We all know that the Rays are in the market this offseason to add an impact bat or two, if at all possible. This past season, they had one of the weakest offenses in their club's recent history, and that weakness showed through in the playoffs. But how do you add impact bats when you're working on a budget? Free agency isn't an option, so the Rays are left trying to find hitters on the trade market.
On Sunday, Buster Olney stated in his column that he'd heard the Marlins are considering making a run at James Shields. The Marlins have a weak rotation right now, but they are only a couple good breaks away from having a great rotation. Anibal Sanchez has turned into quite the ace, and Ricky Nolasco has put up great peripherals but a poor ERA for the third-straight season. If he can solve his BABIP issues and Josh Johnson can remain healthy for once, that'd be a top-three that could stack up against almost any other team. Add James Shields to that mix and it could put the Marlins in position to make a run.
In his column, Olney goes on to mention that Logan Morrison would theoretically be the center of a Shields-Marlins trade. Morrison has long been a subject of trade speculation, as the Marlins haven't been happy with his Twitter-happy ways and general weirdness, but how much would it take to get him? Would trading Shields for Morrison be fair, or should the Rays expect to get more in return?
Who is Logan Morrison?
A 22nd round pick in the 2005 draft, Logan Morrison destroyed pitchers every step of the way through the Marlins' farm system. He clubbed 24 homers in 513 at bats in Single-A, and while he didn't put up lofty home run totals at any other level, his Isolated Power never dropped below the .160-.180 range. He reached the majors in 2010 at age 22, and he proceeded to rip the cover off the ball, posting a .369 wOBA over 221 at bats thanks to a .351 BABIP.
In 2011, Morrison played the whole year at the major league level. His BABIP regressed, dropping to .265, but he displayed more power than expected, hitting 23 homers and posting a .221 ISO.
Projections for 2012 aren't out yet, but it's not terribly hard to guess what they'll say about Morrison: better batting average, but less power. Morrison is probably a true-talent .260 hitter, and it seems unlikely that he will replicate his .221 ISO and 18% home run rate from 2011. That said, he'll be entering his age 24 season, so it's entirely possible that he's developing more power as he matures. And even with a slightly decreased power production, he's still a valuable hitter that reaches base at a great clip (10% walk rate).
Also, Morrison seems to be a menace on defense, as all the defensive rating systems have him well below average in the outfield.
Shields vs. Morrison: Trade Values
In Shields, the Rays hold one of the top trade chips in all of baseball. He's coming off a career year (2.82 ERA, 3.42 FIP) and under contract for three more seasons for only $28 million, so the Rays should justifiably expect to get a huge haul in return for him if they trade him.
When I estimated Shields' trade value at the trade deadline, I put his value around the $30 million mark. After updating his numbers, not much has changed: Shields is still worth around $30-40 million depending on how aggressive you are with his projections. Using the same methodology, Garza was only worth around $21 million before the Rays traded him for a massive package last offseason.
Meanwhile, Morrison is undeniably a valuable chip. He has five more seasons of team control left -- two of them cost-controlled, and three of them with salary arbitration. Since he's so young, his trade value is really difficult to predict. How much will he get in salary arbitration? How much will he improve going forward? Even when I tried being conservative with his projections, though, I still calculated his trade value as around $40 million.
The Morrison-Joyce Comparison
Despite what the trade values say, I don't entirely buy that trading Morrison for Shields straight up would be a good deal for the Rays. The reason why? Morrison reminds me another hitter the Rays traded for a few years ago: Matt Joyce.
In his age 23 season, Matt Joyce hit 12 homers in 277 plate appearances (.240 ISO) and posted a .355 wOBA. He had a walk rate similar to Morrison's (around 10-11%), and he struck out just a tad more. The Rays ended up acquiring him for Edwin Jackson, and we all know how Joyce has progressed since then. He's a powerful hitter and one the Rays' best offensive weapons.
Meanwhile, in his age 23 season, Logan Morrison hit 23 home runs in 525 plate appearances (.221 ISO) and posted a .344 wOBA. Even if you don't expect his power to regress going forward, his hitting profile looks very similar to Matt Joyce: above-average power (.200-ish ISO) and plate discipline (10% walk rate) from the left-hand side. Joyce strikes out a tad more often, but he also runs the bases better and plays better defense.
While Morrison doesn't have nearly as large a platoon split as Joyce, he did perform worse against lefties this season than righties: .320 wOBA vs. L; .355 wOBA vs. R. The difference is almost entirely a result of his power production, as his ISO dropped to .158 against lefties. Even if you include his 2010 season as well, this difference holds; his overall line against lefties was buoyed by a high BABIP, but his power production suffered against lefties.
So Morrison looks to me like a similar hitter to Joyce, albeit with a smaller platoon split and slightly less power. Morrison also struggles in the field and would likely be moved to first base for the Rays, and we have no idea how he'd perform at the position (or in the AL East, for that matter). He would certainly make a fine centerpiece to a trade, but if the Rays are going to trade Shields, I'd hope and expect them to get back more in return as well.
The Rays managed to parlay Edwin Jackson into Matt Joyce, so is it too optimistic to think they could possibly turn Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann into Logan Morrison? Probably, yeah. But I wouldn't put it past Andrew Friedman to give it a shot.