The Michael Morse Trade and Organization Building
As soon as the Morse trade happened, the debates began. I should know as I was involved in a few of them myself. The main one I got into had to do with the inevitability of injuries. There are going to be players on the 2013 Nats that spend time on the DL, and the hope should be that it is the 15 day version and not the longer 60 day one or that if someone does land on the 60 day DL it isn't a season ending injury. That would be bad and it would be hard for the Nats to recover from it no matter who the injured party is or who they have on the bench.
In the light of the Morse trade though, the argument was that enough players could get injured that the presence of Tyler Moore, Chad Tracy, Matt Skole, Corey Brown, and Anthony Rendon in the organization would be voided. Those five players are the Nats depth at corner positions, and enough injuries were to occur, leading to all five appearing on the MLB roster at the same time, it won't matter that Michael Morse isn't one of them. In order for them all to be on the roster it means something went terribly wrong. That somehow a ball was hit in the perfect location for Zimmerman, Werth, Harper, and LaRoche to all go for it and they all came out of the ensuing collusion with season ending injuries. That isn't likely.
One or two of those players could end up hurt at the same time like one or two of the Nats corner players ended up hurt at the same time in 2012 (one of those being Michael Morse, who has only once played greater than 140 games). With Morse starting the season on the DL and Werth hitting it in May the Nats went with some combination of Lombardozzi, Moore, Bernadina, Harper, and Ankiel in the outfield until Morse returned in early June. Losing two corner position players at the same time to injury wasn't a huge deal in 2012 and it shouldn't be a huge deal in 2013 unless those corner players happen to be Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper. Let's put that one into prospective though. Zimmerman in a down year in 2012 was a 4.5 fWAR player and Harper 4.9. Losing either of them to significant injury would be costly and not something even the career high 3.3 fWAR of Morse could cover.
The other aspect of the Morse trade that was hotly debated was how it didn't make sense in the light of the Soriano deal. Without Morse the Nats bench of Tracy, Moore, Bernadina, Lombardozzi, and Suzuki/Ramos is still one of the better benches in baseball. The Nats bullpen in 2012 with Sean Burnett ranked seventh in ERA but twelfth in FIP. It was a good but not great bullpen that had gotten worse by losing players to free agency. By adding Soriano the Nats took what was the weakest part of the team and brought it closer to on par with the other parts of the team. The addition of Soriano also allows the Nats to use Clippard and Stammen, who have both been well above average at getting lefties out, as match-up guys. If the sixth or seventh inning is full of left handers the Nats may decide to go with Clippard or Stammen to get them out that, of course if it is full of right handers they may go with the same two pitchers. Both of them are good at getting outs with the handedness of the batter not meaning a great deal. Still, having Stammen available for the sixth inning and Clippard the seventh was not a luxury the Nats had before signing Soriano, and now they do.
The Soriano signing made the Nats bullpen significantly stronger whereas the trade of Morse has at most a minor impact on the Nats bench. It isn't 100% telling, but it is still meaningful that in 171 PA Tyler Moore had a 0.6 fWAR and in 430 PA Morse 0.3. Morse's fWAR was brought down by the fact that he played more innings in the field giving his poor defense more time to negatively impact his overall rating. Just going by offensive numbers Moore had a .361 wOBA and Morse .340. Morse also had a down year and Moore is new and the league hasn't had time to adjust to him, but there is enough evidence to suggest than in 350 PA Moore can be just as good as Morse, and to be useful Moore doesn't even need to be that good.
In 2012 the average bench player hit .225/.299/.342 when entering the game as a sub. That includes a lot of defensive replacement types so those numbers can likely be ignored but the average pinch hitter in 2012 hit .225/.304/.344. No one ever claimed pinch hitting was easy and a lot of players struggle with the role of sitting on the bench all game for one meaningful at bat late in the ballgame. It isn't an easy role, but Davey knows how to use his bench and likes having a power threat from the left and right side. Meaning the Moore will primarily pinch hit when he has the platoon advantage, and if Tyler Moore's 2012 numbers and his .268/.321/.491 minor league batting line are any indication he should be better to much better than the average major league bench bat. Considering that Moore was worth 0.6 fWAR in 2012 in 171 PA and that Morse for his career averaged 0.0036 fWAR per plate appearance. Moore only has to be a 1.26 fWAR player in 350 plate appearances to equal the projected production of Morse.
The last part of all this is the return the Nats got. Two class A starters, one of which they already had, and a player to be named which may or may not be another starting pitcher. Many were hoping that the Nats would add a major league piece, namely a lefty for the bullpen, but they didn't. Instead they added minor league pitching. Something the Nats were in desperate need of after trading away Brad Peacock, Tom Milone, and AJ Cole last off-season, losing Daniel Rosenbaum in the rule 5 draft, and trading Alex Meyer for Denard Span. The Nats now have AJ Cole back and he joins a list that includes Nathan Karns, Robbie Ray, Sammy Solis, Lucas Giolito, and Matt Purke as the pitchers from which a solid major league starting pitcher can blossom in case Jordan Zimmermann bolts for free agency after the 2015 season.
Mike Rizzo's job is only partly to build the 2013 Nats. It is also to build an organization that can sustain and win over a period of time. If the goal was to be as good as possible for one year, win the World Series, and not care about anything else then the Strasburg shutdown no longer makes sense. The trade of Michael Morse gave the Nats one or two or maybe even three more minor league starting pitchers that from which they hope one can emerge and be a decent major league starter to take the place of Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Haren, or Ross Detwiler when that time comes. Trading Michael Morse has an almost zero net effect on the 2013 season, but the pitchers the Nats got could have a big impact on the future of the organization and help to sustain the winning stretch the Nats have just begun.