Is it Brent Morel or Brett Morel? I can never keep this straight. Yet I probably should pay a little better attention to the Jays’ nondescript December waiver pickup from the White Sox, because — not to put a damper on the odd excitement I’ve seen around here for the possibility of re-acquiring Emilio Bonifacio, who was D’d FA by the Royals the other day (and might actually work as an extra outfielder, though we’d obviously be leery of it, for reasons awesomely addressed by Jack Moore at Getting Blanked earlier today) — the more I look at what the Jays have here, the more I think it may have been a sneaky-good one.
It’s not an game-changer by any means — it’s more in the Erik Kratz category of potentially sneaky-good winter moves — but there is actually more to like here than I think we’ve given the player and the club credit for during the last month of not-giving-a-shit-that-we-have-Brent-(or is it Brett?)-Morel.
Morel has a good defensive reputation, albeit at third base. I’m not going to try to claim that he’s another Ryan Goins, but when MLBTR passed along word of his addition, they noted that when he was a prospect — 85th in baseball, according to Baseball America, heading into 2011 — he’d been praised as an “intelligent defender with a quick first step.” The Jays, according to a tweet from Bruce Levine of Chicago’s 670theScore.com last week, have asked Morel to move from third to second base for the upcoming season, and that’s where things get even more intriguing…
If he can successfully make the transition to the middle of the infield, the Jays will have themselves a versatile right-handed bat who has been very strong against left-handed pitching in his career. Or, at least during his career in the minor leagues.
Think about that.
In fact, he’s actually been a reasonably prolific minor league hitter. He posted a wRC+ of 118 at 22 in the high-A Carolina League in 2009, following that up with a 123 wRC+ half season in double-A (with a .371 on-base), which got him promoted to triple-A, where in that second half of 2010 he posted a wRC+ of 129.
Of course, three seasons have passed since then, and the fact that he was acquired on a waiver claim tells you much of what you need to know about how those years went. He’s now merely a lottery ticket, about to play his age-27 season, seemingly set to float between the big leagues and triple-A for the third straight year. And it would be his fourth straight, except that he stayed in the Majors for all of 2011 — an impressive feat, considering the wRC+ of 75 that he put up through 126 games and 444 plate appearances.
No, as a rookie he was not good. And since then he’s done little to make anybody’s mind immediately jump to the possibility that he could actually help the 2014 Blue Jays. I certainly wouldn’t pencil him in to provide any sort of help, but I’m not sure the notion is as far fetched as it seems. Partly, that’s because in 2012 he was plagued by back problems. He managed to get himself into 76 games that year, in the Majors, at triple-A, and on rehab assignments, during which he was flatly terrible, admitting the following spring “to picking up a few bad habits with his swing in order to compensate for the back pain,” according to a WhiteSox.com report.
Logical an excuse as that may have been for a second straight poor season, the White Sox decided they weren’t content to entrust him with a regular spot, signing Jeff Keppinger to man third base last off-season, relegating Morel to a battle for a bench spot, and ultimately, to triple-A. And it was the presence of Keppinger, Marcus Semien, Connor Gillaspie, and the addition of Matt Davidson earlier this winter that made Morel expendable for Chicago.
Being farther down the depth chart than that somewhat underwhelming group doesn’t exactly bode well for any sort of coming greatness for Morel, but he actually didn’t have a bad 2013 season in triple-A. Especially when compared to some of his competition for a Jays roster spot this spring.
Morel’s wRC+ was just 112 in the International League, but that looks a whole lot better than the 90 wRC+ put up by Ryan Goins, as does the .349 on-base — compared to .311 by Goins — and also the .878 OPS against left-handers, compared to Goins’ .554 mark. And in that 2010 season, as well, before the two seasons spent in the wilderness, the numbers against left-handers look good, too: a .918 OPS across double-A, triple-A, and the Majors.
He hasn’t been nearly as good against right-handers, and has consistently been a disaster so far when asked to hit big league pitching, so let’s not get ourselves excited or anything, but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility to think that the Jays could see him as a platoon option for Ryan Goins — if they’re actually willing to hold their noses and go that route with their primary second baseman — or maybe even competition to take some at-bats at DH against left-handers.
