Word came out early Wednesday evening that a three team trade had been completed involving the Seattle Mariners, Oakland Athletics, and Washington Nationals. Seattle will receive Mike Morse in the deal, Oakland gets John Jaso, and Washington will be receiving three players including A.J. Cole, Blake Treinen, and a player to be named later. All three teams have since confirmed the deal.
Morse had seemingly become expendable in Washington once the team agreed to re-sign first baseman Adam LaRoche. Multiple teams have reportedly expressed interest in acquiring him from the Nationals this winter, with some even calling before the team formally brought LaRoche back into the fold, but the team’s demands were perceived as high throughout most of those discussions. Morse, who’ll turn 31 in March, has been a big piece of the Washington offense over the past three seasons. In 1,298 plate appearances over that span he’s hit a combined .296/.345/.516 with 64 HR and 198 RBI while spending some time at both first base and in left field. Morse missed a chunk of time this past season thanks to an arm injury he suffered in Spring Training, but hardly seemed slowed when he returned to the Washington lineup.
His place with the team remained in question, however, despite the offensive production. LaRoche is a superb defender at first base, giving him the nod there. With Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, and Denard Span in line to start in the outfield that limited where Morse’s at bats could come from. Washington also has a number of younger players (Steve Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore) who they’ll want/need to get at bats off the bench. A trade just simply seemed like the most logical decision, despite the value that Morse clearly brings to the table. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the 2013 season, which also made him easier to move.
Seattle, meanwhile, has been focused on adding offense to their lineup for much of the winter. The team has already brought in Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez, and Jason Bay this offseason – though all three come with some serious questions. Morse will likely step right into the team’s lineup, but it’s uncertain what position he’ll likely play. He could see time in either corner outfield position (though he’s not a strong defender) or he could share time at first base with Justin Smoak. He’ll also potentially receive some at bats at DH on days that Jesus Montero is behind the plate, which could be more frequent with the team’s loss of Jaso. Seattle currently does not have any other catchers on their 40-man roster and will likely need to bring someone in to backup Montero at the onset of the season. Their top positional prospect, Mike Zunino, likely will not be ready for the Major Leagues until mid-season.
Morse was originally drafted by the Chicago White Sox and was dealt to Seattle as part of a package to acquire Freddy Garcia in June 2004. He received 337 plate appearances with the team over a four year span from 2005 to 2009, hitting .300/.365/.397 in 107 games, before being traded to the Nationals for Ryan Langerhans.
Jaso had a solid season for the Mariners this past year, batting .276/.394/.456 with a career-high 10 HR over 361 plate appearances in his first (and only) season with the Mariners. The 29 year old will likely step right into the A’s starting lineup, though it’s safe to expect that Derek Norris will still see a fair share of playing time. Jaso has long been a patient hitter at the plate, earning more walks (140) than strikeouts (128) in his career – an uncommon ratio, particularly for catchers – and he’s generally considered a strong defensive option behind the plate. He fits the “Moneyball” mold of the A’s well. Norris is still likely the team’s proverbial “catcher of the future” and possesses more power potential than Jaso, but is still young and learning the position. The pair will likely compliment each other well in that lineup. Jaso may see most of the playing time against right-handed pitchers, while Norris will face lefties. He’s arbitration eligible for the first time this winter, meaning he’ll be under team control through 2015.
While both Seattle and Oakland received a player who’ll offer some immediate value to their teams, the Nationals took a more forward thinking path towards their compensation in this deal by acquiring a trio of prospects from the A’s.
Cole is the top prospect of the group and will return to an organization he knows well. Cole had initially been a 4th Round pick by the Nationals in 2010 but had been included in the package (along with Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock, and Norris) that the team sent to Oakland last January to acquire Gio Gonzalez. The 21 year old right-hander had been ranked at #57 in Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects prior to this past season, but had a terribly inconsistent year with the A’s organization. Overall he posted a 6-10 mark with a 3.70 ERA and 1.249 WHIP across 133.2 innings (making 27 starts), adding 9.0 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9. He still shows a great deal of promise on the mound, but it’s uncertain where Washington will start him this season as he struggled at High-A (0-7, 7.82 ERA, 1.842 WHIP), though that was in the hitter-friendly California League.
Treinen, 24, spent this past season with Oakland’s High-A affiliate, making 15 starts in 24 appearances. He posted a 7-7 mark and 4.37 ERA across 103.0 innings. Former Seedlings to Stars Editor Nathaniel Stolz figures that he has the makeup to be a back-of-the-rotation starter, but could ultimately develop into a solid relief option given his strong command over two pitches (a heavy sinker and a solid breaking ball). Treinan likely projects to be among the Nationals top prospects and helps the organization replenish some of the depth they’ve lost over the past year (due largely to players “graduating” to the Majors).
Washington will also receive a player to be named later. Thus far there have been no indications who that player may end up being.