The Washington Times - January 20, 2012, 04:37PM

The Washington Nationals announced a multi-year contract extension with slugger Michael Morse Friday afternoon, thereby avoiding salary arbitration and, presumably buying out at least his final year of arbitration — which would have come next offseason.

The terms of the extension have not yet been disclosed but it was agreed on upon prior to Tuesday’s noon deadline for teams to agree to terms or exchange figures for salary arbitration and contingent on Morse passing a physcial. Morse and the Nationals both filed figures with the league office — Morse at $5 million and the Nationals at $3.5 million — but now that he’s passed his physical those numbers become a mere formality.

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The extension is the cherry on top of Morse’s breakout season as he prepares to come to spring training, now just a month away, as the team’s starting left fielder.

Late in the 2011 season, Washington Nationals slugger Michael Morse was approached by a reporter to talk about his season — and namely what impact his breakout year might have on his upcoming case in salary arbitration in the coming offseason.

A teammate at a locker stall nearby smirked, and took the liberty to answer for him.

“He’s in uncharted waters,” the player said. “What other utility guy hits 30 - 40 home runs?”

Even with the terms unknown at this point, after one of the best offensive seasons in the major leagues it’s safe to say Morse earned himself a significant raise. He made just $1.05 million in 2011 while hitting 31 home runs. The homers were the biggest example of his breakout performance — a year that saw him break camp as the team’s starting left fielder, lose his job there due to a lack of production and strong play from Laynce Nix, and become reborn at first base when Adam LaRoche underwent season-ending labrum surgery. The one-time shortstop’s defense at first was solid and his bat never slumped again.  

He hit .403 in the month of May with six home runs, .299 in June with eight home runs, .344 in July with two home runs, .333 in August with seven home runs and even when his averaged dipped, to .237 in September, he still rounded things out with seven more home runs.

He finished the season with the ninth-best batting average in the National League (.303) and the fourth-highest slugging percentage (.550) behind only Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp (who finished 1-2 in the NL M.V.P voting, and Prince Fielder. He got one seventh-place vote and one 10th-place vote to give him five points and a 19th-place finish in the NL M.V.P voting, then went to Taiwan and soaked in the feeling of being an international superstar with teammate Chien-Ming Wang.

“Just being in the lineup everyday was my biggest accomplishment,” Morse said in September. “I kept telling myself, ‘Go out and get three hits today. But if you don’t guess what: you’ll be in there tomorrow.’ That would always put a smile on my face.”

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