If the Houston Astros are serious about competing over the next few years, adding a new left fielder should be near the top of their to-do list. Within a now thin free-agent class, lies one of the potential gems of the offseason: Michael Morse. He isn't an attractive signing, nor will he sell lots of season tickets, but he will do one thing: make the Astros a better team. Potentially, anyway.
Morse is cost effective, powerful and great for the clubhouse. Last season with the San Francisco Giants he proved the critics wrong and did what many didn't think he could: stay healthy for the majority of the season. And, in doing so, Morse posted some pretty nice numbers. In 131 games, Morse had a .279/.336/.475 slashline, with a wRC+ of 133. His defensive inability restricted his WAR to a rather average 1.0, but don't let that put you off.
While playing for the San Francisco Giants, in the National League, his defense was shocking. We all knew that, though. In the National League there is nowhere to hide inefficient defensive players. If you could hide his defensive shortcomings, he could be great. Imagine if there was a to do so. Oh, wait, there is. It's called the DH, and the Astros happen to have one. The Crawford Boxes wouldn't hurt, either.
Of course, making Morse a full time DH doesn't really work. That said, switching him between LF, 1B - where he wasn't actually too bad, collating a DRS of 0 in 336 innings - and the DH spot could limit his counterproductive defense. Himself and Chris Carter could swap about. Jake Marisnick, the defensive wizard, could get his fair share of innings in the outfield, too.
Ignoring his horrible defense, he's a nice addition offensively. With more ABs last season, it wouldn't be too far off base to assume that his numbers may be even nicer. There are two other factors which limited him too, though. Hitting home runs in AT&T Park isn't easy. In fact, it's the hardest ballpark to hit home runs in, and Morse still managed to hit six there - and an additional ten on the road.
As can be seen in the spray chart above, lots of those flyballs may well have been home runs in other ballpark. In fact, home runs in any ballpark except AT&T Park. Thanks to ESPN's hit tracker we can see how his home runs looked in Minute Maid Park. We can also take a decent guess as to how many additional fly balls would've left the ballpark had he been playing in Houston.
It's difficult to be sure exactly how many extra home runs Morse would have hit without the exact distance of his flyballs, but one can assume. My rather uneducated guess would be over twenty. Give or take, a few, at least. Playing in AT&T was oppressive to his home run totals, and several other factors were, too. Factors which may not exist in Houston.
Having watched the vast majority of the Giants' games, it was easy enough to see how tired Morse was down the stretch. Before injuries eventually hindered him, there was a certain fatigue about everything he did. Personally, I'm saying playing a tough left field took its toll on Morse. The aforementioned rotation of defensive positioning may prevent, or at least reduce, that factor.
All potential health issues considered, it's not too far off to assume Morse can stay on the field for at least 140 games next season. All while amassing more ABs than last season. If he can, ballpark factors considered, I'd say he can build upon his 130 OPS+ - which was only second to Buster Posey, on the World Series winning Giants' roster - and most certainly hit well over 20 home runs.
Okay, his defense is still a problem. But with more time at first and at DH, it won't be too counterproductive. On the other hand, his offense could be brilliant. He offers a new dynamic to both the Houston lineup and above all, the clubhouse. Morse's price isn't clear cut. A two-year-deal, in the region of $15-million could maybe get it done. Evidently, I'm not entirely sure, but if there is one thing I'm sure of: Morse can improve the Houston Astros of 2015. Morse can help the Houston Astros to win, once more.