On the last day of the Winter Meeting in Orlando, the San Francisco Giants technically addressed what they felt was one of their biggest concerns this offseason, by signing Michael Morse to play left field. The injury prone slugger agreed to a one year 6 million dollar deal.
This amount of money suggests that this will not be a platoon situation with Gregor Blanco, rather Morse will be the every day left fielder and Blanco will come in late as a defensive replacement. The question is, does this actually make the Giants a better team?
Last year during the first half Michael Morse put up a decent slash line of .251/.313/.454 with an isolated slugging percentage of .203 for the Seattle Mariners. After a hamstring injury that landed him on the DL in late June, and a trade to the Orioles, he regressed to a shell of his former self. In the second half he put up a slash line of .143/.182/.238. If the Giants were to get something close to that first half performance in 2014, along with below average but not completely atrocious defense I think they would be pleased. However judging from previous data it doesn’t seem like that is a likely outcome. The most likely outcome from this signing is strangely not Morse underperforming, but him becoming injured and not getting a significant amount of playing time. But if Morse does stay healthy, there are still more problems with this signing.
He’s already 31 years old and even when he was younger; he was never really a gazelle in the outfield. In just over 2400 hundred innings in the outfield he was -23 in DRS, -33.7 in UZR, and -17.8 in UZR/150. So while today defensive metrics should be always be viewed with a slightly skeptical eye, when the two major measurements both say you essentially have the fielding ability of a house, we can be pretty confident that defense isn’t your strong suit. For example in 2011 when he hit 31 home runs and had wRC+ of 148 in 575 plate appearances, he accumulated a WAR of 3.1 according to Fangraphs. While a WAR of 3.1 is good, you’d expect more from that much of a monster at the plate. So if a relatively healthy Michael Morse was that bad in the outfield when he was in his prime, how bad is he going to be in 2014 coming off injury and being three years older? And if he is going to be as bad defensively as me and many other Giants fans feel he is, will he hit enough to offset that?
To the dismay of many Giants fan, it doesn’t seem as if he will. Morse is a player that depends on his power for almost all of his value. Even in his best year, 2011, his .360 OBP was mostly driven by his .344 BABIP, seeing as how his walk percentage was only just over 6 percent. A player that depends on a single skill, is extremely injury prone, and is entering his early 30’s is not a player that a team should look towards to make a significant impact.
What makes this deal even more frustrating is that Giants had a viable option in left field that has always been undervalued. Gregor Blanco over the past two years has been worth just a shade over 5 wins and was paid practically pennies. Blanco has been roughly league average offensively the past two years, posting a wRC+ of 93 in 2012 and 99 in 2013. This combined with above average defense and above average base running, makes Blanco a very valuable player that is typically overlooked by fans and teams alike.
While the idea of signing an injury prone right handed power hitter to a low risk deal, and hoping to catch lightning in a bottle sounds nice, it doesn’t seem that the Giants thought this one all the way through.