The American League East is the most competitive division in baseball. From this division, the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles made the playoffs last October. The Tampa Bay Rays came up just short in their playoff push, but have competed for the division crown in each of the past five seasons. With the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox improving their rosters dramatically this offseason, there's an argument that any of these five teams can win the division this season.
The Yankees enter the 2013 MLB season with a bunch of question marks. Amazingly, it's not just their pitching that should make them worried. It's the bottom of the lineup. Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson taking up the first five spots in the lineup is still an elite top of the order. After that, it gets ugly rather quickly.
Their biggest offseason acquisition, Kevin Youkilis, is expected to bat sixth. Sure, everyone remembers Youk's abysmal start to last season with the Red Sox that got him traded. However, people don't realize that he wasn't much better with the Chicago White Sox. His batting average improved by three points (.236 from .233 as a member of the Red Sox) during his time in Chicago. His on-base percentage last season was .336 (.346 with the White Sox), which was by far Youk's worst output in his career. Let's also not forget that he hasn't played more than 125 games in a season since 2009.
Infielder Eduardo Nunez, rookie catcher Austin Romine and left fielder Brett Gardner are the final three spots in the lineup. Nunez and Gardner are good for steals, but those three guys will not intimidate pitchers at all. And Nunez is the Yankees designated hitter! I don't think the Yanks will be able to win the AL East this season with a bottom of the lineup as inexperienced and offensively limited as this one.
So what should the Yankees do? The smart and obvious answer is to acquire Michael Morse from the Washington Nationals.
After signing Adam LaRoche to a two-year deal, the Nationals have a logjam of position players. They have LaRoche as their starting first baseman, along with Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jason Werth roaming the outfield. This means that they have no room for Morse in the lineup.
Morse is a great fit for the Yankees for several reasons. One of them is because of his weak glove. Teams love Morse's bat, but they will shy away because of his fielding. Morse is not a strong outfielder, as proven by his advanced defensive stats.
However, he would be a huge improvement over Nunez as the Yankees designated hitter. The past three seasons, Morse has accumulated 1,194 at-bats for the Nationals. His .296 batting average, .516 slugging percentage and .861 on-base plus slugging percentage would give the Yankees a huge boost in their lineup. This guy has a plethora of natural power, and he would give the Yankees another offensive threat that they really could use.
Another reason why Morse makes sense for the Yankees is his contract. As evidenced by their lack of spending this offseason, the Yankees have made it a priority to be under the luxury tax by the start of next season. Morse is a free agent after the 2013 season, so he would actually would not hurt the Yankees' monetary restrictions.
Now, how can the Yankees acquire Morse? The Nationals lineup and starting rotation is loaded, so they won't have any interest there. But, their bullpen is lacking left-handed relievers. The Nationals lost three of them this offseason, including late-inning lefty Sean Burnett and long reliever Tom Gorzelanny. In fact, the only lefty reliever they currently have on their roster is Zach Duke. Not the guy I would want to face left-handed batters in tight situations.
The Yankees have two lefties in their bullpen, Boone Logan and Clay Rapada. Now, I doubt the Nationals would accept either of these guys straight up for Morse in a trade. But, if the Yankees add a middle-tier prospect, I think the Nationals pull the trigger. Washington will not re-sign Morse after this season, so why not get value for him that will help the team in the short-term and long-term?
Trading for Morse is the type of move that could enhance the Yankees' playoff hopes significantly. It helps the bottom of the Yankees order and it gives them a legitimate designated hitter. He can even play first base whenever Mark Teixeira needs a day off. All I know is, Morse is probably the lowest valued impact bat that the Yankees can acquire. But that bat would make the Yankees the favorites in the AL East again.