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Back where we started: Morse shipped to Seattle; AJ Cole comes home
The Nationals have completed the eagerly-anticipated Michael Morse trade, a three-team deal with the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics that will leave some of the major players with a sense of deja vu.
According to The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore and other media outlets, Morse returns to his first big league organization, Seattle, while the Nats get back A.J. Cole, one of the four players shipped to Oakland in the blockbuster deal that brought Gio Gonzalez to Washington. Oakland will also send minor league pitcher Blake Treinen and a player to be named to the Nats, while acquiring catcher John Jaso from Seattle.
Shortly after re-signing first baseman Adam LaRoche, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo acknowledged that Morse had become expendable because he had traded for speedy center fielder Denard Span, leaving no regular spot for Morse in the outfield or infield. He said at the time he was seeking controllable major league talent or prospects to restock the farm system.
It appears he got the latter in this deal, replenishing a pitching pool that was depleted with the departures of Cole, Brad Peacock an Tommy Milone in the Gonzalez deal, and Alex Meyer in the Span trade.
Cole, a 21-year-old right-hander, was the Nats’ fourth-round draft pick in 2010 and received a $2 million signing bonus. He went 4-7 with a 4.04 ERA and a 4.50 K/BB ratio in 2011 with Class-A Hagerstown. But after the trade, he struggled in Stockton, Oakland’s high-A affiliate in the offensively-oriented California League, going 0-7 with a 7.82 ERA and a 3.10 K/BB ratio, falling out of favor with the A’s. After stepping down to low-A Burlington in the Midwest League, he returned to form, going 6-3 with a 2.07 ERA and striking out 102 batters in 95 innings. His fastball is clocked in the high 90s, fitting the profile Rizzo likes to see in his pitchers.
Trienen, a 6-4, 24-year-old right-hander, is also known as a power pitcher who has hit 97 mph, according to oaklandclubhouse.com. He also pitched in Stockton last season and went 7-7 with a 4.37 ERA, walking just 23 batters in 116 innings. He pitched 27 innings the previous season in Burlington, walking just seven batters and posting a 3,67 ERA.
Of course, the man many Nats fans hated to see go was “The Beast,” Morse. Since coming to Washington in a 2009 deal for Ryan Langerhans, he has blossomed from a prospect with no set position into one of the top hitters in the National League, belting 67 homers, including 31 in 2011, when he found a home at first base filling in for the injured LaRoche. Last season, when he battled a torn lat muscle that kept him out for the first third of the season and various hand issues after returning to the lineup, he hit .291/.321..470 with 18 home runs in 102 games. His hitting has been consistent throughout his stay in Washington, never deviating much from his .294/.343/.514 average.
Morse’s defense, the one weakness that forced him out of the Washington outfield and kept him behind the Gold Glove LaRoche at first, may be a non-issue in Seattle, where he can play designated hitter.
Of course, Morse also endeared himself to fans at Nationals Park with his “Samurai Cobra Snake” warm-up swings and his walk-up music, the 1980′s syntho-pop song, “Take On Me,” which eventually got the whole park singing and trying to hit the high notes.
So what does this mean for the Nats moving forward? It looks like the team the Nats take to spring training will be the one that takes the field on opening day. Neither Drew Storn nor Tyler Clippard was packaged with Morse, so it looks more likely that both will be in the bullpen, in front of newly acquired closer Rafael Soriano, when the season opens. Zach Duke and Craig Stammen look like the long men. Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler look to fill the rotation,leaving one or two spots in the bullpen up for grabs.
The outfield looks set, with Span in center, Jayson Werth in right and Bryce Harper moving to left. The infield includes LaRoche at first, Danny Espinosa at second, Ian Desmond at short, Ryan Zimmerman at third and a catching combo of Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki.