Two days ago the Marlins and Blue Jays pulled off one of the biggest trades we’ve seen in years, at least in the terms of the number of players involved. A dozen players will change teams once this thing is complete, and five of them are veteran guys going from Miami to Toronto. The Marlins certainly acquired some really good young players, but the move was primarily a salary dump on their part.
Unsurprisingly, reports surfaced yesterday that both right-hander Ricky Nolasco and first baseman/outfielder Logan Morrison are on the trade block as well. The Yankees supposedly have interest in Nolasco, but let’s put him aside and focus on Morrison. The 25-year-old left-handed hitter is just three years removed from being one of baseball’s very prospects thanks mostly to his offensive prowess. Baseball America twice ranked him as one of the game’s 20 best prospects (#18 in 2009 and #20 in 2010), placing him just behind Giancarlo Stanton in both instances. Obviously he hasn’t taken off like his teammate, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have something to offer. Let’s see if there’s a fit for the Yankees.
- A career .259/.339/.442 (112 wRC+) hitter, Morrison hit .259/.351/.460 (121 wRC+) in 815 plate appearances from 2010-2011. Although he’s done most of his career damage against righties (.205 ISO and 113 wRC+), he hangs in well against lefties as well (.157 ISO and 109 wRC+).
- Morrison’s strength offensively is his ability to control the strike zone. He drew a ton of walks in the minors (12.4 BB%) and that’s held true in the show (11.0 BB%), plus his strikeout rate (18.2 K%) is basically league average (15.2 K% in the minors). His 82.6% contract rate in the big leagues (career-high 84.1% in 2012) is better than the league average as well.
- Baseball America said Morrison’s “makeup and leadership skills are outstanding” prior to the 2010 season, the last time he qualified as a prospect. I also recommend reading this Amy Nelson piece on Morrison’s upbringing, which explains how father Tom — a military man who recently passed away due to cancer — preached pride and discipline.
- Morrison is still in his pre-arbitration years and won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2016 season. He’ll earn something close to the league minimum in 2013 before being arbitration-eligible for the first time next winter.
- As you probably know, Morrison didn’t hit at all this year: .230/.308/.399 (91 wRC+) in 334 plate appearances. His BABIP has been trending downward while his fly ball rate has been climbing upward since debuting in 2010, so it’s not entirely a fluke. More fly balls equals fewer base hits. There’s a chance he started to sell out for power, and in fact you can kinda see his progression from an all-fields hitter to a pull-happy guy in his spray charts (2010, 2011, 2012).
- Morrison is no stranger to the disabled list. He had surgery to repair the patellar tendon in his right knee both this September and last December, so this is a repeat thing now. He also missed time with a left foot injury in 2010 and broke his thumb while in the minors back in 2009.
- Thanks in part to the knee problems, Morrison is a well-below-average baserunner. He’s attempted just five stolen bases as a big leaguer (caught twice) and he’s taken the extra base just 38% of the time. That’s below-average. Nothing in his track record suggests more value on the bases is coming even if his knee is fine going forward, it’s just not his game.
- He’s been a first baseman his entire life and when the Marlins stuck him in left field in deference to Gaby Sanchez following his call-up, it was a disaster. Morrison’s defensive stats in the outfield (-25.7 UZR, -36 DRS, and -27 Total Zone) are a nightmare, though sample size warnings do apply (2,044.2 innings). He’s considered a solid if not above-average defender at first.
Any team that looks into acquiring Morrison has to first thoroughly check out his medicals, then ask themselves if they think he’s fixable offensively. Has he turned himself into Mark Teixeira in the sense that he’s now unable to go the other way and can only pull the ball? The Yankees don’t have a good track record of turning pull-happy guys into all-fields hitters, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Their guys do the opposite. Maybe that will make Morrison more appealing to them, who knows. We also have to remember that batted ball data isn’t very reliable, so don’t take the increase in fly balls to heart.
The left-handed power (which would be heightened by Yankee Stadium, in theory) and patience is appealing, especially since he’s more than a platoon bat. The problem is that Morrison wouldn’t have a position with the Yankees unless they are willing to tolerate terrible defense in a corner outfield spot. They did it with Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu in recent years and Raul Ibanez just this past year, so who knows. I suppose he could serve as the regular DH, backup first baseman, and part-time outfielder (whenever a ground ball pitcher is on the mound?). That might work. It’s probably best to think of him as an Ibanez replacement rather than a Nick Swisher replacement.
Morrison is a buy-low candidate in the Swisher mold, which is kinda funny since both guys had their worst full season as a big leaguer in their only season under Ozzie Guillen. Morrison’s red flags are more serious than Swisher’s were back in 2008 considering the knee problems, however. I think it’s safe to assume the Marlins are seeking prospects in return, and I guess there’s a chance they’d look to package him with Nolasco a la Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. If the Yankees could swing a deal involving two or three prospects — preferably not from the Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, and Gary Sanchez trio — Morrison might be their best chance of landing a young impact bat while his value is down.