3:55 pm Jan. 15, 2013
The New York Yankees have been quite busy this offseason, but much of the effort (and money) spent has been to lock in last season's team.
That's far from a tragedy for a 95-win team in 2012, best in the American League, but it doesn't protect them against any decline from their numerous aging players.
So the question now is: What players out there are available to them, on their current budget, that might help them fill in some of the gaps?
They've yet to find a catcher to replicate the production of Russell Martin, lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates. There's no one available who's anything like Martin, or an appreciable improvement over the catchers currently on the roster.
The Yankees also haven't found an outfielder who can hit like Nick Swisher, who signed with the Cleveland Indians.
Here, there's some hope, most likely in the form of Mike Morse of the Washington Nationals.
Morse is the odd man out, now that the Nationals re-signed Adam LaRoche to play first base. Denard Span, added via trade earlier this offseason, will play center field, while the corners are capably manned by Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper.
That leaves Morse without a position, and one year, $7 million left on his contract. Accordingly, many teams are interested.
If the Yankees signed him, they would be adding a right-handed outfield bat to an outfield currently employing Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner, none of whom are weapons against left-handed pitching.
Morse is, with a career O.P.S. of .860 against them. But he is far from the platoon player Scott Hairston, the best remaining free agent outfielder, would be, with an .830 O.P.S. against righties, too. He's an elite hitter, no matter who's pitching, and he's going to be 31 in March. This ought to be a prime season.
And it would be quite the coup for the Yankees to add Morse as a replacement for Swisher, a comparable hitter, without needing to commit the four years, $56 million it took to sign Swisher this winter.
Comparing the last three years, Swisher posted an O.P.S.+ of 125. Morse, though not as durable, was actually better, with an O.P.S.+ of 132.
And of the remaining free agents, no one is close. Hairston, overall, is at 103, again with a platoon split Morse doesn't exhibit. Delmon Young checks in at 102, but with virtually identical platoon splits to Hairston. And no other free-agent outfielder has posted even league average offense over the past three seasons.
If you gave truth serum to Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, he'd probably tell you he prefers to keep Morse and deal Jayson Werth. But the long-term deal he signed Werth to has five years and $99 million left to run on it. Werth isn't going anywhere.
By contrast, Morse has a single-season contract, followed by free agency, which suits the Yankees' purposes. It means no commitment to Morse in 2014, when the team is working to reduce salary below $189 million to avoid luxury tax penalties. And the single season of control means Washington cannot ask very much in trade for Morse.
The Yankees are looking for a bargain. He could be it.