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January 16, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Wednesday, January 16

by Daniel Rathman

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The Nationals were widely expected to make a move around this time, a week after they brought Adam LaRoche back on a two-year deal, but that move was supposed to involve trading Michael Morse for prospects or bullpen help. Instead, Washington got the latter in the form of Rafael Soriano, who inked a two-year, $28 million pact on Tuesday, an addition that may serve to create new trade avenues for general manager Mike Rizzo.

What does the Soriano signing mean for Morse?
According to FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi, the Nationals’ focus in Morse-related negotiations could turn away from relievers and toward other needs in the wake of the Soriano signing. Rizzo was believed to be seeking a replacement for departed lefties Sean Burnett and Tom Gorzelanny in earlier talks, and while Soriano throws right-handed, he has a solid track record against opposite-handed batters. The 33-year-old Soriano held lefties to a .256 TAv in 2012, in line with the .261 mark that they have logged over the course of his career, and Tyler Clippard (.215 TAv in 2012, .217 lifetime) gives manager Davey Johnson another multi-purpose weapon, diminishing the need for a traditional set-up southpaw.

Though Rizzo has previously stated that there is still room for Morse on the 2013 roster, the structure of Soriano’s new contract—which includes $7 million paychecks in 2013 and 2014, and then $14 million in deferred payments beginning in 2018—suggests that the $6.75 million Morse is due for the coming season would stretch owner Ted Lerner’s budget. ESPN’s Jayson Stark pointed out on Tuesday that the Nationals’ payroll has virtually doubled over the past three years, reaching $120 million for 2013 after sitting at $61 million in 2010. Any hint of desperation might impact Rizzo’s leverage in talks, and although nearly a dozen teams have inquired about Morse, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal believes that his unwillingness to serve as a designated hitter could become a hindrance.

The list of active suitors for Morse could plausibly include every American League East team, as well as the Indians, Mariners, Mets, Phillies, Rangers, and others that have not yet been identified. Names like Charlie Furbush, Boone Logan, Brian Matusz, and Jake McGee were bandied about when the Nationals were thought to be seeking a left-handed reliever, but if their preferences have indeed shifted, then teams that can offer high-quality prospects now have the advantage. Rizzo may be especially cognizant of the need to restock his farm system after surrendering the 29th-overall pick in this year’s amateur draft, and with injury concerns clouding two of the team’s top remaining pitching prospects (Matt Purke and 2012 first-rounder Lucas Giolito), adding high-ceiling arms is one possible priority.

Scott Hairston likely to sign before the end of the week
As our editor-in-chief emeritus, Steven Goldman, tweeted yesterday afternoon, “We’ve reached a sad stage of the offseason when Scott Hairston’s destination actually is a topic of interest.” And, to make matters worse, ESPN’s Jim Bowden reported on Tuesday that the former Mets outfielder is expected to make his decision within the next several days.

What’s intriguing about the Hairston situation is that, as recently as a week ago, he was considered a lock to stay in New York, with the bidding for his services coming down to the Mets and Yankees. CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman cast doubt on that line of thinking yesterday, when he noted that Sandy Alderson had “balked at” Hairston’s two-year, $8 million price tag and that Brian Cashman had pulled out of the running entirely. The 32-year-old’s reluctance to settle for a one-year hitch is the main reason that he remains unsigned despite a strong résumé of thumping left-handed pitching, and given the Yankees’ 2014 payroll constraints, it may have cost him an otherwise attractive landing spot.

Fortunately, as Heyman added, “he has non-NY possibilities.” Heyman mentioned the Cubs, who could use Hairston as a platoon partner for the left-handed-hitting Nate Schierholtz in right field and David DeJesus in center, though he lacks the range to play up the middle regularly. The Phillies, who have only two righty outfielders on their 40-man roster (John Mayberry and Darin Ruf), are another logical suitor, and the Braves expressed interest last month.

Dodgers explored adding Scott Rolen for third-base insurance
Rolen is taking his sweet time deciding whether to hang up his cleats or return for one last hurrah, and though manager Dusty Baker cautioned last week that the Reds could move on if he doesn’t make up his mind soon, the 37-year-old might have other choices. ESPN’s Buster Olney heard on Tuesday that the Dodgers have internally discussed Rolen, who appeared in only 92 games last season because of shoulder and lower-back injuries, as a candidate to reinforce what is perceived as a weakness in their otherwise stacked roster.

Don Mattingly’s in-house options at the hot corner are Luis Cruz, Jerry Hairston, and Juan Uribe—with an outside chance that Hanley Ramirez could start there if Dee Gordon takes over the reins at shortstop. In either case, one of the positions on the left side of the infield would be a glaring question mark.

A minor-league veteran with three previous cups of coffee, Cruz was a pleasant surprise last year, when he logged a .272 TAv and provided 1.2 wins. The trouble, though, is that Cruz is allergic to drawing walks: He earned just nine free passes in 296 plate appearances in 2012, and none in his last 32 games (dating back to Aug. 29), despite playing virtually every day. That lack of patience was palatable when combined with a .320 BABIP, but if Cruz’s balls-in-play luck declines, he could become a costly weak link.

Hairston is a useful role player but would be miscast as a corner-position regular, and any contributions from Uribe would be considered gravy, so a reliable depth piece could go a long way. The question is whether Rolen, who was worth just 0.2 WARP last year, fits that bill. If Ned Colletti and company feel that he does, then coming to Los Angeles could be an ideal opportunity for Rolen to take one last crack at earning his second career World Series ring. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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