Michael Morse and the Obsessive World of SF Giants GM Brian Sabean

The San Francisco Giants signing of free agent Michael Morse at the 2013 Winter Meetings this past week is part of a very familar pattern for the team and for General Manager Brian Sabean.

The world of the corporate foil lies between obsequiousness and obsession. And so Brian Sabean has careened between adhering to the Giants ownership’s primary focus on the bottom-line and to his personal obsessions in signing a series of over-the-hill MLB players.

In the early 2000s Sabean’s big obsession was New York Mets third baseman Edgardo Alfonso. The NL’s top third baseman was deep under Sabean’s skin and he wanted Alfonso in orange and black in the worst way.

When Alfonso became a free agent at the end of the the 2002 season, Sabean signed him to a three year $18 million deal to play for the San Francisco Giants. Which was a lot of money at the time.

The trouble was the 29 year old Alfonso’s reign as a top NL run producer was over. His eight year run with the Mets and the .812 OPS he put up in New York abruptly came to an end in the roomy confines of Pacific Bell Park.

After Alfonso’s dismal 2005 season in San Francisco (109 games, .672 OPS) Sabean traded him to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. For yet another player that Sabean had been fixated on for years: Steve Finley.

After a number of attempts Sabean finally got Finley when he was 41 years old and promptly paid him $7 million and put him in center field. During his single year as a Giant Steve Finley batted an anemic .246 and was quickly and quietly cut loose at the end of the season.

This week Brian Sabean signed yet another player he has been strangely obsessed with for the past several years, Michael Morse. Now it’s Morse’s turn to bring the baggage and lowered expectations that Giant fans have come to accept and for some reason get excited about the past ten years.

After the disastrous pairing of Andres Torres and Gregor Blanco in left field in 2013 what the San Francisco Giants desperately needed in left was a run-producing power hitter who was at least an average defender. Even a large number of people in Iceland were aware of that.

In 2013 San Francisco Giant left fielders were 30th out of 30 MLB teams in OPS at .651. Giant left fielders produced the fewest home runs of any MLB team with five. Yes, I said five. Home runs. All year.

SF left fielders were also last in MLB runs scored with 56, and last in extra base hits with 34. I understand they also refused to help older persons cross busy intersections during high traffic periods and rarely bought Girl Scout cookies.

So who is Michael Morse?

Well, in 2014 he will be a thirty-two year old left fielder who had three separate injuries in 2013 and is known as a terrible defensive outfielder. Specifically, Morse does not track balls very well and when he gets to them he has a poor and inaccurate arm.

Wow, that sounds a lot like the guy we had last season, Andres Torres.

Over the next few months you will hear Morse frequently be described in the San Francisco sports media as a “power hitter”. But in his nine year career he has only had one actual “power” year: in 2011 for the Washington Nationals he hit 31 homers, 36 doubles, drove in 95 runs, and put up an excellent .910 OPS.

In his other eight MLB seasons Michael Morse hit fifteen or more home runs only twice (15 in 2010 and 18 in 2012). In 2013 with Seattle and Baltimore Morse played in 88 games with 312 ABs and batted  .215 with a .651 OPS and a startlingly poor .270 on base percentage.

The “power-hitting” Morse’s second biggest career RBI year was in 2012 when he drove in 62.

Defensively, Baseball-Reference.com measures “Rtot”– the number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made. In 2013 Morse was rated -15 runs; in his “power” year of 2011 he was rated -11 runs.

The reality check? The San Francisco Giants raided their petty cash fund and will pay Morse a mere $6 million in 2014. Rather than get the actual run producing power hitter the team so desperately needs, Giants fans can look forward to yet another “cross-your-fingers-and-hope” player signing.

Instead of assessing players in terms of trending and advanced statistical analysis, and building interlocking contributors to a 25-man team, the San Francisco Giants front office is consistently drawn to a series of flawed players who they hope will somehow “get back” to some previous good performance year in their careers.

So let’s take a few steps back and see exactly where we’re at.

If Michael Morse exceeds expectations for the San Francisco Giants in 2014 and drives in, say, 80 runs that will only be 28 more runs than the team’s left fielders drove in last season. And that’s not factoring in Morse’s poor defense and the metrics that measure a player’s actual offensive performance.

At the same time, Giant pitching appears to be on the brink of tanking again in 2014, so those 28 “extra” runs won’t begin to make a difference in last season’s 16 games out of 1st place finish.

And the NL West isn’t just about the Dodgers anymore. Thanks to the Mark Trumbo signing this week the Arizona Diamondbacks are set to mount a big challenge in the West with talented young pitching and actual power bats in their line-up.

So, watch out San Diego Padres because we’re coming after you in 2014. And this time it’s personal.

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