And, while there was a theoretically viable third option, it wasn’t viable in Seattle. So, perhaps, making this trade was the lesser to two evils, and perhaps, the Mariners will be better off than they would have been had they not made the trade. The best option, the one we’re comparing the Morse acquisition to, wasn’t an option in Seattle.

That’s too bad. And it speaks to a larger organizational problem. But it wasn’t something that was going to change, and keeping Jaso around as a once-per-week catcher wasn’t going to do the team any good either. Given the position that their evaluation of his abilities boxed them into, this might very well be preferable to the alternative. And now, at least, we don’t have to spend every day of the 2013 season lamenting the fact that the team’s best left-handed hitter isn’t in the line-up.


42 Responses to “Morse: The Lesser of Two Evils”

  1. jryoung222 on January 17th, 2013 1:31 pm

    The fact that it was Oakland who wanted Jaso, while Seattle didn’t, says all there needs to be said about this trade and, more broadly and importantly, about the difference between the two organizations. And that’s sad.

  2. currcoug on January 17th, 2013 1:33 pm

    Kudos for writing such a piece.

  3. make_dave_proud on January 17th, 2013 1:36 pm

    I wonder how soon Wells is going to get the lesser-evil treatment as well.

  4. diderot on January 17th, 2013 1:37 pm

    First of all, thanks for the T-bone analogy–wonderful.

    Now, a question. You state the organization has gone from adding value in any way they could…to adding a specific value in the form of power hitting (at the cost of reducing value in other ways).
    Yet the same people are making those two sets of decisions.


  5. Jay R. on January 17th, 2013 1:37 pm

    “And it speaks to a larger organizational problem”

    This is the truly depressing part. It is painfully obvious that the Mariner brass are still building teams like they did last century.

  6. _Hutch_ on January 17th, 2013 1:43 pm

    I can’t believe Z or any other GM answers Billy Beane’s phone calls anymore.

  7. McExpos on January 17th, 2013 1:46 pm

    Thanks for writing this piece. Makes me feel less crazy for arguing for this trade the last 24 hours, and makes me appreciate you a little bit more for stepping outside your own point-of-view.

  8. IwearMsHats on January 17th, 2013 1:49 pm

    For me, this trade highlights how well Nick Swisher could have fit on this roster. They could have received an all around valuable player on the cheap and KEPT Jaso around.

    The only thing not signing Swisher tells me right now is how much the Mariners overvalue their draft picks. Yes, their pick this year is valuable but signing Swisher while keeping Jaso seems way better than gambling on a first round pick.

    They dropped.the.fucking.ball by not signing Swish. How awful.

  9. terryoftacoma on January 17th, 2013 1:51 pm

    Thanks for writing this Dave. Sadly it needed to be said.

  10. asuray on January 17th, 2013 1:55 pm

    “For me, this trade highlights how well Nick Swisher could have fit on this roster. They could have received an all around valuable player on the cheap and KEPT Jaso around.

    The only thing not signing Swisher tells me right now is how much the Mariners overvalue their draft picks. Yes, their pick this year is valuable but signing Swisher while keeping Jaso seems way better than gambling on a first round pick.

    They dropped.the.fucking.ball by not signing Swish. How awful.”

    Do we have any evidence that Swisher wanted to, or would have signed here, barring us blowing Cleveland’s offer out of the water? He signed with his hometown team, after all, and Cleveland was clearly all in on him, what with their red carpet treatment and all. For all we know, they made an offer, perhaps one better than Cleveland’s, and Swisher turned it down.

  11. ivan on January 17th, 2013 1:56 pm

    “They dropped.the.fucking.ball by not signing Swish. How awful.”

    Do you find it at all plausible that Swisher told them he wasn’t interested in signing here, at any price? And that therefore they quit asking?

  12. bookbook on January 17th, 2013 2:04 pm

    This is a good argument, even if vegans aren’t generally the cave people who shout for Dingers above all. Many teams are in some ways suboptimal in terms of playing style and what they’re most comfortable with utilizing. This vegan still wishes we could have turned the t-bone steak into a broiled olive tapenade from Wine Tea Chocolate instead of some limp carrots and celery

  13. Klatz on January 17th, 2013 2:04 pm

    I think whether this trade is merely regrettable versus terrible will depend on the future moves that still need to be made.

    i.e. another catcher, ideally one who could hit righties well but I’d settle for a good defensive catcher.

    Alas if only Justin Upton wasn’t so set on someplace else.

  14. jephdood on January 17th, 2013 2:05 pm
  15. ChrisFB on January 17th, 2013 2:05 pm

    And now, at least, we don’t have to spend every day of the 2013 season lamenting the fact that the team’s best left-handed hitter isn’t in the line-up.

    Here’s to hoping we don’t spend every day of the 2013 season lamenting the fact that Jaso as a 2013 Oakland A is a better left-handed hitter than anyone on the 2013 M’s roster.

