The next domino fell… Wednesday evening the Washington Nationals traded fan favorite outfielder/first baseman Mike Morse back to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for right-handed pitching prospects AJ Cole and Blake Treinen and a Player To Be Named Later from the Oakland Athletics, who receive catcher John Jaso from Seattle to complete the 3-team trade. In this trade, Morse returns to the city he spent the first four years of his major league career before coming to Washington for outfielder Ryan Langerhans in June 2009. Morse arrived in Washington with the reputation as a light slugging infielder looking for a position and leaves four years later as one of the most feared right-handed power hitters in the National League and the nickname Beast Mode.
Unfortunately ever since Adam LaRoche re-signed with the Nationals last week and Denard Span was acquired earlier this offseason, Morse has appeared to be in a numbers crunch in the lineup and it was widely assumed he would be traded prior to Opening Day. Morse, 31-years-old in March, batted .291/.321/.470 with 18 home runs and 62 runs batted in over 406 at-bats in 2012 as he battled injuries the majority of the season. For his 8-year career, Morse is a .295/.347/.492 hitter with 70 home runs and 245 runs batted in spanning 1,546 total at-bats, and is scheduled to earn $6.75 million dollars in 2013 before becoming a free agent next winter. Seattle has been rumored and linked to most every power hitter since the end of the season and now Morse finds himself returning to pair with Jesus Montero and Kendry Morales in the middle of their revamped Seattle lineup.
In return, the Nationals are re-acquiring RHP AJ Cole, a key prospect in the Gio Gonzalez trade last offseason with Oakland, and the Nationals 4th round pick in the 2010 draft, who spurned a scholarship to the University of Miami to sign with Washington for a $2 million dollar signing bonus. 21-years-old last week (Happy Birthday!), Cole has a lean, wiry 6-4 frame, a blazing fastball and a powerful slider, but his changeup is below-average and needs refinement. Cole struggled mightily last season in his promotion to High-A Stockton (the California League is a notorious hitters league), posting a 7.82 ERA and 60 hits allowed in only 38 innings pitched and was demoted back to Low-A where he again succeeded with a 2.07 ERA and 78 hits allowed and 102 strikeouts in 95.2 innings pitched. As I wrote of Cole when we examined the Gio Gonzalez trade last winter “He has long been one of my favorites in his draft class and as a Nationals prospect, and I fear he will make the Nationals regret this trade in the future.” Cole should again attempt High-A in 2013 and with polish and improvement from his changeup, could arrive in Washington with mid-rotation starter potential in a few seasons.
Blake Treinen, 24-years-old, was the Athletics 7th Round pick in the 2011 draft, and posted a 4.37 ERA and 92 strikeouts against 116 hits and 23 walks in 103 innings pitched in 2012 at High-A and in his two pro seasons, he has a 4.13 ERA, a 4.13 K/BB ratio, and a 1.278 WHIP in 133 innings pitched. Oakland shifted Treinen to the bullpen later in this past season and in 13 innings pitched, he struck out 14 hitters while allowing only 11 hits and 4 walks. Treinen has a good fastball, an above-average slider, impeccable command and control of the strike zone, and the ability to avoid home runs (only 12 allowed in 133 innings) which is often an excellent recipe for a major league relief pitcher. Treinen should expect to begin the 2013 season in Double-A Harrisburg’s bullpen, and has the potential to carve out a solid big league career as a reliever.
This is a bittersweet day in NatsTown, because as hard as we try to stay objective about the players on the field, on each team there are a few players you like perhaps more than you should, and for many fans like myself, Mike Morse was one of these guys. When Morse was acquired on June 29, 2009, the Nationals were 22-52 and headed toward a 59-102 final overall record, were about to fire Manny Acta as manager, and Scott Olsen was the starting pitcher that evening – this was perhaps the bleakest time in the Nationals franchise. Morse quickly became popular for his personality and trademark wild long hair, but for me and other Nats fans, I found a soft spot for him because he was one of, if not the only, player that took advantage of this opportunity of extended playing time on a depleted roster and absolutely flourished with his chance. Stuck watching the games each night because we are diehard fans, it was exciting to see a player so under the radar when traded for, evolve into a power hitter who slugged 74 home runs in the past 3 years for the Nationals.
That said, this trade was strictly a baseball decision, as the Nationals have parted with 4 excellent pitching prospects in the past year to acquire Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span, and needed to take this opportunity to part with a good but flawed player, lacking a position in the lineup with 1-year left on his contract, to attempt to replenish the ailing farm system. AJ Cole quickly becomes the Nationals #4 prospect behind Anthony Rendon, Lucas Giolito, and Brian Goodwin, and Blake Treinen could thrive now that he has shifted to the bullpen and is a nice arm to add to the farm system. The fan in us will find it difficult to see Morse in another uniform, but from a baseball perspective, general manager Mike Rizzo should be applauded for receiving 2 solid pitching prospects, along with another prospect, for one season of him before he reaches free agency. 3 prospects is an outstanding haul and I fully support this trade especially because AJ Cole headlines the package – this is the best move the Nationals have made since I started NatsGM.
NatsGM Grade -> A
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