Looking back on the two winter trades

Yesterday an entertaining enough day of baseball for everyone?

In four postseason games, we saw a ninth-inning, benches-clearing incident in Detroit; a near no-hitter by 22-year-old Michael Wacha (who came within an out of a no-hitter against the Nationals in his last start prior to yesterday); a walk-off homer that staved off elimination for the Rays; and a series-clinching homer in the bottom of the eighth that sent the Dodgers to the National League Championship Series and sent the Braves home for the offseason.

I mean, my goodness. Postseason baseball is intense under normal circumstances. But we got four dramatic, tight ballgames with huge swings of emotion from one side to the other, and we got it all in one day.

Hope you all had work hours/significant others that allowed you to watch as much of that as possible yesterday. And here’s a random note many of you might enjoy, courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information: the Braves have now lost six straight division series appearances.

Yesterday morning, I wrote about Denard Span’s 2013 season and how he was able to bounce back from a tough first four months to finish with a bang. Span was, of course, one of the Nationals’ major acquisitions last offseason, coming over in a trade with the Twins that sent right-handed pitching prospect Alex Meyer to Minnesota.

The Span trade didn’t just give the Nats their center fielder and leadoff hitter, but it also played a part in bumping Michael Morse out of a spot in D.C. With Span aboard, joining Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, the Nats had their three starting outfielders, and once Adam LaRoche was brought back on a two-year, $24 million deal, Morse was expendable.

In mid-January, eight days after LaRoche re-signed with the Nats, Morse was shipped to the Mariners as part of a three-team deal that brought right-handed pitching prospect A.J. Cole, left-handed reliever Ian Krol and right-hander Blake Treinen to the Nats.

In an effort to evaluate the two trades made last winter, let’s assess how all those pieces fared this season.

Players Received by the Nats:
Span: .279/.327/.380 with four homers, 11 triples, 28 doubles, 47 RBIs and 20 SBs in 153 games
Krol: 2-1, 3.95 ERA, 1.317 WHIP, 22 Ks, eight BBs in 32 MLB games (27 1/3 innings)
Cole (split between Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg): 10-5, 3.60 ERA, 151 Ks, 33 BBs in 25 starts (142 2/3 innings)
Treinen (between short-season Single-A Auburn and Harrisburg): 6-7, 3.47 ERA, 93 Ks, 33 BBs in 23 games/22 starts (124 2/3 innings)

Players Sent by the Nats:
Morse (split between Mariners and Orioles): .215/.270/.381 with 13 homers, 13 doubles, 27 RBIs in 88 games
Meyer (split between Gulf Coast League and Double-A): 4-3, 2.99 ERA, 100 Ks, 32 BBs in 16 starts (78 1/3 innings)

The first thing that jumps out at me when looking at those numbers is that Morse’s slugging percentage was just a single point higher than Span’s this season. This from the same Michael Morse who slugged .550 with the Nats back in 2011. Remarkable.

Despite the low numbers and the numerous injuries that Morse battled this season (fractured pinkie, strained quad, wrist) that limited him to 312 at-bats all year, many Nats fans still seemed frustrated by the team’s decision to move Morse instead of keeping him around.

Part of that frustration likely has to do with LaRoche’s sub-par season. I get that. But especially given the way Morse struggled in 2013, both production-wise and health-wise, I don’t really see how some can still argue with the decision to deal him away last winter.

Morse was, after all, entering the last season of his contract with the Nats. They could have held onto him and used him as a fourth outfielder/backup first baseman after LaRoche was brought back, but that role would’ve provided minimal playing time for an established player who was used to playing every day. Plus, Tyler Moore was expected to fill that reserve role, and coming off a strong 2012, the Nats felt he would be in for a big 2013.

Instead, general manager Mike Rizzo used Morse to replenish the farm system with three arms, including Cole - a former Nats prospect who re-established his stock with a strong 2013 - and Krol, who excelled early in his big league tenure before fading late.

We obviously don’t know which of the pitching prospects in these trades will end up having more long-term success, and so, like with all trades involving prospects, we’ll need a few years to be able to fully evaluate things. Meyer appears to be slightly more highly-regarded than Cole at this point, although Meyer did deal with a shoulder injury this season, and those are always scary for pitchers.

I saw these two trades as smart moves for the Nats at the time, and I still do today. They gave up a promising power righty in Meyer, but got back an excellent defender in Span who made a major offensive impact down the stretch, then spun one year of Morse into three pitching prospects, a couple of whom could have a pretty high ceiling.

What about you; how did you feel about the trades when they were first made, and how do you feel about them today?

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