The return of Michael Morse to Seattle is one of the intriguing upgrades the Mariners have made this off-season. Photo Credit: AP
Great to be back in town after a couple of weeks overseas. While I was away, I watched with interest as the Mariners attempted to upgrade their offense, getting rejected by Justin Upton before trading for Michael Morse. There were many things I wanted to write at the time, but with only texting capabilities, a few blurbs on Twitter were the best that could be managed from the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Looking at it now, the Mariners have as intriguing an offense as I can remember since I started covering the team late in 2006. They have clearly upgraded the middle of their batting order with both Morse and Kendrys Morales, while the wild-card to all of this is what moving in the fences could do for the club as far as power potential. When you look at the money involved, the Mariners effectively pulled off the acquisitions for a money cost of about $2 million between what they are paying Morales and Morse compared to the arbitration awards given Jason Vargas and John Jaso — the players given up in trade.
For my part, Vargas at $8.5 million is too pricey for a team determined to keep payroll below $100 million, so that’s a no-brainer and he should do well in Anaheim with a team that can afford that for a mid-rotation lefty. As for Jaso, I know there was a lot of teeth-gnashing locally over his departure, but again, the Mariners were not the type of team that were going to benefit the most from his services.
Jaso’s fate with Seattle was pretty much sealed the minute the Mariners made catcher Mike Zunino their No. 1 draft pick. With the idea to fast-track Zunino to the big leagues in a year or two — and 23-year-old Jesus Montero around as last winter’s big trade acquisition — there was not going to be enough playing time for Jaso a season or less down the road. The Mariners actually explored trading Jaso at last summer’s July 31 deadline and even after that and were somewhat surprised not to find much demand for his services.
One Mariners official I spoke to about Jaso in December told me the club had thought he profiled as the perfect addition for a National League contender, given how many more pinch-hitting opportunities he could have had in that league. The Mariners valued Jaso highly in exactly the role he was used in — as a part-time catcher and stellar late bat off the bench. They knew that part-time success in a limited number of at-bats does not always translate to the same numbers when playing time increases to 500 or 600 at-bats in a full-time role. That factor, plus Jaso’s defensive limitations behind the plate (one reason he caught consecutive games only three times all season) meant he was never going to be afforded a full-time opportunity by the Mariners.
And that’s why the team spent most of this off-season including him in trade proposals — from the late November talks with the Pirates about a deal for outfielder Garrett Jones that we reported on, to the Upton negotiations with Arizona, then, finally, to the Morse trade. Going forward, I think the A’s are the perfect AL club for Jaso. They are coming off a division title and hoping to contend again, wanted a second catcher to go with young Derek Norris and stand to benefit greatly from having a steel-nerved Jaso come off the bench late — given all the close games their still-young squad played last year.
If Jaso can develop beyond a part-time role in Oakland, then good for him. Point is, he was never going to get that chance with Seattle given the big commitments the Mariners have already made to get both Zunino and Montero. And as a backup catcher/pinch-hitter, Jaso’s $1.8 million arbitration award is about the limit a lesser-payroll team would want to spend for that. Jaso will be getting pricey his next two club controlled years if he indeed has peaked in the role best-suited to his abilities, so, the trading “three years of Jaso for one year of Morse” has been, I think, a tad overstated.
So, enough about Jaso. Now, on to the Mariners moving forward.