With James Loney being a free agent this offseason, the Rays have been searching around to find a replacement at first base. There are plenty of options on both the free agent market and the trade market, many of which the Rays will explore. One player the Rays have shown interest in is Logan Morrison of the Miami Marlins.
Morrison originally signed with the Marlins in 2005 after being drafted in the 22nd round out of a Louisiana high school. Morrison broke out in the lower minors in 2007 and 2008, which led Baseball America to rank him as the number 18 prospect in all of baseball prior to 2009. Morrison was also ranked the number 20 prospect in baseball before the 2010 season, and he saw his first extended action in the big leagues that same year, managing a .283/.390/.447 line in 63 games. Morrison was not quite as good in his first full season in the majors in 2011, but the Marlins could hardly complain when he hit to a .247/.330/.468 line with 24 homers. Whether Morrison was a rising star was a serious question, but there was no reason to think he could not be a solid big league first baseman. But the questions on Morrison from 2011 were nothing compared to what has happened in the years since.
Due to a series of knee injuries that began with a collision with the outfield wall at PNC park late in 2011, Morrison has been limited the past two years, appearing in just 93 games in 2012 and 85 in 2013. Even when he has played, he has been hobbled by his injuries. Injuries are often a huge distraction for a player at the plate, even if the injury doesn’t physically affect the player’s swing. This would appear to be the case with Morrison, who hit for just a .707 OPS in 2012 and a .709 OPS in 2013. One good thing, though, is that the solution to get Morrison healthy may not be so complicated. Part of the reason for Morrison’s knee injuries is the fact he has played the outfield even though he is not a natural outfielder. These knee injuries have caused major problems both physically and even mentally for Morrison, and playing him at the less taxing first base position could be what he finally needs to start living up to potential. It has been reported by MLB.com that Morrison is healthy this offseason. If they think he can stay healthy, Morrison would be a great option for the Rays.
Morrison would be yet another bounce-back candidate for the Rays at first base. The Rays have had past success with reclamation projects at first base such as Carlos Pena, Casey Kotchman, and most recently James Loney. There is no reason to believe Morrison couldn’t become the next one of these players. Despite injuries, Morrison does have ability that he showed early in his career. If he can stay healthy, Morrison could hit 25-30 home runs at around a .250 average, which the Rays would certainly love. Morrison’s time in the outfield is likely done due to his knee injuries, especially if he were to be playing on the turf at Tropicana Field, but the Rays have a full outfield and have a bigger nice at first base.
The main difference between Morrison and past Rays’ reclamation projects at first base is that Morrison’s ineffectiveness has been largely due to injury and the distractions that come with it. All the other projects had shown ability, but for some reason had struggled in the seasons previous to signing with the Rays. Everyone knows that Morrison has ability, but injuries have simply held him back. But if Morrison can stay healthy, he could be an above-average major league first baseman, something the Rays would love to have.
Morrison would be under team control for the next three years under arbitration. Thus, his pay would largely be dependent on how he performs. MLB trade rumors projects Morrison to earn $1.7 million through arbitration this offseason, which is well within the Rays budget. Even if Morrison were to have a monster season in 2014, he would still likely not be too expensive for the Rays through arbitration in 2015. Morrison will come cheap for the Rays at least for next year, which is something the budget constrained Rays are always looking for.
The Rays would have to give up something of value for the Marlins to give up Morrison. The Marlins won’t give up a player who could have solid value to a major league team for nothing. However, with injury concerns Morrison will not be too expensive. Also, the Marlins are likely not contending the next couple of years, so they won’t pass up the opportunity to get value if the return is decent. I think Morrison to the Rays for Mikie Mahtook and a fringe prospect like Marty Gantt could be reasonable. Mahtook was a first rounder in 2011 who was said to be a potential 5-tool player. However, Mahtook has been disappointing so far, as he hasn’t hit like expected and his defense has not been as good as it was in college. That being said, he still could become a solid starting outfielder or at least a good backup within the next couple of years. Gantt is a scrappy player who had a decent season at Single-A Bowling Green, but he will have to fight hard to reach the majors in any capacity. The Rays won’t miss Mahtook with their outfield set for at least the next two years and potentially beyond, and he could be enough to pry Morrison from the Marlins.
The issue, though, is that reasonable value may not be enough. The Milwaukee Brewers, Colorado Rockies, and Boston Red Sox are also reportedly interested in Morrison, and that will drive up the cost it takes to acquire him. Morrison’s injuries have made him into an underrated asset, but the Rays are not the only ones capable of seeing that. The Rays would undoutedly be willing to make an offer of say Mahtook and Gantt for Morrison, but would they be willing to dip into prospects a notch higher up on the ladder if the bidding gets to that point?
Overall, Logan Morrison would be a good option for the Rays, and he would be a textbook reclamation project for them. The Rays have had large success with such players at first base in the past, so why can’t Morrison be the next Rays’ success? The only hesitation is going to be the return. The Rays would have to give up something of value to acquire him, but are we talking about a player like Mahtook or a higher-regarded player? If the price is right, Andrew Friedman and Co. should explore trading for Morrison, but it remains to be seen whether that is truly the case.