Morse: The Lesser of Two Evils
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.