- The Washington Times - Friday, January 20, 2012

The Washington Nationals agreed on a two-year contract extension with Michael Morse on Friday afternoon, thereby avoiding salary arbitration for the final two years of the slugger’s existing contract. The Associated Press reported the deal was worth $10.5 million.

The length and financial terms of the extension were not disclosed by the team but a source confirmed to The Washington Times that it was a two-year deal. 

The deal was agreed on prior to Tuesday’s noon deadline for teams to come to terms or exchange figures for salary arbitration and was contingent on Morse passing a physical. 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.

The extension is the cherry on top of Morse’s breakout season when he hit .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBI. 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 and now, with spring training a month away, he comes in as the starting left fielder. Morse was originally acquired from the Seattle Mariners in 2009 for Ryan Langerhans in a minor-league swap.

Late in the 2011 season, 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?”

Morse chuckled at the thought, and though he may not be your traditional utility guy, his abilities in the outfield and at first base do make him a versatile member of the roster. 

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 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 National League MVP 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 MVP 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.”

Morse’s extension leaves John Lannan as the team’s only remaining arbitration-eligible player with whom they’ve yet to come to terms. Lannan and the Nationals filed numbers with the league office on Tuesday as well with Lannan at $5.7 million and the Nationals at $5.1 million.

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