The Trade and the Benefit of the Doubt
I’m over the shock of the trade now, and I’ve had the chance to replace bile and dismissal with contemplation and discussions with smart people who like, er, ok, don’t mind this trade from the M’s perspective. The arguments still don’t convince me, but it might be helpful to step through why.
1: The M’s didn’t trade prospects, they made a simple 1-1 exchange for one of the most valuable commodities in baseball: power.
I think one of my biggest flaws as an analyst is that I tend to overrate prospects. Unlike Dave (and many of you), I thought the rumored deal for Justin Upton was too much for the M’s to give up. So believe me when I say that I’m not a “prospects mean nothing” or “prospects are just minor leaguers” type, and believe me when I say I’d rather have traded prospects. The Mariners goal for the past few seasons has been to upgrade their anemic offense. Their minor league system has enviable pitching depth. The Nationals wanted pitching. Instead, the Mariners traded away the guy who put up the best wOBA, wRC+, OPS, and even slugging percentage on the 2012 team.
2: The M’s had to rethink the move after the Nats signed Rafael Soriano – the Nationals needs changed 24 hours prior to this trade.
Again, that sounds plausible, but it isn’t completely exculpatory. The Nationals hung the “for sale” sign around Morse’s neck for weeks, and the M’s had plenty of relief depth to trade from. Maybe the Nats didn’t want a youngster like Stephen Pryor, but a package around Tom Wilhelmsen might have intrigued them (“proven closer”). And in the end, look at what the Nationals got back in return: RHP prospect AJ Cole, a hard-throwing kid who got blasted in the Cal League, but dominated the Midwest League after his demotion. No pitching prospects are exactly alike, but Brandon Maurer offers a better performance record at a higher level, and the gap in overall talent is lower than it once was (Maurer’s stock rose considerably last year). Not saying Maurer alone would’ve gotten it done, but I’m saying that the Nationals wanted pitching for Michael Morse, and they got it. The M’s seemed intent on moving Jaso, as they apparently didn’t see him as a catcher, so he was one of the myriad guys who may shuffle between 1B/DH/bench bat. In order to improve the team’s offense, the M’s seemed intent on moving one of their best offensive performers from 2012. Hmmm.
3: You can’t focus too much on 2012 stats. Morse was a beast in 2011, and Jaso was more or less replacement level. When Morse is healthy, he has upside that Jaso just doesn’t.
There are two things here, one of which is absolutely true, and one of which is almost certainly wrong. First, Morse had an amazing year at the plate, knocking 31 HRs in just shy of 150 games, and putting up a .390 wOBA. That same season, Jaso’s wOBA was .292. Both players have had career years and some, let’s say, challenging ones in the recent past. The problem is that when you combine defense and position into the equation, Jaso’s value looks pretty close to Morse’s upside value. That is, Jaso’s been worth 2.5 fWAR in 2010 and 2.7 fWAR in 2012, despite playing a lot less than Morse. Morse’s career year was worth 3.3 fWAR. Play Jaso anything approaching 130 games (even if not all are at catcher) and it’s easy to see him getting close to that 3.3 win figure. Given Morse’s age and injury history that Dave discussed yesterday and it’s harder to count on another 3 wins next year. The Fangraphs ‘fans’ projection (the average of fan estimates of what Morse would’ve done in DC) forecasts a big improvement in Morse’s skills in 2013 compared to 2012 – better power, fewer Ks, more walks – along with more games played. All of that only gets him to 2 WAR. That seems like a reasonable estimate not for a best case scenario but for a slightly optimistic one. To reiterate, Jaso put up 2.7 WAR last year and 2.5 WAR in 2010.
4: Morse consolidates value into one line-up and roster slot, instead of spreading the value across two in the case of platoon players like Jaso. Even at equivalent value, Morse allows you to do something with the extra roster spot.
