San Francisco Giants: is Michael Morse the answer?

When the San Francisco Giants signed Michael Morse to a one-year, $6 million contract in December, they were banking on Morse returning to his 2011 form. In that career year with the Washington Nationals, Morse hit .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs. Morse spent most of his 2013 campaign battling injuries and ended the season batting .215 with 13 homers and 27 RBIs through 88 games. This lackluster performance can be excused, as Morse never seemed to get fully healthy or attain a rhythm as he split time between the Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners.

Manager Bruce Bochy made it clear he was interested in Morse at the beginning of the offseason. “It’s certainly what I wanted,” Bochy told CSN Bay Area reporter Andrew Baggarly. The Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres experiment was somewhat of a blunder, so it makes sense Bochy wanted a more reliable, run-producing punch in left field. Morse enters the Giants rounding out a promising outfield including Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence, who both just received lucrative multi-year deals.

While it will be difficult for Morse to retain those 2011 statistics in the enlarged confines of AT&T Park, if he can generate similar production, it will undoubtedly provide an added element to the Giants unsatisfactory lineup from a year ago. Adding him to the patient Buster Posey and free-swingers Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence creates an intriguing lineup with a good balance of power and batting average. Is Morse really the solution to the Giants’ woes, though?

Morse’s poor fielding continues to be overlooked as a serious issue. According to fangraphs.com, in 2011, his last fully healthy season, Morse had a UZR of -7.2. Although his arm stands at about average or slightly above average, Morse’s range is poor to say the least. Place that poor range in the seemingly endless outfield of AT&T Park and it has the makings of a dangerous liability. Is adding another bat worth giving up runs?

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The Giants have garnered their success in recent history through excellent pitching and defense. Even though they dropped to 21st in runs per game last season, the Giants weren’t run-producing powerhouses in their championship years either. They ranked 17th and 11th in runs per game in 2010 and 2012, respectively. Clearly the Giants needed to upgrade their lineup, but the pitching staff was also to blame for their underachieving 2013 season. Both the starting rotation and bullpen suffered from significant regressions. They ended the season with a 4.00 ERA, ranking 22nd in the league. That is quite uncharacteristic for a team heralded for their pitching prowess.

The near uniform inadequacy from the pitching staff was definitely unexpected. Even if Tim Lincecum continues his stretch of disappointing seasons, one would expect the rest of the rotation will round back into their All-Star forms. The addition of Tim Hudson should also provide a steadying veteran presence both on the hill and in the clubhouse. Considering the likelihood the pitching will improve, it remains unclear whether the necessity to improve the lineup is as extreme. Picturing Morse lumbering into the deep corners in San Francisco is unsettling. Yet if he can surpass the 90 RBI mark, the signing might just be worth it. Let’s just hope Angel Pagan’s hamstrings are loose.

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