LoMo Returns, Rays Continue Opportunistic Offseason

The Rays are one of the under-the-radar teams that the FanGraphs and PECOTA projection systems forecast to be in the AL Wild Card mix.

As Jeff wrote last month following the Logan Forsythe-for-Jose De Leon deal, the Rays have continued to add years of control and surplus value this offseason. While the Rays do not necessarily need pieces like Mallex Smith and De Leon for 2017, they have moved some of today for more of tomorrow. It’s generally a good practice for a small-market club that must constantly balance the present with the future. I wrote last month that the Rays would be wise to remain opportunistic and fill their second-base void internally and take advantage of the overcorrection against bat-only players that Dave Cameron identified earlier this offseason.

The market has long overpaid one-dimensional power hitters. This, though, feels like more than just a simple market correction. When perfectly useful players on one year deals for $7 million can’t get moved for even a non-prospect, it feels like the pendulum has swung too far the other way. It’s time to jump on this, contenders; these bargains won’t last forever.

And the Rays responded this week by signing one of the remaining such bats in Logan Morrison, who was, of course, with the club last season. There was such a supply of these bat-only, or bat-mostly, players that it caused Eno Sarris to wonder if they would all even find homes this offseason, so we’re happy to report Morrison, Chris Carter and Mike Napoli have all indeed found teams willing to employ them this week.

With their collection of transactions to date this offseason, the Rays have added a quality controllable arm, an interesting outfielder, while losing little, if any, production at second, first and in the rotation. The Rays are quietly one of the offseason’s winners.

It’s expected that Brad Miller will move from first to second base and take on the lion’s share of work there, though there are other internal options like Nick Franklin (against righties), Tim Beckham and perhaps in June, Willy Adames.

FanGraphs projects Forsythe to produce 2 WAR in 574 plate appearances at second base for the Dodgers and Miller to account for 1.8 WAR in in 410 plate appearances at second. So if you believe the forecasts, the Rays might actually have improved at second base because of the trade. I’m not sure I totally buy that — Miller is something of an unknown defensively there and Forsythe is a nice player — but the Rays had depth from which to fill the position.

With Miller expected to move to second, the bigger question then becomes how well Morrison performs at first base. Miller was also projected to produce two wins at first this coming season. Napoli, Carter and Morrison all entered the week as available bats and we can debate whether the Rays selected the best option available. Morrison signed for the fewest guaranteed dollars, a one-year, $2.5 million deal with incentives.

On the surface, Morrison performed in 2016 like Morrison always has, providing “meh”-level production from a corner position. Morris slashed .238/.319/.414 with a 101 wRC+ in 2016 and owns a .245/.325/.416 and 105 wRC+ for his career. He’s shown power, plate discipline and the ability to hit for average, but he has rarely put all his skills together at the same point in time.

He’s also been prone to weak fly-ball contact, producing the 27th-highest infield fly-ball rate since 2014 among qualified hitters. In 2015 and 2016, he recorded a modest 8% barrel percentage.

But the Rays have familiarity with a player who has increased his HR/FB ratio in each of the last three seasons, reaching 15.2% last season, which was the second best mark of his career. After a dreadful April, Morrison produced a 125 wRC+, .821 OPS and 14 homers over his next 86 games until he was shut down in September with a wrist injury. Jason Hanselman dug into what appeared to be an improved process after a poor April.

Morrison has better contact skills than Carter, he’s considerably younger than Napoli (Morrison will turn 30 in May), and he has more defensive versatility, capable of playing a corner-outfield position if necessary. And the Rays have familiarity with the player.

We’ll have to wait and see if the Rays chose the wisest investment option among the remaining bats available, but Morrison does allow for the Rays to complete an opportunistic offseason. Tampa Bay not only added valuable future years of control and surplus value, but if Morrison builds off his 2016 and Miller can handle second base, then the Rays will have made themselves a better team for tomorrow without suffering much, if any, production loss today.