    And as noted earlier in the comments, also hoping that the “welp, they weren’t going to use him properly anyway” argument isn’t used for Wells soon too.

  16. currcoug on January 17th, 2013 2:05 pm

    Billy Beane may have just wasted $ 1,000,000.00 by signing Kottaras, and then designating him for assignment two days later.

  17. sciacca on January 17th, 2013 2:07 pm

    Here is a way this trade makes sense to me: Say the M’s are looking at the latest data about how valuable catcher defense really is (likely newer and better than the data we’ve seen). Maybe they concluded that Jaso is costing them too many runs with poor framing to be allowed to catch at all. Then Jaso is just a DH, and MAYBE the trade makes sense–trading an asset that’s overvalued by anyone who still considers him a viable catcher. Of course, if they start Montero that would indicate that this wasn’t their thinking, but if they are planning on giving Zunino a shot from opening day (or a month later for club control), then it would all make sense.

  18. IwearMsHats on January 17th, 2013 2:09 pm

    You don’t think Swisher would have taken a 75 million dollar deal? okay.

  19. heyoka on January 17th, 2013 2:16 pm

    A team in need of a catcher trades its catcher.

    Let me say this about the vegan. The vegan not only had a steak in their fridge, they were in need of protein. But instead of trading for beans (high in protein) they traded for celery root and carrots.

    Over/Under on how many players are on the DL come summer?

  20. BackRub on January 17th, 2013 2:19 pm

    Looking at the number Kubel would have been a better fit and cost much less in a trade. He can actually play OF.

  21. MrZDevotee on January 17th, 2013 2:20 pm

    I think some humor was a great move on this subject- although, I personally would flip the t-bone/vegetarian theme.

    Morse is a medium-rare, charbroiled piece of steak, that is temporarily satisfying, will get more people out to the dinner, and yet isn’t good for you in the long run…

    While the Mariners neglected the “new way of thinking” and gave away a really healthy bag of eggplant and kale that would have lasted 3 years, and offered a more healthy, satisfying diet.

  22. kuptain on January 17th, 2013 2:21 pm

    Albeit I like how you put things a bit more in perspective this post compared to last regarding the trade, I disagree that this trade was poor. I’m sick of our offense, as is most of the Mariner fanbase. Give me back the 90s where we could put a team out on the field that was fun to watch and not complain about getting shutout or whatnot all the time. And besides, we currently have better pitching than we did in the 90s (not to mention a great future as well), so I don’t see this as a good comparison.

  23. PackBob on January 17th, 2013 2:43 pm

    It was nice to be able to watch a good hitter at work in Jaso while most of the rest floundered. Too bad Wedge is so dogmatic in his views and pigeonholed Jaso into them.

  24. shortbus on January 17th, 2013 2:53 pm

    That Ibanez is on this team and Jaso is not, is evidence enough that something is very wrong with the thought process of the people running the show. The only stated reason Ibanez is on this team that is not something Jaso may not bring is that he’s a good influence on younger players. Jaso is a better pinch hitter and can actually play a position in the field.

    I just have to assume that John Jaso smells like poo. Nothing else makes any sense.

  25. msfanmike on January 17th, 2013 3:27 pm

    The old Wendy’s commercial “Where’s the Beef??!!” … seems strangely applicable right about now and also as an overall reference to the majority of this off-season’s moves to date.

  26. noahnoah on January 17th, 2013 3:31 pm

    Good points, all of them, Dave. The thing that’s bothered me all along is not so much the trade itself, but exactly what you describe in this piece: Our front office’s evaluation of talent.

    The difference between Jaso and Morse alone is unlikely to be the difference between a playoff run or not, but if Z and Co. keep making these kinds of moves, that will. This trade is a bad sign of things to come…

  27. DaKine on January 17th, 2013 3:41 pm

    Rally Celery

  28. ArmchairKing on January 17th, 2013 3:42 pm

    Longtime reader, first time poster (so please go easy).

    I haven’t read anything so far that really discusses how Zunino’s emergence sooner or later (possibly quite sooner) as the M’s everyday catcher will lessen Jaso’s value to this team. I understand that 2013 may not be the year in which this happens, but even assuming Zunino is behind the plate regularly in 2014, we have a relatively short window of one year or maybe less in which the undervalued Jaso, which many are lamenting, can contribute to this team. Thoughts on this and how it plays into this trade? Could this be less of a T-Bone-for-a-vegan situation than an appreciation of the even finer wine almost done aging in your cellar which may make your preferred year’s vintage more forgettable?

  29. peterp16 on January 17th, 2013 3:57 pm

    If you’re dealing with a steak lover, and if you don’t have any particular reason to feel overly altruistic, don’t you at least try to end up with some decent vegetables? I shudder to think how far the Ms need to regress before we “go carnivore” and get serious about winning.

