The Pirates beat the clock on July 31st when they acquired Michael Morse and cash from the Dodgers in exchange for the increasingly unwanted Jose Tabata.
Tabata and Morse are under contract through the 2016 season – in 2016 Tabata is due to make $4.5 million while Morse will earn $8 million. It is unclear the exact amount of money that was sent the Pirates way in the swap of players. Considering the Dodgers are allocating upwards of $86 million to players that are no longer in their organization, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear that the Dodgers provided the Pirates with the money to even out the two players’ contracts for 2016.
Morse has had a productive career at the plate – a career .276 average and a .794 OPS – but he’s struggled so far this season. The 33-year-old has a career-low .589 OPS, and his .100 ISO is the lowest since his rookie season in 2005. He also has a career-high strikeout rate of 31.6%, and is putting the ball on the ground at a career-high rate of 57.1%. A poor month of April along with a month-long DL stint never allowed Morse to find a comfort zone at the plate.
“I just never got to settle in,” Morse said regarding his early struggles. “I got hurt early in the season and I only got 150 at-bats with [the Marlins] and they were kind of sporadic at bats. I never really got to settle in. Again, I’m not going to make any excuses, but I have a fresh start here and I know what I’m capable of doing.”
The Pirates and Morse are hoping that a change of scenery will reignite him at the plate. He batted .279 and hit 16 home runs in 2014 for the World Champion Giants, but his game-winning RBI in game seven of the World Series is what the Giants and their fans will remember most.
One of the big questions for Morse is what his role will be moving forward into 2016, and whether or not he can be a valuable piece to the Pirates roster. Morse showed last season that he is capable of providing a team with a productive 450 at bats, but he has not displayed that ability yet in 2015. As discussed above, Morse is due to make a pretty good chunk of change next season, and the Pirates will be watching closely to determine whether he will be worth the amount of money he’s owed next year. GM Neal Huntington did not guarantee that Morse would be back with the club next season, regardless of their financial situation.
“We will see how it plays out [to see how important that Morse has control],” Huntington said last Friday. “If we get him back to how he was a year ago, it could play out very well. If he continues to scuffle, we will have a decision to make moving forward.”
Morse is going to need to hit closer to the way he did throughout the 2014 season in order to validate his 2016 salary. Defensively, Morse provides value by his ability to play a corner outfield spot or first base. However, the defensive metrics point to him as being below-average in both the outfield as well as at first base. It remains to be seen whether Morse will be strictly used as a spot-starter/pinch-hitter or if he will be added into the rotation for regular playing time. Either way, he is okay with the uncertainty of his playing time in the future, and is focused on one thing:
“At this point in my career, it’s all about winning. I care about winning,” Morse said insistently. “I’ll do whatever it takes, whether its play once every month [or] every day. I’ll do whatever it takes.”
There is reason to believe that Morse can return to his past form, and having that option off of the bench will only fortify what will already be a strong Pirates’ bench heading into the stretch run with the pending returns of Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer.