- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2013


The Nationals’ season is nearing its midpoint. Game No. 81 is scheduled for June 30 in New York. It is understandable that some may be starting to think this stuck-in-the-mud pattern the Nats are in may not be just an aberration. Going into Tuesday, they were below .500, 7 1/2 games behind the Braves in the National League East and even further back in the wild card standings.

Fans might want to start thinking about other things to do with the playoff ticket money they’ve been squirreling away.

There is neither time nor space to get into much detail about all that’s gone wrong. Much of it has to do with an offense that simply isn’t producing. Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez have been very sharp for the past six weeks and both are stuck on three victories, which is one fewer than Dan Haren. And Haren hasn’t won since May 9.

Sunday’s 2-0 loss at Cleveland, where the Nats couldn’t score despite the Indians’ best efforts to let them, summed up the season nicely. First and third with no outs twice, bases loaded with no outs once, zero runs.

But even with those offensive woes, let’s disavow ourselves of the notion that the offseason trade of Michael Morse belongs on the list of things to blame for a disappointing 2013 season.

Sure, looking out at Monday’s starting outfield of Steve Lombardozzi, Jeff Kobernus and Jayson Werth made it easy to think Morse would fit in well out there. No question, as Werth missed a lot of time with a hamstring injury and Bryce Harper remains out (perhaps until the All-Star break) with a knee injury, the thought of Morse and his big bat rightfully crept into a lot of minds.

The only thing general manager Mike Rizzo needs to ponder there is where to trade in his crystal ball. If he had a way of knowing beforehand that Werth would miss so much time, that Harper would miss so much time, that Tyler Moore would regress, maybe he doesn’t send off Morse. At the time the trade was made, as the Nats were constructed, the trade was the right call.

It’s not that Morse isn’t a fine player. He is that and a popular one, too. His walk-up music is still played at the park. He was good for the clubhouse. He hit for average as well as for power. No gold glover, but he could play the outfield and first base.

So why trade a player like that? Let’s count the ways.

1. Morse has never been a picture of health himself. He played 146 games in 2011, when he hit 31 home runs for the Nats. Beyond that, his best total is 102 games. He didn’t play until June 2 last season because of an injury. While he’s banged 11 home runs for Seattle this season, he’s also missed 17 of the Mariners’ first 71 games. There’s no guarantee he’d be any healthier than Werth or Harper. Also, he had eight of his home runs in April. He had three in May and has had none in June through Monday. He’s had 10 RBI in May and June. Come to think of it, he really would fit in well with the 2013 Nats.

2. Fully healthy, the Nats’ best defensive outfield is Harper in left, Denard Span in center and Werth in right. Adam LaRoche is a better defensive first baseman than Morse. Maybe you don’t trade for Span and leave Harper in center. Werth and Harper batting 1-2 last season wasn’t a traditional top-of-the-lineup approach but it worked. Span, though he isn’t producing at the plate like he or the team expects, makes the defense much better and he’s far from the team’s biggest problem on offense.

3. Moore hit 10 home runs in only 156 at-bats last season. There was reason to believe he could provide some power in reserve and, like Morse, he can also play the outfield and first. He’s cheaper. He’s younger. He also may have been an aberration last season but there was no reason to think that at the time of the trade.

4. Most important, Morse was going into his “walk” year. He’ll be a free agent after this season and the Nats could have ended up with nothing for him. Instead, they got two pitching prospects for him plus a player to be named. That player to be named turned out to be Ian Krol, a left-handed reliever who has been a huge bright spot for the Nats since his recent call-up. Yes, it is a very small sample size but he’s shown a lot to like since being converted from a starter to reliever. He was basically unhittable at Double-A Harrisburg and gave up one hit (and one walk) in his first 6 1/3 innings with the Nats. With eight strikeouts. Even if the vaunted A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen never pan out, Krol was a strike of gold if he maintains anything close to his current level.

If the Nats decide they really want Morse back, they can get in line with everyone else and try to sign him in the offseason. Don’t bet the suddenly available playoff money on that happening. Morse will always have a respected place in the Nats’ history. His absence isn’t the reason 2013 continues to be a disappointment.

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