The Washington Nationals, Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners pulled off a three-team deal Wednesday evening, which featured Michael Morse heading to Seattle, John Jaso going to Oakland, and pitching prospects A.J. Cole, Blake Treinen and a player to be named moving to Washington.
The Nats came out way ahead, the A's made a modest gain, and the M's leave me scratching my head at why they'd ask for change for a five-dollar bill and be happy with three singles.
The Nationals move a player for whom they had no use, and to whom they would have paid $6.75 million just to sit on the bench. The acquisition of Denard Span earlier this winter plus the re-signing of Adam LaRoche put the oft-injured, twice-suspended-for-PEDs Morse on the outside looking in, with one year left until he was due to hit free agency.
For one year of Morse's services, they reacquired right-handers Cole and Treinen, as well as a player to be named. Cole started the year in the high Class A California League and was so bad that the A's demoted him to the low Class A Midwest League, which he dominated for the second year in a row; he struggled with his arm slot earlier in the year, dropping down and losing some velocity as a result, but was better in the second half.
Treinen has a live arm but has some history of injuries dating back to his days at South Dakota State, and probably projects better in the bullpen given the lack of life on his fastball. He did finish in relief in high-A after scuffling as a starter earlier in 2012, throwing more than enough strikes but giving up too much hard contact. The Nats' farm system was nearly wiped out after a series of trades, a couple of promotions, and a 2012 draft that put most of the team's eggs in one (very good) basket, so this is a nice depth-building move for a player who didn't fit their roster any longer.
(Incidentally, readers asked for my thoughts on their deal with Rafael Soriano; he's a very good short reliever, but $14 million for a reliever who's never been worth more than 2 WAR and probably can't hold up for 70 innings a year is way too steep. I also wouldn't give up the 31st overall pick, as the Nats did, to sign a reliever, especially since their pen was already a strength. But Soriano is pretty low-risk as relievers go, at least in terms of performance on the field.)
The A's gave up some prospect depth, although they are still deep in pitching throughout the organization, especially in the majors, and get a part-time DH who can serve as the backup catcher, with a strong history of getting on base dating back to the minors. Jaso has a career .368 OBP against right-handed pitchers in the big leagues, with only moderate power that isn't going to look any better with 81 home games in Oakland.
The A's primary DH from 2012, Jonny Gomes, is gone, and they didn't have a replacement on the roster capable of getting on base at a decent clip. Jaso has three years remaining of team control and could allow them to avoid wasting a roster spot on a player who can only serve as the second-string catcher, a huge advantage in the era of 12-man pitching staffs. Cole's a pretty high price to pay for Jaso, but he didn't exactly help his value in 2012.
The Mariners, however, come out on the short end of the stick. They give up three years of Jaso for one of Morse, and will pay Morse handsomely even though he missed large chunks of three of the past five seasons due to injury. Morse is a very limited player, best suited to DH duty or first base, with a poor overall approach at the plate -- he's a dead fastball hitter, and has been his whole career outside of the anomalous 2011 season, with consistently mediocre walk rates. He does have above-average raw power, probably more like plus when he's completely healthy, and Seattle has a pretty desperate need for right-handed power, enough that, rather than getting better players, they figured they'd just move the left-center fence in about 15 feet.
Even if you're an optimist on Morse and figured Jaso's playing time would be limited with all the first base/DH types already on the roster, the probable upgrade here for Seattle isn't more than an extra win in 2013 -- and Jaso will make up for that with what he delivers in 2014-15, while likely earning little more over the three years than Morse will earn this year. It's just not a great use of their assets, and doesn't fill a critical need for a club that has lots of fringy DH types on the roster.