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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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March 21, 2008 9:00 AM

Morse not on team yet

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Just got out of manager John McLaren's office and he's as ticked off as I've seen him all spring. Not with the media, more like his team. He's trying to stay positive but is still very frustrated by what he saw last night when his team left the bases loaded with none out in the 10th inning of a 6-6 tie with the San Diego Padres. Getting runners home in key situations is something the Mariners have preached since the start of camp. With the team set to finalize its roster in less than a week, the same mistakes are being made. The same job isn't getting done. It's gotten so bad that McLaren (pictured above) is apparently ready to step in and do the hitting himself. OK, maybe not.

"It was our Achilles heel last year and we still see signs of it,'' he said. "If we're going to be a good ball club, we can't leave runners stranded at third base with less than two out.''

Mike Morse didn't do himself any favors by hitting into the 10th-inning double-play and botching a pair of late fly balls. McLaren insists he isn't going to use one game as a determining factor, but admits he still has uncertainty about who he's going to go with as his extra outfielder.

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That doesn't mean Morse (shown above during this morning's batting practice) is done. But he was a part of that doomed offensive rally in the 10th inning, grounding into the double-play that thwarted it. Despite his .525 batting average this spring, it's the more pressure-packed situations like those that could swing votes either for or against a player. The team knows Morse won't hit .500 (or .400 for that matter) once he gets to Seattle. But once his numbers come back down to the level expected from him, or any backup, they want to see what he brings to the table that might distinguish him from any other secondary player.

The poor form Morse displayed a couple of times in right field against San Diego has to be giving the manager reason for pause. After all, it's a backup outfield job he's vying for and defense will play a role in who gets the spot.

"I'm concerned,'' McLaren said. "We're no closer to finding that extra bench or two position than we were two weeks ago. Everyone brings something different to the table. We're going to debate it here. We debated for an hour last night. We just want to see where we want to go with this and what options we have and (if) we're going to try some things different.''

McLaren mentioned Greg Norton towards the end of today's discussion. Norton got the 10th inning rally going with a single and has been able to come up with some big hits in the limited number of chances he's had thus far.

"That's one of the reasons Norton's in the equation, because he can pinch-hit,'' McLaren said. "We will pinch-hit for guys if we're not getting it done. We'll serve notice. We've got to get these runs in. We've got confidence that these guys can drive these runs in. But if they keep them left out there, we're going to have to consider other options.''

McLaren was also asked about the speed shown by Charlton Jimerson in advancing bases on bunts, helping to set up the 10th inning rally after pinch-running for Norton.

"As far as speed off the bench, he's way in front of everybody,'' McLaren said. "He's fearless, he's got the great speed. And you know, that's a good combination. If you're fearless and you've got great speed.''

Listen to this clip from McLaren, which begins with me asking him if there's a common theme to some of these botched rallies. It's a good clip in getting the sense of his mood and the seriousness with which he's treating last night's developments.

And so, a job Morse appeared to have locked up a few days ago now may not be his. Or, it still could be. This could be McLaren's way of lighting a fire under Morse, making sure he stays on his toes after a great start at the plate. But given the mood McLaren was in this morning, I believe him when he says he's legitimately concerned and is still making up his mind.

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Posted by MissoulaMarinerFan

9:46 AM, Mar 21, 2008

Morse did ground into the DP, but why in the world would MacClaren leave one of his slowest runners on first base in that situation instead having a pinch runner? Maybe a pinch runner would have ran by the fielder before he got the ball. It appeared to me that Burke was running toward the fielder, then stopped and watched him field the ball istead of continuing to run by him, thus making the fielder run after him instead of running toward him. (I retract the proceeding statement if we didn't have any other catchers on the bench at the time...) . Again, poor baserunning is just as much at fault here as Morse not making solid contact IMO. Also, what about Yuni having a shallow outfield pop-up? If anything, he is as much at fault for not driving in the run as Morse. I'm not saying anybody is just blaming Morse, I'm merely pointing out that there were numerous factors that contributed to this bases loaded, no one out, failure.

Posted by jujay

9:47 AM, Mar 21, 2008

really all this could be fixed if we got rid of cairo and kept jimerson and morese, and norton if we go with a small bullpen

Posted by Bdrum

9:49 AM, Mar 21, 2008

Good! Hitting with RISP has been a problem for the last 5 years. Maybe Mac can get fired up and start motivating this team which has always been considrered under-achievers with relation to talent. Also, I think Morse still is our best option for the bench. Regardless of last night he's still a better fielder than Ibanez, plus he can play in the infield

Posted by NB

10:12 AM, Mar 21, 2008

It's crazy how when you don't value outfield defense in your roster construction you end up with no outfield defense.

