Does A B.J. Upton-Mike Morse Trade Make Sense for the Rays?

By Robbie Knopf

The latest B.J. Upton to the Nationals rumor has surfaced: a straight-up trade for Nationals first baseman/outfielder Mike Morse. Is that the type of trade that the Rays would actually consider making?

We know B.J. He’s a 27 year old outfielder with power, speed, and tons of overall upside, but he has never reached his potential. From 2008-2011, Upton posted a .248/.337/.406 line (103 OPS+) with an average of 15 home runs and 41 stolen bases per season. In 2012, he has struggled, posting a .244/.303/.373 line with 12 doubles, 8 homers, and 15 of 19 stolen bases in 77 games and 332 plate appearances. B.J. shows flashes of being as good as it gets offensively, most notably the 2008 postseason when he went on an absolute tear, but way too often he looks l0st and can’t do anything right. Defensively, the defensive metrics grade B.J. as about an average defender over the past few years, and that seems about right- although that’s more of an average of his two defensive modes: running everything down like it’s nothing and slacking off. Even defensively he has the ability to be better, and he does have an excellent arm for a centerfielder (his 7 outfield assists by a centerfielder lead the AL). B.J. is a tantalizing package of all-around ability seemingly just waiting to break out, especially as he enters his prime, but he’s out of time with the Rays as 2012 is his final season under team control. The question of whether to trade Upton rather than hold on to him for the rest of the season is certainly valid (I discussed it in more detail here), but let’s say that the Rays do decide that trading Upton is a worthwhile move. Would they consider Morse in return?

Morse isn’t young at all, already 30 years old. The good news: he has the type of power the Rays crave in their lineup. In 2011, his first season receiving as many as 300 plate appearances in the big leagues, he posted a .303/.360/.550 line with 36 doubles, 31 homers, and 95 RBI. He also has one more year of team control remaining after 2012 and will make a reasonable 6.75 million dollars in 2013. Now to the problems, even leaving age aside. First off, who knows whether 2011 was just a fluke. He’s been pedestrian so far in 2012, posting a .289/.307/.409 line with 7 doubles, 4 homers, and 18 RBI, although in just 39 games in 166 plate appearances because he missed the first two months of the season with a strained lat muscle. Morse doesn’t have much plate discipline, walking in just 6.3% of his PAs in 2011 and now just 3.0% in 2012, and power hitters who lack plate discipline can be extremely streaky as they often don’t get as many good pitches to hit. And defensively, Morse is below average by UZR everywhere he has ever played defensively, including a -12.5 UZR in the corner outfield positions where the Rays would play him, although FRAA, Baseball Prospectus’ defensive metric, has him just a bit below average. In any event, the Rays’ defense has been bad enough this year, and adding Morse would compound that problem. The Rays could seamlessly move Desmond Jennings to centerfield to accommodate Morse without much of a defensive downgrade in centerfield, but they would lose a lot at the corner spots. Morse’s calling card is his power, and that’s the only reason the Rays would consider this trade for a second.

The Rays would definitely consider trading Upton if they got the right offer, but this isn’t it. The Rays would love another power bat in their lineup, but Morse isn’t young, will be a free agent after next season, still has questions in his offensive game, and his defense is passable at best. This trade isn’t happening unless the Nationals add in prospects.