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Marlins signing Michael Morse is better than first baseman trade

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The Miami Marlins were considering trading their pitching depth for a first baseman like Justin Morneau. Signing Michael Morse to a two-year deal was a far smarter move.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins considered plenty of other options before they settled on signing free agent first baseman Michael Morse to a two-year contract worth a still-reasonable $16 million. The Fish initially wanted Adam LaRoche before the Chicago White Sox signed him away to play designated hitter for them. The team then turned toward the trade market, but the offerings were quite slim, no matter where you looked. Options such as Pedro Alvarez of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Justin Morneau of the Colorado Rockies came up.

The Marlins eventually made the right decision, as Morse's contract was very reasonable and worth the money the team is paying. Considering that the Fish were thinking of trading a starting pitcher for one of the duo of Alvarez or Morneau, Marlins fans should consider themselves lucky that they avoided that horrific scenario.

Despite the recent trades of Andrew Heaney, Brian Flynn, and Anthony DeSclafani, the Marlins still actually do have pitching depth at the big league level. They were somehow able to avoid dealing the quartet of Henderson Alvarez, Jarred Cosart, Nathan Eovaldi, and Tom Koehler, all of whom were worth between 1.5 to four wins depending on your source in one season in the last two years. But rumors have been surrounding Eovaldi for months (and still are surrounding him), and two of those rumors involved dealing him to the Pirates straight up for Alvarez or acquiring Morneau in a deal involving Eovaldi.

Both of these ideas would have been disasters. In the Pirates' case, the Fish would be acquiring a player who is essentially the same as Garrett Jones, but younger.

Player, Career PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Pedro Alvarez 2293 .235 .307 .435 .322 104
Garrett Jones 3076 .254 .314 .450 .330 107

Neither player is good enough to be playing first base regularly given their batting lines, and the concerns over their defense would be warranted.

As for the Rockies' idea, Morneau is a better hitter than any of the players the Marlins may have had available. But comparing Morneau to Morse over the last three seasons is essentially a tie offensively.

Player, 2012-2014 PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Justin Morneau 1755 .281 .339 .447 .340 110
Michael Morse 1249 .266 .313 .448 .332 112

The line for Morneau looks better than Morse's, but you have to recall that Morneau just spent a year in Coors Field winning the batting title, while Morse just spent a year at AT&T Park, one of the worst locations for home runs in baseball and an overall very pitcher-friendly park. The wRC+, which is a total offense measurement like OPS+ that compares to the league average wOBA, shows that the two guys have been about equal performance-wise. Each has mixed in bad seasons in 2013 with good ones last year. Each guy is a terrible baserunner. Morneau's game is more appealing because it is more contact-oriented, but Morse has more power, which is what the Marlins have been looking for.

But the most important part is that while Morse cost Miami no resources outside of money, Morneau would have cost the Fish a pitcher. And not an easy one with which to part, as the Rockies requested either Alvarez or Cosart in a Morneau trade. It's a good thing the Rockies were crazy, because had they asked for a lesser starter in the Marlins' eyes, they may have budged. Morneau is set to make $6.8 million next season with at least a $0.8 million buyout for the following year. Morse is making more money for two seasons, but he did not cost the Fish Eovaldi or another valuable asset.

And do not forget this: Eovaldi has value, contrary to what many Marlins fans and seemingly the Marlins brass thinks. Eovaldi has upside with his fastball, downside with his lack of effective breaking pitches, and 460 reasonably useful innings under his belt. He just went through a season with improved peripherals and has a great upside tool, even though he does have his problems. Similar issues abound with dealing a guy like Cosart who may still have upside as well for a low-upside, short-term rental on a guy like Alvarez or Morneau.

The Marlins avoided trading a player of real value and team control for a short-term rental at first base. They also avoided doing so for a guy who was no better than Morse, who was freely available. The cost for Miami was another $2 million per year. Given that Eovaldi, Cosart, or Koehler would easily be worth more than $2 million in each of the next two seasons in terms of free agent dollars, the Fish avoided overpaying for yet another asset in an offseason in which they overpaid to acquire a second baseman in Dee Gordon.

When available, the Marlins should always look to find a freely available player before paying talent assets for the right to pay another one. The Fish did that this offseason for their first base conundrum, and while Morse was not a huge upgrade, the team could have done a lot worse in its efforts to "fix" first base.