A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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CabreraDeath
5 years ago

Over the last 5 seasons, Logan Morrison has accumulated .5 WAR, w/ only one season totaling more than 1 WAR (which was 1.1). He’s never been rated as anything other than an abysmal defender – not only in the OF, but also at 1B. He’s never slugged over .420 (I promise my weed-stained fingers didn’t pick that out of a hat) since 2011. He’s only ever had a positive BsR value once – which was .4 last year. In other words, he doesn’t play good defense (anywhere), he doesn’t hit for any power, and he’s awful on the bases.

The Rays are a smart team. We should applaud smart teams.

This was a really bad decision, regardless of whether it only cost them $2.5m and regardless of whether they ‘know the player’. We shouldn’t applaud dumb decisions.

This, clearly, was a dumb decision.

Jimmember
5 years ago
Reply to  CabreraDeath

Correct. As a TB fan, I think Morrison is a terrible signing. If the Rays can’t do better, it is a sad commentary on the roster. They must like him in the clubhouse.

CM52
5 years ago
Reply to  Jim

Of course they could have done better. They could have left their roster alone and gone with Brad Miller. Instead, they added value to their team. The only thing Logan Morrison is a commentary on is their budget. If he produces a third of a win, it’s by definition not a terrible signing.

CabreraDeath
5 years ago
Reply to  CM52

Not true, at all. For your last sentence to be correct, the Rays would have to assume – and then prove – that they’re in a position on the win-curve that a 1/3 of a win is of paramount importance and, perhaps, the difference between going to the postseason or staying home. Most would say, as the Rays would if given truth serum, that they’re highly unlikely to be in a position where 1/3 of a win is of any consequence. Plus, as you say, it’s not like they didn’t have other options that would’ve *not* cost them $2.5M – namely, keeping Miller at 1B (who projects to be much better than LoMo) and playing Franklin at 2B.

This isn’t just about *cost*, it’s also about *opportunity cost*. In this case, both cost in a dollars sense and opportunity cost should’ve been prohibitive to signing Morrison.

Travis’s ‘case’ for this signing isn’t persuasive.

CM52
5 years ago
Reply to  CabreraDeath

It is very difficult to argue that Miller/Franklin with Beckham as depth is better than Miller/Morrison with Franklin as depth.

Regardless of their position on the win curve (which isn’t nearly as bad as you imply with the mess of an AL wild card race), exactly what was the opportunity cost here? Signing Scott Feldman for their already fine bullpen? Potentially upgrading their Colby Rasmus signing to Jon Jay? Is that even an upgrade?

That weird 1B/2B situation was their biggest hole, and they got an option to plug it. With what 2.5 mil is worth these days, it would be very hard for this deal to be “terrible.”

Shauntell47member
5 years ago
Reply to  CabreraDeath

First of all, Morrison’s projected for about half a WAR.
Second of all, Travis clearly stated at the beginning of the article that PECOTA has the Rays as being in the Wild Card mix. So yes, they should try to get that extra half a win if they can.
Yes, I know it seems crazy to some, but looking at their BaseRuns record from last year, you understand why. And that’s ignoring the fact that their best player missed a third of the season.
Projections do a far better job than a person just glancing over a roster. The rotation has the potential to be very good and the offense could be average.

HarryLives
5 years ago
Reply to  CabreraDeath

The Rays spending what they did on Morrison wasn’t a bad decision, in and of itself. The Rays spending what they did on Morrison in lieu of spending it on Carter or Napoli was the bad decision.

CM52
5 years ago
Reply to  HarryLives

They should have spent that 2.5 mil on Napoli? That and what else? His contract cost over 3 times as much, and reportedly turned down even more money than that from the Twins to return to Texas. Guess what, they’d probably have a stronger team if they signed Encarnacion as well.

JimmieFoXX
5 years ago
Reply to  CabreraDeath

It’s also worth noting that Logan Morrison was a “Can’t Miss Top 100 Prospect” with so much surplus value that it would have been insane for the team with Morrison under control for almost seven years to consider trading him for an ace starting pitcher or Brian Dozier.

rockbardmember
5 years ago
Reply to  CabreraDeath

Interesting to read the article then this comment. Two very different vantage points over the same transaction, both reasonable with sound logic.