Dave has mentioned why he doesn’t think Jaso needs to be typecast as a platoon player, and Matthew Carruth points to Jaso’s minor league numbers as more evidence that his usage is too restrictive. But let’s say you’ve dug in your heels and won’t hear of Jaso improving against lefties. If the goal is to improve the offense, or to field a line-up that has the potential to score more than 600 runs/year, you want Jaso on the club regardless. Regress his performance severely. Have him get fewer plate appearances. Cut his positional value if you disagree with Felix Hernandez and consider him worthless as a catcher. After all of that, Jaso still appears to add plenty of value to the line-up thanks to his approach. A guy who drew 55 unintentional walks to 51 Ks has value to the line-up even if he’s not knocking 30 HRs…especially to a team that posted the worst OBP in Major League Baseball. For the third consecutive season.
5: The Mariners can’t keep building low-cost, club-controlled but flawed teams. The Mariners needed to change course and really attempt to win. Getting a proven slugger to pair with growth from Seager/Ackley/Montero shows that the M’s aren’t content to compete in 2016, they are taking a run at 2013.
The Mariners have obviously had plenty of flaws, but once again, the M’s haven’t posted a team on base percentage above .300 since Jose Lopez was good (in 2009, they finished merely last in the AL, unlike the last three seasons when they’ve ignored the DH rule and posted worse OBPs than every team in the NL). Getting a slugger to protect Kyle Seager sounds great, but this gets back into the well-trod ground about “protection” or about how many HRs you need to be a successful team. This isn’t beating a dead horse, this is whipping protohippus fossils. I think this argument really stems from the idea that the M’s committed to building a team a certain way, and need to change the way their entire approach to player value. We’ve all seen so many losses that looking at the team and saying, “Whatever you’re doing, just do the opposite” seems logical as well as cathartic. The problem is that everyone has a slightly different idea of what they thought the M’s were trying to do. And no matter what your preferred ‘philosophy’ of team construction, the fact remains that John Jaso showed that he could potentially add some value to your club. A high-OBP guy, an up-the-middle defender (albeit not a pretty one), someone whose power seemed to make a large jump after reworking his swing – this seems like the kind of player you would accommodate. If you’re a power/offense-first type, you might limit him to a platoon, and limit his C innings. If you’re an on-base/Moneyball type, maybe you *increase* his playing time and keep him at C. If you want to squeeze value out of certain spots and bring in big-ticket free agents, you could do either one. But it’s pretty hard to see him as a problem, particularly if you’re focused on offense. There is perhaps no greater difference of opinion between the blogosphere and the M’s front office than how we value John Jaso and perhaps Casper Wells. In many cases, there may be more to it when we bash a move the FO makes – lots behind the scenes that, if we on the outside knew, might change or at least ameliorate our confusion/disagreement. I kind of doubt that’s the case here.
I’d love to win now; I’m really sick of following a last-place team. But that’s somewhat dangerous, for the reasons many talked about after the Wil Myers for James Shields deal. The M’s get Morse for one season (unless they negotiate an extension), and absolutely everything needs to break right in that season for the M’s to pass OAK/LAA/TEX. Not to say it can’t happen, but it’s fairly unlikely that everything goes right for Seattle and simultaneously many, many things go wrong elsewhere in the division. It’s possible that the need to “go for it” and change the culture is more important than we basement-dwelling bloggers know, but it’s scary to see how blurry the line between “going for it” and “desperation” is.
6: You just hate Mike Morse from his days as a slightly odd M’s prospect without much power and without a position.
Anyone who’s played parts of 2 seasons in Tacoma is OK in my book. Seriously. Whatever league Bobby Livingston is in, I hope he makes its all-star team. All things equal, I’d rather purchase insurance from TJ Bohn than somebody else. If Juan Thomas really is a police officer in Atlanta, then I need everyone in the ATL to mind their Ps and Qs. I hope Mike Morse hits 31 HRs again, and it’s pretty cool that he became a huge fan favorite in DC. I’ll be cheering for him. But I still don’t understand this move unless it really WAS an attempt to win now. I know many of you are sick of talking/arguing about this, so I won’t dwell on it. I’m glad Michael Morse is back, but I’m worried about what it says about this organization.