The last idea is maybe a bit of a stretch, but Morel actually fits quite nicely into the Mark DeRosa role — at least the on-field one. And he has a little bit of upside to boot.
Is it ideal? Obviously not. Obviously the club would be far better with Morel, Goins, Chris Getz, and Munenori Kawasaki fighting for at-bats in Buffalo, with Maicer Izturis on the big league bench behind a proper, full-time second baseman. But if they need a contingency for not signing Stephen Drew or trading for someone like Nick Franklin, the fact that Morel hits from the right side certainly makes him a stronger candidate to be in the team’s plans than at least two of the lefties he’ll be competing with.
And I think I can live with that.
Or… I think I could live with that if Jeff Baker didn’t exist, still out there on the free agent market and, at least according to a Mike Wilner radio hit from last week, not really a target for the Jays mostly because of some sort of reputation as a bad clubhouse guy. Which, in addition to being something I’d never heard before, is, of course, total bullshit.
I mean, if the Jays don’t want to sign him because they need to horde whatever budget availability they have in order to be sure they land a pitcher, I can get that. Maybe even if it was something where they wanted whoever takes the DeRosa role to take the off-field aspects of it too, and don’t think Baker is up to the task, maybe I’d get that too. But… not even, really. I mean, this team brought in Melky Cabrera. Not long ago they dealt for Yunel Escobar. They saw all kinds of things about Jose Bautista this season, and ultimately decided his talent was far more valuable than whatever perceptions there are about his conduct. In other words, they can’t honestly claim to give a shit about any of that, even if they sometimes do posture like it, especially when it comes to the 25th man on their roster.
I even get being wary of a guy on that part of the roster whose attitude is going to become poisonous if he doesn’t get the kind of playing time he feels he deserves, or that the front office wants to avoid gaining in the room the reputation of not being sensitive to the way the players think by completely abandoning the concepts of magical chemistry that they hilariously hold dear. Maybe Baker’s value takes enough of a hit in that regard, and with respect to the cost of signing him, to make it not worth the possibly marginal upgrade on a guy like Morel, who isn’t technically as “versatile,” but probably only because he hasn’t been asked to be, as I suspect he could play a corner outfield spot just as badly as Baker can, if he really needed to. And there’s a solid chance Morel is a better defender in the overall, too.
So maybe it’s alright… I guess. I mean, Baker’s splits aren’t really even quite as impressive as a lot of people have led themselves to believe. They’re certainly very good, but his impressive 2013 split against lefties (186 wRC+) came in only 123 plate appearances, and if you add in the previous year’s numbers he drops to a 126, or only slightly ahead of what Rajai Davis has done over that span — and with a Rasmus-like strikeout rate up over 27%, if that’s the sort of thing that interests you. Increase the sample to his last 600 PA against lefties and the wRC+ moves up, but only to 129.
“Only.” Again, obviously that’s very good. The Jays should totally sign him, silly clubhouse reports be damned. Especially since, when you think of it, it doesn’t at all have to be an either-or proposition between these two. The Jays could carry both — that is, if they weren’t particularly interested in having any speed off the bench.
Last year, when at optimal health, the club had eight full-time regulars, and one of either Izturis or Bonifacio on the bench, along with Josh Thole, Mark DeRosa, and Rajai Davis. Three of those guys are gone, with only Bonifacio essentially having been replaced by Ryan Goins — at least, in the current, rather undesirable scenario. Moises Sierra might take the fourth outfielder and sometimes DH role held by Davis last year, but there isn’t much of an argument that Baker isn’t clearly the better fit, given that Sierra’s platoon splits just aren’t impressive — his OPS against lefties in a 2013 season spent mostly in Buffalo was just .671, thought it was .805 the year before. Morel, then, could take the DeRosa role, with he and Baker — or, for fuck sakes, at least someone like Baker — spelling Goins and Lind against left-handers.
Or maybe Morel is just grist for the triple-A mill, and this kind of stuff rates — as it probably should — more like a plan-D. I don’t fucking know!