I had no idea that Morse had this kind of season in him--though in my defense, I don't know anyone else who did either. Baseball Reference has Jason Michaels as the most comparable player in league history to Morse through age 28, and PECOTA's 90th percentile projection for Morse this season (i.e. the outcome with a 10% likelihood of occurring) was .312 / .374 / .505--a peg below what he's actually done.
I considered the Morse for Ryan Langerhans deal a junk-for-junk non-move, the kind of deal where two teams trade players they've both gotten tired of, only to later learn why the other organization wasn't interested in holding onto their guy in the first place. If anything I figured Langerhans had a better chance at giving the Nationals at least some value in the future because of his glove.
And then at the start of this season I criticized Rizzo for taking a really good bench player and pressing him into full-time duty where I expected him to get exposed.
Now we know that Rizzo absolutely picked Jack Zduriencik's pocket. (Geez, the Mariners could use Mike Morse's bat right now, eh?) If Mike Morse never gets another hit for the Nationals, this will be one of the most lopsided deals we've seen since 2005.
It's really hard to underestimate how good Morse has been. His .319 / .369 / .557 line puts him just shade below the MVP contenders. His .395 wOBA is third best among all first basemen in the NL, and if you wanted to play some arbitrary end-points games and chop off his slump at the start of the season, you could probably pull some numbers that look positively Pujols-like
Put it this way: if the season ended today he'd have the second highest single-season wOBA of any Nationals player since the team came to Washington (trailing only Nick Johnson's massively under-appreciated 2006). That's right--Morse has been a more valuable all-around hitter for the Nationals than Alfonso Soriano, Adam Dunn, or Ryan Zimmerman ever were. And we're talking about an essentially free talent acquisition, the biggest out-of-nowhere season by any player not named Bautista in years.
(Speaking of Jose Bautista, how come people wanna speculate about him being on the juice but we never ever hear that about Morse? I mean, Joey Bats has never been linked to steroids ever, which is more than we can say about Morse. I don't have any evidence, but since I keep waiting for someone to be irresponsible enough to bring it up, why not me?)
Now it's time for me to do what I do and splash some cold water. First, let's remember that Morse is not young. He's 29 years old, which is usually at or just a bit past most players' peak years.
Second, we need to remember why this guy toiled around mostly in the minor leagues in three organizations for basically a decade having the career of Jason Michaels. He's been injury prone for his entire career. He's not a very good defender, even playing on the extreme end of the defensive spectrum (errorless streak and comps to Adam Dunn notwithstanding).
And most of all, he rarely if ever takes a walk, which until this season has prevented his 5 o'clock power from ever actualizing in game situations. And that's a part of his game hasn't improved at all this season--his unintentional walk rate is a Guzman-esque 4.7%. It's just incredibly rare for any player to be able to be as productive as Morse has been this year while drawing so few walks.
How rare? Well, let's see. Morse is at 23 walks so far this season, about 0.2 per game played, and there are 39 games to play. So that would mean he's in line for about 8 more walks for the year if he plays more or less every game.
Let's be a bit generous and say that Morse will finish the season with 35 walks. Here's the list of every player in the expansion era since 1961 who has had a 153 OPS+ (same as Morse's this year) while drawing 35 or fewer walks: Tony Oliva in 1971 and Andre Dawson, Chet Lemon, and Bill Madlock (oddly) all in 1981.
So you're talking about a player who at age 29 is displaying a skill set that not only has he personally never displayed, very few players in the last 50 years of baseball have ever displayed.
Does that mean the Morse's season is just a giant fluke? Well, to an extent, yes, it probably does. But Morse might continue to be a useful, even quite good player for another year or two (beyond that is probably expecting too much).
He's really cut down on his strikeout rate since coming to Washington, and that should continue to help him. And he can be equally below average defensively at a couple different positions, which gives the team some flexibility in finding places for him to play.
But I don't think the team should stop trying to replace him. I'm interested in seeing Derek Norris at first base, and if they want to make a run at Prince Fielder (or I guess Pujols) this off-season, Morse shouldn't stop them.
One good thing is that Morse is still under team control for another year, so there shouldn't be any risk of giving him some big contract, at least not yet.
Bottom line, Nationals fans should really enjoy this season, take it for what it is, but don't start raising your hopes too much. Things that have virtually never happened before are pretty unlikely to ever happen again.