Michael Morse has appeared in just 11 games for the Mariners since May 28, none of them as an outfielder. But now, he’s back off the 15-day DL — presumably to play right field — and Jason Bay has been designated for assignment.
It’s not a coincidence the Mariners waited until two days before the July 31 trade deadline to bring Morse back. The team was never going to carry six outfielders and likely wanted to wait as long as possible before jettisoning some of the outfield veterans, like Bay, who were going to have to be pushed aside to clear room for Morse’s return.
This would give the team time to gauge the future need for those veterans as well as testing the waters for any potential trades. Bay, 34, had an on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) mark of .822 when the month of June began. But after two months of extensive playing time in Morse’s absence, that dwindled down to .691.
In 28 games since June 1, Bay hit .170 with a .243 on-base mark and slugged .351 for an OPS of .594. That wasn’t going to help him in a roster crunch, even though he was only brought here primarily as a right-handed bat off the bench. With Morse and Michael Saunders able to play right field on a regular basis if needed, Bay was going to be reduced mainly to pinch-hitting. With two months of season to go, that situational bat was a luxury the team was no longer interested in carrying with roster space needed.
Franklin Gutierrez is expected off the DL any day now and — if he isn’t traded — it will likely be Endy Chavez going the DFA route.
Of course, the Mariners could have simply waited until after July 31 to be absolutely certain. But in this case, the need for an everyday right-handed bat in the lineup was just too great. The Mariners have been shut down by too many left-handed starting and relief pitchers this month for the lack of right-handed balance in the lineup to have been allowed to continue much longer.
In Morse, they now have that everyday bat. And they hope that, with the added time given his quad to fully heal in Class AAA, he won’t be going back on the DL any time soon.
With Gutierrez, the situation is not as simple. The team could also use his right-handed bat as a daily center fielder. But the Mariners have to make absolutely certain he is healthy enough to come back. Gutierrez’s splits are also poor enough against right-handed pitching that he won’t be in the lineup seven days per week like Morse, which will lessen the impace of his return.
The Mariners also currently have three outfielders capable of playing center — all left-handed, mind you — in Saunders, Dustin Ackley and Chavez.
It also remains to be seen whether the Mariners will trade any of those outfielders — Chavez would seem a good secondary fit for a contender, Ackley more of a longshot moving only in a deal of significant return for Seattle. There is also a chance Gutierrez could be dealt by the deadline, given that his $7.5 million option next year is likely too high for Seattle’s taste, given his injury history. There’s a chance the Mariners might simply decide to wash their hands of Gutierrez and let some other team take the chance that he’ll blossom into an elite player someday, especially with Ackley starting to hit more and needing the added playing time as a guy who could fit well beyond 2013.
We’ll see how it all plays out in the days ahead.
But for now, Morse is in and Bay is out.