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Should the St. Louis Cardinals sign free agent Michael Morse?

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Our survey of the Cardinals' potential Hot Stove targets continues with the former Giants slugger.

Ezra Shaw

The St. Louis Cardinals suffered from a severe power drop-off between their National League pennant-winning run in 2013 and their five-game NLCS loss in 2014:

  • The Cardinals' collective homer total fell from 125 (13th in the NL) to 105 (15th).
  • The team's doubles total dropped from 322 (1st) to 275 (5th).
  • The Cards' slugging percentage (SLG) sagged from .401 (3rd) to .369 (10th).
  • St. Louis saw their team Isolated Power (ISO), a stat that excludes singles and focuses only on extra-base hits, tumbled from .133 (T-9th) to .116 (14th).

Free agent slugger Michael Morse batted .279/.336/.475 (.355 wOBA, 133 wRC+) for the Giants last season. The difference between his SLG and BA works out to a healthy .196 ISO. When Morse played, he displayed power about on par with his career .193 ISO while playing his home games in AT&T Park—primarily while playing left field, though he lodged about one-third of his 2014 fielding innings at first base.

Morse stands 6'5" and is listed as weighing 245 pounds. He's a hulking man with a threatening bat. For a team with lefthanded batsmen at first base, second base, third base, and center field in Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter, and Jon Jay respectively, Morse would add some righthanded power to the St. Louis roster. The following chart compares Morse's ISO to that of MLB non-pitchers, beginning with his breakout 2009 season with the Nationals through last season.

All that power and, unlike Michael Cuddyer, no qualifying offer was issued Morse by his former team before he became a free agent.

So for the power-strapped Cards, Morse offers some intrigue, but there are some problems. The first is Morse's fielding. It's horrid. Morse is an outfielder in the same sense that Adam Dunn was an outfielder: He puts an outfielder's mitt on his hand and trots out to he outfield during his team's fielding half of an inning because his manager is willing to pencil him in as an outfielder on the lineup card. In practice, Morse's outfield play is not of a caliber that can fairly be dubbed outfielding. Total Zone put him at -15 runs below average in just 579 left-field innings last season; Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) valued his left-field defense at -10.8. And, for what it's worth, Morse had a -25.4 UZR/150 for 2014. This is par for Morse's outfield UZR course over the last three seasons. His posted a -10.5 UZR in 2012 and a -11.9 UZR in 2013. Move Morse to primarily right field and there's a good chance that his outfield defense is so bad that he would give away a full win, if not more, over an entire season.

Which leads us to the other concerning issue with Morse: health.

Morse's highest PA total in a season is 575, a mark he reached in 2011. Morse's second-highest single-season PA total is 482, which he tallied with the Giants last year. Morse's career has been plagued by injuries. This season, an oblique benched him toward season's end. In 2013, it was a nagging thigh condition before he wound up having offseason wrist surgery to remove a bone spur. You can view the slugger's injury history on Baseball Prospectus for a full rundown of Morse's various maladies.

Given Morse's fielding shortcomings, he seems destined to wind up on an American League club, where he can step into his natural position, DH/1B. But that seemed Morse's fate last Hot Stove before he signed with San Francisco. Walt Jocketty has placed Morse on the Reds' list, so an NL outfield job might be in his future yet again. It just seems unlikely that he'll be working that job in St. Louis.