By Brent Stecker
Michael Morse's second tour of duty with the Mariners is over, mercifully.
On Friday, Morse was shipped to frequent Mariners trade partner Baltimore (which claimed him off waivers earlier in the week) for minor-league outfielder Xavier Avery. Morse leaves behind this line as a memento of his 2013 season with the Mariners: .226/.283/.410, 13 home runs, 27 RBIs, two trips to the disabled list, and a disappointing -0.9 WAR (if you don't know what WAR is, read this, but rest assured that a -0.9 WAR means Morse was more of a hindrance than a help to the Mariners this season).
Michael Morse hit just two of his 13 home runs in 2013 after May 27, magnifying the mistake the Mariners made in trading catcher John Jaso for the former All-Star.
The Mariners should have traded Morse before the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, but general manager Jack Zduriencik's asking price was reportedly too high, which was somewhat reasonable because Morse was considered to be one of the few right-handed power bats available at the time.
Also, it made some sense that Seattle held onto him then because he was the only strictly right-handed veteran hitter they had on the roster then. Morse negated that fact, however, by hitting just .158/.200/.289 since returning from injury on July 30. He was also made even more expendable when center fielder Franklin Gutierrez returned from injury last week and started hitting the cover off the ball, even if Gutierrez is as injury-plagued as they come.
The trade to bring Morse to Seattle was a bust – the Mariners sent reliable catcher John Jaso (who would have come in handy several times this season when the team's catchers struggled at the plate and with injuries) to division rival Oakland in a three-team swap to acquire Morse. Furthermore, Morse is scheduled to become a free agent after the season, and with it very unlikely that the team will try to re-sign him, the Mariners needed to get something in return.
That's exactly what Avery is – something.
He may not be a well-known name, but Avery does have some tools. He's speedy (29 steals in 37 attempts in the minors this season), young (23), and did OK in a short stint of the Major Leagues in 2012, slashing .223/.305/.340 with a homer and six steals in 32 games with the Orioles. Is he going to make an impact for the Mariners? Most signs point to no. But we know he won't be accused of not holding up his end of a $6.75 million salary, which is what Morse did, and that is a victory in and of itself.
Morse was not working out in Seattle. Sure, he started strong, hitting 11 home runs in the first two months of the season to rank among the MLB leaders, but he took a nose-dive from then on. He should do better in Baltimore, where the home stadium isn't as notorious for holding down right-handed sluggers as Safeco Field is. As for the Mariners, they save a little bit of money that could help them re-sign Kendrys Morales – their other big acquisition before this season, another soon-to-be free agent and one of the team's top two hitters all year.
They also clear the way to play several young outfielders still trying to prove themselves, including Michael Saunders and the streaking Dustin Ackley, who would have been done no favors riding the pine behind the defensively-terrible Morse during a meaningless final month of the season.
Trading Morse now is almost a case of too little, too late, but it's better than getting nothing in return for a previous trade that was a mistake from the start.