|Xavier Avery at Home | photo: Keith Allison|
I think in order to be answer that question, we need to answer four other questions. First, are the Orioles really a playoff contender? Second, what does the team currently have that Mike Morse is replacing and does the difference impact the probability of this team being a contender? Third, how valuable is Xavier Avery, the player the Orioles gave up? Fourth, is Avery's value equal or lesser to what Morse brings to the team. Now, none of these questions can be definitively answered in a quantitative way, but we certainly can nose around in a qualitative way.
1) Are the Orioles a playoff contender?
Sure. According to Baseball Prospectus' Playoff Odds model, the team stands a one in seven shot in making the playoffs, which is far better than the Yankees' one in 25 chance. To break apart the Orioles' chances, that have roughly a one percent chance to win the division, a two percent chance to take the first wild card, and a ten percent chance for the second wild card.
Here is the relevant playoff table:
With a month to go, 3.5 games is not a big lead. The general rule I have is weeks to go plus three games back sum. At this point, the Orioles drop dead number for me would be nine games. A week from now, eight games. A week later, seven games. So on and so forth until fall above that number. With my little rule, the Royals are gone. They simply need too many teams to play worse than they are. Anyway, point being, yes, the Orioles are a playoff contender as we near September.
2. How much does Mike Morse improve the Orioles?
On January 16th, Mike Morse was worth a fair amount. The Nationals were able to deal away an extra bat that no longer fit on the playing field and get in return a high second tier pitcher in A.J. Cole, a live arm in the pen with Ian Krol (a player the Depot has been slightly optimistic on back during his senior year where he sat a lot), and some organizational depth in Blake Treinen. For a player who has no position and was coming off a lackluster season (after only really showing much promise for a season and a half prior to that), it was somewhat surprising. Of course, no one expected him to do so poorly this season.
Morse has dealt with leg injuries this season and did do a tour on the disabled list with a strained quad. On May 28th, the injury has become bad enough where the team sat him for a couple weeks. He was slashing 254/321/468. He proceeded to struggle in a handful of games in June until he was placed on the DL. Upon returning, he has slashing in August to the tune of 179/225/328.
In other words, Morse has been really bad and he probably is playing injured. The hope is that there is a chance that he will be injury free enough to provide value to the team. There is some cause for hope. He did produce poorly at SafeCo, which is known to be a pitcher's park (77 wRC+ at home vs. 101 wRC+ on the road). Additionally, he performed much better against left handed pitching (110 wRC+ against southpaws and 79 wRC+ against righties). It might not be entirely unfair to think that Morse could be a 120 to 130 wRC+ component of a platooned designated hitter arrangement with the newly arrived Wilson Betemit.
Of course, this solution assumes that both Betemit and Morse are healthy-ish and productive to competently handle their parts of the platoon split, but it is a decent bet to make when you are sitting only three games out of a playoff spot. This also assumes that the team has nothing else available to fulfill this role. However, yes, they do have someone: Danny Valencia.
Yes, Valencia is not a proven veteran like Mike Morse. However, he has been on fire this year when the team lets him play against left handed pitching. He has had a 157 wRC+ against righties, hitting them whenever the team somewhat haphazardly asks him to do it. All in all, unless the team recognizes correctly that Morse is healthy and ready to turn it on, I have a hard time seeing this as an improvement on the roster. If the long term plan is to keep Valencia on the bench as another right handed hitter, then I have trouble seeing how he can fit because he is pretty atrocious in the field as well.
Morse feels like a solution the same way Jim Thome felt like a solution. A decent name of a player who has performed somewhat well in the recent past, but probably is no better than what the team currently has. My thought is that Morse has just as much chance to be healthy and breakout as Valencia does to continue his tear of left handed pitching.
