San Francisco Giants Riding the Pine: Michael Morse

Michael Morse forever etched his name into San Francisco Giants lore with his heroics during the 2014 postseason, and as the fan favorite returns to the City by the Bay, he’ll have an opportunity to help the three-time champions make a run at a fourth World Series title.

On the final day of the 2013 Baseball Winter Meetings, the San Francisco Giants signed Michael Morse to a one-year deal worth $5 million, plus incentives. Standing at 6’5” and weighing in at 245 pounds, Morse was the physical embodiment of the team’s name with the ideal frame for clearing the fences even at AT&T Park.

Brian Sabean’s decision to sign Morse was in response to the team’s lack of offensive production in the prior season. San Francisco’s lineup badly needed a spark plug, finishing 2013 ranked 21st in run differential, outscored by a margin of 691 to 629, and 29th in home runs with 107, far off the league’s average of 155 long balls for that season. Bruce Bochy selected Morse as the team’s Opening Day left fielder, willing to gamble with a shaky glove to ensure he was in the lineup.

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Signing the former third-round pick quickly paid dividends for the San Francisco Giants. Morse didn’t waste too much time establishing his presence, launching a no-doubt mammoth of a home run ten rows into the left-center field bleachers in Dodger Stadium six games into the season. His no-doubt shot kicked off the start of a stellar season filled with offensive production, namely home runs which showed off his incredible strength such as his moonshot off Bronson Arroyo which almost cleared the bleachers.

Morse suffered a strained oblique on September 2nd, sidelining him for the remainder of the regular season, the Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Pirates and the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals. The slugger ended his one and only season with the San Francisco Giants with 16 home runs, a batting average of .279, a .355 weighted on-base average, and a wRC+ of 132.

For all his impressive feats in the regular season which helped the San Francisco Giants reach the postseason, Morse saved his best performance for the grand stage. With his team trailing 1-0 to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, Morse delivered a game-tying solo shot off the bench against Pat Neshek in the bottom of the eighth, setting up the eventual game-winning home run by Travis Ishikawa in the following inning. As Morse rounded the bases, he couldn’t help but show his excitement. Before Gregor Blanco, the next batter, stepped into the batter’s box, he awaited Morse, who would deliver a curtain call to the 43, 217 in attendance.

San Francisco’s biggest Giant did not stop his clutch hitting there, delivering the go-ahead RBI with a single in Game 7 of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals. He maintained his composure given it was only the fourth inning, but when Pablo Sandoval caught a pop out in foul territory to clinch the championship, Morse leapt for joy with a smile on his face as he ran to join the mob with his teammates in celebration.

Morse will return for his second stint with the San Francisco Giants as a different ballplayer, one who will turn 35 a week before the start of the regular season rather than one who will turn 32. Inconsistencies with the bat have largely characterized Morse’s previous two seasons. Morse returned to his home state of Florida after winning a ring with the San Francisco Giants, signing a two-year, $16 million deal with the Miami Marlins to take reign as the team’s starting first baseman.

Mike Redmond named Morse Miami’s Opening Day first baseman, but he quickly began to lose playing time in favor of Justin Bohr by the second month of the season. By the end of May, Morse had a slash line of .211/.268/.289 with a mere two home runs. While Morse struggled, Bohr caught fire, finishing May batting .369 with an OPS of 1.060 and five home runs. The Marlins found their first baseman, but it wasn’t the man who signed a shiny new contract that past offseason. Amidst struggles, Morse found a silver lining on May 7th, 2015 when he received his championship ring at AT&T Park. 

A day before baseball’s trade deadline, Miami shipped Morse to the Pittsburgh Pirates as part of a three-team trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves. Morse ended his brief stint with the Marlins batting .213 with a weighted on-base average of .264 and a horrid wRC+ of 64. A change of scenery followed with a bit more success with the bat average-wise, but his once abundance of power began to diminish, hitting only one home run in 82 plate appearances.

Pittsburgh entered 2016 planning to platoon Morse with John Jaso, but after eight plate appearances without reaching base, the Pirates designated Morse for assignment. Morse would not play another game for the rest of the season.

As the San Francisco Giants head into 2017, Morse’s potential role is severely limited. He has never threatened opposing pitchers with blazing speed, swiping only six bases in his career, and his defensive ability ranks far below average, both at first base and in left field. Over his entire career, Morse has a UZR rating of -2.7 at first base and -44.6 in the outfield.

The only realistic role Morse can fulfill at this stage of his career is that of a pinch-hitter, but his ability with the bat after essentially missing all of last season remains a mystery. In 2015, his last somewhat full season, Morse ended the season with a .231 batting average, a weighted on-base average of 291, and a wRC+ of 84 along with five home runs over 256 plate appearances. Morse has never been one to draw walks at a high rate and has a career strikeout percentage of 23.6%, far below-average. 

With the Pirates designating him for assignment so early on in the season, Morse was, in essence, given a full season off. Instead of roughly five months of offseason training, Morse could train for a little less than a full calendar year, enough time to re-discover his bat. With a year to rest and recuperate under his belt, Morse should be fresh and geared up for the grind of the regular season.

The last notable player reunion was when the San Francisco Giants signed Andres Torres to a one-year, $2 million contract for the 2013 season. Torres’s production was nowhere near that of his 2010 season when he burst onto the scene, batting .250 with a .285 weighted on-base average over 103 games.

Coincidentally, Torres’s breakout season and reunion season came when he was 32 and 35, respectively, the same age as Morse’s first season with the Giants and his impending homecoming. With Morse preparing to hit the midway point of his 30s, the question of whether Morse can discover the fountain of youth or fall victim to Father Time remains unanswered.

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