  30. Westside guy on January 17th, 2013 4:00 pm

    I would think Our Man in Sao Paulo might have some interesting insights regarding which guy is Vegan cuisine and which is meat.

    Hey, Steve – which one would you be more likely to serve in your restaurant? 😀

  31. ivan on January 17th, 2013 4:06 pm

    “You don’t think Swisher would have taken a 75 million dollar deal? okay.”

    I don’t know what went on in the M’s negotiations with Swisher, and neither do you. Unlike you, I don’t pretend to know.

  32. JasonJ on January 17th, 2013 4:08 pm

    But we got “big-time power”!

  33. Dobbs on January 17th, 2013 4:19 pm

    “And now, at least, we don’t have to spend every day of the 2013 season lamenting the fact that the team’s best left-handed hitter isn’t in the line-up.”

    Nope, instead we get to lament the fact he’s in someone else’s lineup.

  34. CaptJack on January 17th, 2013 4:40 pm

    I’ve been trying to figure out the logic of what Z is up to as you all have. Here’s a hypothesis: if Hamilton, Swisher, Upton and other “hitters” don’t want to play at Safeco, how does an organization change that mindset? Bring in the fences and sign a couple power hitters on one year contracts and hope like hell they perform. If so, their success may begin to change Safeco’s perception. The Mariners aren’t going to win next year, but if in a year from now they can sign some talented FA players/bats to coincide with the youth, they’ll have a chance to win over a decent stretch of time. At least that’s what I’m hoping.

  35. stevemotivateir on January 17th, 2013 4:40 pm

    Funny, Westy! The only steak served will be seitan. The restaurant is still in the works, so I’m playing professor for now.

    But regarding Dave’s scenario, I would have put that steak to good use…. feeding it to our cats. As of Monday, we now have three again (found a stray kitten in the street crying for help, couldn’t not take him in!).

    Anyway, point is, there’s always a way to improvise, make the most of things. Just have to put away stubbornness and make the effort. Dave’s probably right. The M’s probably wouldn’t have utilized him properly, opting for the stubborn/foolish route. But did he really have to deal him to a division rival?!

    Having said that, I’d argue the M’s are more fast-food junkies, and less interested in health-beneficial meals, whether those meals are vegan or not.

    I should add, that in no way, am I comparable to Z or Wedge. And the garlic fries at Safeco are vegan;)

  36. island city denis on January 17th, 2013 5:04 pm

    Jaso should not be the best hitter of any team. This is exciting, 31 homers are only a dream to any other Mariner(as yet). Previously injured players almost always get reinjured….look at all the back ups. Looks great to me, I am on my way to the Season Ticket Store.

  37. eponymous coward on January 17th, 2013 5:57 pm

    Give me back the 90s where we could put a team out on the field that was fun to watch and not complain about getting shutout or whatnot all the time.

    You know what’s fun to watch? Winning baseball.

    The 1992 Mariners had a better offense than the 2012 Mariners, but nobody came to watch them because they were a bad team.

    Previously injured players almost always get reinjured

    You mean like Mike Morse?

  38. illuminati33 on January 17th, 2013 6:25 pm

    Someone should have told Ichiro to give his opinions about Cleveland to Swisher.

  39. daboyd on January 17th, 2013 10:47 pm


    I must disagree! Iwakuma was the 25th man on the roster. It was close, though!

  40. goat on January 18th, 2013 11:42 am

    I appreciate the way you’re able to see this from a different perspective, as others have mentioned here. I don’t like the trade either, but I can see why they got themselves into a place where it looks like something they had to do. I’m sure actually sitting in the GMs chair is a lot harder than it looks from the internet.
    If they hadn’t already made the Raul/Bay moves it would have been a bit more acceptable. As it stands, they will have at least one of Ibanez or Morse as a somewhat regular outfield even if Smoak is at AAA. And, assuming they trade Wells for a starting pitcher, are left with Bay as the 4th outfielder (and perhaps pick up some utility guy that can play both IF and OF). They might as well trade Blake Beaven while he still has some trade value, as there’s going to be a lot more balls dropping in that outfield next year.

  41. DutchPink on January 19th, 2013 1:22 pm

    I think people are overreacting to this trade. If I can look on Fangraphs and see the statistical argument in favor of Jaso over Morse, do you think that escapes Z, Tango, etc? They look at Jaso and see something different than what our stats see. The most obvious possibility is that Jaso is a really bad catcher, worse than we are seeing in our numbers. Maybe pitchers hate throwing to him. I still trust Z to be able to read a spreadsheet and do basic math. Maybe we should consider the possibility that there is more to playing catcher than is currently expressed in WAR or whatever other stat you would like to name.

  42. hub on January 21st, 2013 1:04 am

    Is the lesser of all these evils the M’s just accepting the package the Nationals received (Cole, Treinen, PTBNL)?

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