I smoke three packs a day what do you mean I have lung cancer?

Posted by scrapiron

10:24 AM, Mar 21, 2008

jujay - spot on. It's very simple, really. The only reason they won't do that is because they've committed too much salary to Cairo. Talent-wise, you've got the solution. Morse shouldn't be the first substitute to be used in the outfield, Jimerson should be.

Posted by AKMarinersFan

10:26 AM, Mar 21, 2008

McLaren created Morse's mistakes by rarely playing Morse over the last week and putting him at his weakest postion. McLaren should put Vidro, Cairo, or Sexson in RF and see how that works out.

As far as him hitting into the double play...you have to be kidding.

What a frickin joke. No other team in the league would let McLaren. He is sabotaging the team to protect his "been through the wars veterans"

Geoff - Again when he spews these moronic statements do any of the reporters challenge him...ever?

Posted by markus

10:35 AM, Mar 21, 2008

Morse's job isn't secure but Cairo's is? WHAT THE CRAP? Morse's one inning lapse aside, Cairo hasn't shown to be the defensive stalwort that they are making him out to be, and HE STILL CAN'T HIT! Come on, I know Morse isn't Buhner in RF, but he's still far and above the other bench options, Cairo included. Frickin' ridiculous. Just because a veteran has been through the wars doesn't mean that he is any good! that used to be a requirement to play in the majors, but I guess for Mac it's just having an AARP card. Morse won't hit .500 in the bigs, but he's hit around .300 everytime he's up. Cairo hasn't even sniffed .300 in years, and is now a shell of the once sucky player he was. This team is in a bad place right now. I was so optimistic a few days ago, but after reading Mac's statements lately I'm worried that this year could get ugly fast.

Stop the veteran entitlement! free the Kids! Won't somebody think of the kids?

Posted by Tacoma Rain

10:37 AM, Mar 21, 2008

Morse will look great in green and yellow.
I wonder who Bavasi will trade for in June to get a right-handed bat for the bench....Wlad???

Posted by Mike

10:49 AM, Mar 21, 2008

Geoff-
I guess I am completely dumbfounded with McLaren and his position on Morse. I don’t understand what Norton adds that Morse does not. Morse has shown you in the past that he can be an effective as a pinch hitter, batting .372 in 42 AB's in 2006, and in 2005 hitting .278 in 230 AB's. Norton will simply not perform that well, has shown by his past performances, with his highest average in his entire career being .296 in 2006 and with 294 AB's and closest after that was .267 in 2001 in 225AB's. Moreover, Morse has no more options, so he will be RELEASED and is younger than Norton with much more upside (remember Ibanez?). Also, Morse has a lot more versatility, he can play all infield positions and two in the outfield, Norton is only a PH and first baseman. This equation seems to add up only to one conclusion, Morse is on the team. OK, maybe he misplayed a few fly balls, so did Jose Guillen, and Ibanez is no gold glover. So why would you ever cut a player who is proven at the least that he is a viable PH and a potential every day player with more versatility to keep an older player who could never make it and hit above .267 only once and is glued at one position? This makes zero sense, please explain it for Seattle fans who do not want to see a potential solid player cut for an older hack, something we have done way too much of in the past…

Posted by AKMarinersFan

10:52 AM, Mar 21, 2008

scrapiron - They can justify a huge drop in talent for a $800,000 contract. I can guarentee that makes no financial sense. Saving face for signing a no talent has been for a $800,000 contract...well that's a different story.

Gillick is probably on the phone with Bavasi now. "Say Bill we can help you get rid of those troublesome young guys Morse and Reed, heck we could proably even help you with Wlad".

Posted by Chris from Bothell

11:00 AM, Mar 21, 2008

Y'know, Lou had the street cred as a former player, to have impatience with kids and not be big on teaching in general (with the exception of some occasional hitting instruction). I know Mac looked up to and learned from and worked for Lou, but... he ain't Lou.

They're doing much better at setting that winning mentality. Now they need to be much better at bringing in people who can teach, and be patient.

I gotta wonder if the reason they keep bringing in veterans is because they have dont' have the patience or skills to develop people. I'd like to think bringing in Mel and Norm addresses that for pitching, but if Mac's mood the last couple days is any indication, they need to bring more "veterans who've been through the wars", but into the coaching staff rather than the lineup.

