In the wake of the news that Adam LaRoche has signed a two-year deal with the Nationals worth a guaranteed $24 million, the most popular question among fans, by far, seems to be the following:
Why would the Nats trade Michael Morse?
Morse has become a popular guy with teammates and fans over the last couple years, thanks largely to his offensive production (it's tough to dislike a guy who hit .303 with a .910 OPS and 31 home runs two seasons ago), but also because of his quirky, fun-loving personality.
The cobra warm-up swing that Morse uses to prepare himself for at-bats has gotten so popular it served as a model for his bobblehead doll, and the "Take on Me" anthem which blasts through Nats Park when he approaches the plate has been embraced by fans, who belt out the chorus.
Inside the clubhouse, Morse serves as the unofficial team DJ, bumping a wide variety of tunes and introducing teammates to bizarre reality shows like "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" and "My Strange Addiction."
So why would the Nationals want to trade a guy who provides value on the field and is such a well-liked presence off of it?
First of all, the most important reason is that there isn't much of a place for Morse after the acquisition of center fielder Denard Span and the re-signing of LaRoche.
The Nats now have three well-rounded outfielders under team control through 2015 in Span, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth. They also have LaRoche back at first base, a guy who is one of the best defensive first basemen in the game and is coming off a career year offensively. Waiting in the wings at first base, the Nats have Tyler Moore and Matthew Skole, both of whom have great power potential.
Morse is an established hitter, and while he might not like the fact that he's now squarely on the trade market (his tweet yesterday seemed to show that displeasure), he surely wouldn't enjoy playing only, say, 40 games this upcoming season, either. That's not the type of workload a proven power hitter is looking for, especially when he's entering a contract year.
It would be a slap in the face to Morse if Davey Johnson asked him to ride the bench this season, and Johnson knows that. It would also further stunt the development of Moore, who is set to be the Nationals' right-handed power bat off the bench this season and could be the team's first baseman of the future.
Additionally, because Morse only has one year left on his contract, the Nationals might as well get some value for him now. While general manager Mike Rizzo is thinking of improving this year's team - a team that had the motto "World Series or bust" bestowed upon it by Johnson - Rizzo also needs to keep an eye on tomorrow.
Rizzo could look to add a left-handed reliever in return for Morse, but he also has other goals.
The Nats have given up a wealth of young pitching talent in the last 13 months. Tommy Milone, A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock and Alex Meyer were all shipped out in the deals that brought the Nationals Gio Gonzalez and Span, leaving the organization thin on starting pitching prospects.
In fact, Baseball America's recent list of the top 10 prospects within the Nationals organization contained five pitchers, but only two (Nathan Karns and Christian Garcia) finished the 2012 season healthy. The other three (Lucas Giolito, Sammy Solis and Matt Purke) all are coming back from various arm/shoulder injuries.
There's one wrinkle here that makes a potential Morse trade a bit more complicated - FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal is reporting that Morse "strongly opposes" being used often as a designated hitter. If true, that could give the American League teams interested in Morse - the Rays, Mariners, Orioles and Yankees are thought to be among that group - some pause before getting heavily involved in negotiations.
Regardless, while it might pain some Nats fans to see Morse go, Rizzo has quite a few reasons to make a deal happen. A trade could benefit the Nationals both this year and down the road, and might end up giving Morse a chance to shine in the middle of some other team's batting order, as well.