Heading into the offseason, the Marlins' primary goal was to extend Giancarlo Stanton. And after doing so in early November, the club was able to add speed in Dee Gordon and a front of the rotation arm in Mat Latos. Leaving the Winter Meetings with an upgraded roster but without a desired first baseman, the Marlins made it clear they planned to be aggressive. The club signed Michael Morse on Tuesday, and as a result significantly upgraded its starting lineup.
Miami was specific in its approach, seeking not just a bat, but one that would protect Stanton in the lineup. The Marlins' two-year, $20 million offer to Adam LaRoche was ultimately turned down, and Morse was the next best thing. After posting a .279/.336/.475 batting line with the Giants last season, Morse brings postseason experience, which the Marlins over the last few seasons have lacked.
The Marlins were seeking balance in their starting lineup, which explains why they agressively pursued LaRoche before considering Morse. The organization was right to use his South Florida (Nova High School) ties to its advantage, and Miami was not looking to sign him long term. The two-year, $16 million contract is respectable, and considering he is 32 and likely in his prime, Morse might not have wanted an extensive deal at this point in his career anyway. Morse gives the Marlins another power bat, adding to the middle of the order that at times had difficulty producing late in games last season.
While his bat is a clear upgrade, Morse should prove to be solid defensively at first base. At times with the Giants, specifically when he played one of the three outfield spots, Morse was challenged with regard to making consistent defensive plays. He should be an upgrade over Garrett Jones, who was also familiar with the outfield from his time with Pittsburgh.
Ultimately, this deal reflects the Marlins' determination to keep starting pitching within their system. They lost Anthony DeSclafani, Andrew Heaney, and Brian Flynn in trades this offseason, and aren't looking to move Henderson Alvarez or Jarred Cosart. The Rockies reportedly wanted Alvarez or Cosart in a deal for Justin Morneau, and the Red Sox might have had a similar request in a deal for Allen Craig. A deal that involved Nathan Eovaldi in exchange for Pedro Alvarez was discussed, but never appeared to be serious. Signing Morse proves the Marlins understand the value of their young arms, and rightfully didn't want to lose any more of them.
Although the deal will be evaluated over time, the Marlins' decision to add Morse should reflect some form of an improvement over Garrett Jones. The Marlins are looking to trade Jones and his $5 milllion 2015 salary, though a platoon situation may remain possible. Jones batted .246 and drove in 53 runs in 2014, but adds a left-handed bat that should be able to produce consistently. He was unable to do so last season, and if Morse has a better overall season in 2015 than Jones would have (if he is traded), the deal should make sense.
Since the Marlins did not want to part with more pitching, signing Morse was the next best thing to do. He brings power and experience, which should be valuable for Miami in 2015.