Posted by Mariner's Fan in Hawaii

11:12 AM, Mar 21, 2008

A short comment on the DP...I actually got to watch some of the game (it wasnt blacked out in Hawaii) last night. If you watcht he DP closely, the second baseman pulls the old ball and glove trick. Any good second baseman knows during a bases loaded or man on first situation the first base ump is back and right of the first baseman. He didnt have a good view of the play. The second baseman goes to tag Burke but pulls the ball out of his glove befoe he touches Burke. This way he gets the throw off in time to nail Morse at first.

Is this similar to the skipping of the bag by the short stop during a DP? I am sure it is but the rule is the ball has to be in the glove during the tag.

Posted by Nat

11:18 AM, Mar 21, 2008

NB, agree with you completely. Is Mac suddenly realizing that his game plan may be flawed? "Oops, less than two weeks til the start of the season! Jeez, maybe this idea of strong defense has more merit than we thought!"

Posted by

11:20 AM, Mar 21, 2008

Relax everyone! Wasn't Lou animated like this. Everyone is acting as if the sky is falling.

MacLaren is trying different things now before the real games start. This is the time to try different things to see what you have before the season starts. If you think you can do a good job, then apply for the coaching position when becomes open.

How are you stocks doing? Probably a lot worst than the one lost, right?

Posted by scottM

11:31 AM, Mar 21, 2008

McLaren's concern about Morse is more related to his fielding than that one weak at bat. The poor fundamentals in catching that fly ball IS just cause for concern, and I'm glad to hear that Mac is concerned. Morse looked worse than Broussard last year in Left and, yes, this is FAR worse than Ibanez ever looked in the field.

This said, Morse seems to be the best Pinch Hitting prospect on the team.

I can understand the M's feeling obligated to play Sexson, Vidro and Ibanez with their respective $15, $8 and $6 million salaries. I don't think, however, the team should let the salary level of Cairo and Norton sway their thinking in upcoming roster decisions. Namely, the cost to replace Morse's potential bat, or Baek's potential arm will be FAR higher than what they will pay Cairo and Norton as journeymen fill-in players.

The formula should be simple:
Looking at ST, who is the best pinch hitting prospect?
The answer, hands down, is Mike Morse.

Who is your best pinch runner?
Bloomquist or Jimerson

Who is your best utility fielder?
Bloomquist

Who is your best fourth outfielder defensively?
Reed (with Jimerson and Bloomquist, next)

Who is your back-up catcher?
Burke

So who do you keep?
Burke, catcher
Bloomquist, utility fielder/ pinch runner
Reed, fourth outfielder
Morse, pinch hitter

If you go with a six man bullpen, then Jimerson, Norton, or Cairo can be the fifth bench player.

I say that you keep Baek over any of those three. He can serve as long relief AND, most importantly, as the best insurance we have if any of the starting pitchers get hurt. Replacing Baek's potential would be much more costly than replacing a Norton, Jimerson or Cairo.

Posted by Section 329

11:43 AM, Mar 21, 2008

So... Among players with at least 10 plate appearances, Mike Morse leads the team in hits, walks, runs scored, total bases, AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS (currently 1.121!), yet he might not make the team. I guess he doesn't perform well enough in pressure situations: well, aside from him being second on the team in RBI's – just one behind Raul. Yeah, let him go, since he’s out of options. Brilliant.

Posted by AKMarinersFan

11:43 AM, Mar 21, 2008

Jimerson sure look good last night on those bunts. No one else on this team (including Willie would be safe).

Posted by scrapiron

12:00 PM, Mar 21, 2008

Excellent analysis, scottm, and I don't disagree, but when analyzing pinch hitters, you also need to determine from which side of the plate.

Best pinch hitter
Right-handed: Mike Morse
Left-handed: Greg Norton

So if you're looking at Morse making the team just as a pinch hitter, he may or may not depending on if Mac values a left-handed bat off the bench or a right-handed bat off the bench.

Posted by Caldawg

12:00 PM, Mar 21, 2008

SF is looking for a 1st baseman. This is a chance for Ms to right two wrongs. Trade Sexson for Tim the pitcher from UW.