3. How valuable is Xavier Avery?
His minor league statistics to date:
Before the 2012 season, the Depot wrote this about Avery:
Xavier Avery remains an upside prospect with promise, despite completing his third full season with strikeouts in over 20% of his plate appearances. The reason for optimism is simple -- he continues to keep his head above water while being promoted by the O's and remaining one of the youngest players in the league, year-in and year-out. He will start 2012 at age 22, and could get a bump to Norfolk following a solid AFL campaign and provided he shows well in the Spring. A speed-first talent, Avery is among the fastest prospects in the system (along with Kyle Hudson and Glynn Davis -- all "80" runners on the 20/80 scouting scale). His heavy left/right split could spell a future as part of a platoon. If he can tighten-up his routes in center field, he should have easy value as a fourth outfielder. His ability to improve against lefties and to learn to more consistently ID off-speed will determine if he can become a regular at the highest level.I still think that is a fairly accurate portrayal of Avery. What I would change would be that I do not see him currently capable of being an average first division centerfielder. I would downgrade that to starting second division. The rest I would keep. In the nearly two years since, his batting approach has improved greatly, but it still is not on par with average AAA hitting. At age 23, he no longer is the youngest kid on the field most of the time. In AA, where he is in the mid-age for high profile prospects, he hit very well. Upon being promoted to AAA this year, he showed the same hit tool issues as he did the year prior. Add that lack of contact to a dearth of power and it is difficult to see how his bat would provide much use now and only a slight chance of it being useful in the future.
Ceiling: Average starting center fielder on first division team
Projected: 4th or 5th outfielder on first division team
However, he is the kind of player a team would like in its system. He is a strong, athletic player. He has 80 speed. His routes are getter better. He has shown a decent eye at the plate and has improved his hitting approach. At 23, he has time and fourth outfielders that can play center field do not grow on trees. It may be in the cavernous SafeCo that Avery will find himself. A place where speed may have more value than having a decent bat. It also leaves the Orioles with a void in that they have no option eligible fourth outfielder capable of filling in centerfield in a pinch as Avery and, before him, L.J. Hoes are now gone.
Again, this is not a huge loss. It is a very minimal loss. The value Avery provides is one of a pinch fourth outfielder with a very slight chance of him being a regular bench player. We are talking about fractions of a win here. If he somehow hits his ceiling, then we are discussing a player who might be worth a win or two annually for about three or four years. These are small potatoes. That said, as we know from before Adam Jones, centerfield is a difficult position to find someone to play there.
4. Did the Orioles get in return a benefit equal to what they gave away?
Probably. They will likely get nothing and they likely traded nothing away. In other words, the value that Avery presents to the Orioles now and in the future is a value that likely is quite replaceable. It is also likely true that the value Morse offers is equivalent to what the team currently has available. Add in that his presence on the team shaves 1 MM off next year's pay roll and it seems like there are a few paper cuts here.
In all, this move seems like a more expensive move with less probability of an offensive explosion as what could have been had with signing Mark Reynolds. A few weeks back, I suggested that signing Reynolds would be an excellent cheap bet for him to explode offensively. The idea being that Reynolds is a player who seems to be a feat or famine kind of hitter and, that at league minimum, it was a pretty cheap bet. If he did nothing over the following three weeks, you could just cut him and go with what the team has.
Now, Morse has some reputation of being a streaky hitter, but not in the same class as Reynolds. Additionally, Morse is awful at every defensive position while Reynolds can play first base in a below average way, which is worth something. Morse is also more susceptible to platoon splits, meaning relief pitchers can adversely affect him more than Reynolds. Finally, there is no more time for auditioning before the September roster deadline comes into play.
I think this is a meh deal, but that it was a marginally bad deal in a greater context. Right handed hitting opportunities were available for cheaper in terms of money and prospects than what the Orioles wound up paying. They gave up on a marginal prospect (of which they have very few in their system) in exchange for a player who does not seem to be an upgrade over what they already have. I am not a fan of movement for the sake of movement. I understand that with the team's playoff chances so low that a bet was a good idea to make. I simply do not see Morse as the bet I would like to make.