Posted by jujay

12:05 PM, Mar 21, 2008

Yeah in a dream world...no one will take sexson even if we pay most of his salary

Posted by scottM

12:17 PM, Mar 21, 2008

Good point, Scrapiron, but if we keep Morse and Reed, then Reed becomes your situational left handed pinch hitter, while Morse is your pinch hitter of choice. Also, while Morse's play in right field was appalling last night, he can play a number of infield positions. Bottom line, in ST and when he's come up to the big team, Mike Morse has batted like he belongs here. I would definitely go with him and Reed over Norton at this point.

Posted by Snowbound

12:18 PM, Mar 21, 2008

Posted by scrapiron

12:22 PM, Mar 21, 2008

It's interesting that we're talking about Cairo making the team based on salary possibly over Morse with more talent.

In Chicago, the White Sox are finding no market for Joe Crede. Here is what Ozzie Guillen had to say for the lack of Crede interest:

"This game has gotten to be a bunch of political, a bunch of [expletive] budget, a bunch of [expletive]. They forgot about the talent."
-Ozzie Guillen

Posted by scrapiron

12:27 PM, Mar 21, 2008

Snowbound - Yeah, I saw that too. Really dumb for Lincoln to burn his bridges if Vidro flames out. Also, they're right in the middle of a collusion investigation on the owners regarding Bonds. You don't think those comments will be brought up?

Posted by Snowbound

12:30 PM, Mar 21, 2008

The one thing to keep in mind when talking about your bench bats.... this is the American League where pinch hitting is not nearly the issue it is in the National League.

Last year (all of last year including Sept where they threw alot of the young guys occasional pinch hit at-bats) the Mariners had a grand total of 81 pinch hit at-bats not counting walks (all 5 of them). To quantify that its not just the M's that don't pinch hit alot LAA had 74 at-bats with 13 walks, Oak 53 at-bats 6 walks, Texas 73 at-bats 7 walks.

So primarily your bench is going to be used for running and defense and the occasional day off to rest someone.

Posted by AKMarinersFan

12:33 PM, Mar 21, 2008

unless your starters can't hit and you are desperate....now that the Mariners would ever stoop to using a PH for a starter that hasn't performed for 1, 2, 3 years?

Posted by Snowbound

12:33 PM, Mar 21, 2008

scrapiron... I'm sure the comments will be brought up, but they have to find that all the owners are working together on keeping him out of the game. I think his indictment is the big issue with no one taking a chance on him. I can't find fault with teams not risking a gauranteed contract on someone in Bond's legal situation.

Posted by -j.

12:35 PM, Mar 21, 2008

Last night is a perfect example of why Jimerson needs to make this team. Not one other player, besides maybe Ichiro, would have kept that inning alive by beating out those bad sacrifice bunts. That and the fact that he is a legitimate outfield defensive replacement for the later innings. If we keep running Ibanez out in LF, there needs to be a plus outfielder on the bench. Without Jimerson or Reed, there isn't one available. Watching that display last night, I don't think Morse is any better in the OF than Ibanez. He may have more range but his routes and overall ability are definitely below average.

I still think Morse should make the team but not as the 4th outfielder. He needs to take Cairo's spot.

Bloomquist, Burke, Morse, Norton and Jimerson should be the 5 man option. This keeps Bloomquist available for the MI duties since he won't have to pinch run so much with Jimerson around. But since a 4 man bench is more likely, I think they will sacrifice Jimerson and pit Cairo vs. Morse. Where Morse probably loses and we end up with Cairo, Bloomquist, Norton and Burke. Bloomquist would be the only decent OFer and Cairo would be a redundant glove that can't hit.

Posted by Scanman

12:58 PM, Mar 21, 2008

Wouldn't it be great to have a manager like Herb Brooks, someone who knows how to win and dosen't care about stupid salaries and contracts. The only concern should be the best 25, not the contracts. As long as people continue to go to games, nothing will change. As long as the team makes a profit and fools buy into their hype, why should they care about winning. Take up Golf people, at least then You can control the score.

Posted by Mike

1:15 PM, Mar 21, 2008

"SF is looking for a 1st baseman. This is a chance for Ms to right two wrongs. Trade Sexson for Tim the pitcher from UW."

Obviously they'd never do that deal but a smarter person than me suggested trading Sexson for Durham awhile back.

Posted by batura

1:31 PM, Mar 21, 2008

It's Mac's fault for leaving Burke out there in the first place. In late/critical situations, you don't leave your worst runner out on first base in a double play situation. He keeps stressing the importance of having a strong bench, but he never actually uses them efficiently.

Especially when you know the game can only go 10 innings.

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