Opening day is less than a week away. As it approaches we are starting to get a clearer idea of what the roster will look like. With Matt Joyce having a strong last few weeks of spring it seems logical that he will make the team as the only left-handed outfield/bench option.
Through this we have noticed on twitter many talking about who will be the right-handed corner infield and outfield option. The battle is between Michael Morse and Jason Rogers. Morse was acquired last July at the trade deadline. He came over from the Dodgers, in a multiplayer deal that saw the Pirates shed Jose Tabata’s contract. With Morse came some cash to help reduce his 8 million dollar salary. Morse put up strong numbers in a limited role for the Pirates last year. Last year Morse hit .275 with an on-base-percentage of .390. Rogers came over in a trade with Milwaukee this past off-season which saw the Pirates deal two lower prospects in outfielder Keon Broxton and right
handed pitching prospect Trey Supak. At the time many thought it would lead to the Pirates dealing Michael Morse. That was not that case as here we are an Morse is still on the team. Rogers in 86 games last year hit a strong .296 with a .367 OBP.
Both have played plenty this spring. We have seen Morse play some first base and outfield, while Rogers has been mainly at first and third. Rogers also has played outfield in his career. Rogers this spring has struggled batting .214 with a .525 OPS. Meanwhile, Morse has put together a nice spring. So far he is batting .375 with an OPS well over .900. His numbers are very impressive. With all this said you cannot take spring training stats as the only determining factor.
Many have argued that Rogers should make the team because he is more versatile. While this is partially true, he only plays one more position than Morse, third base. Morse also has been around longer and has a more proven track record at the plate including 2011 when he hit 31 homers. So far we see that Morse has been more productive this spring training and has more of an MLB track record. However, there is more determining factor than just the numbers.
As I mentioned earlier, Morse was sent here by the Dodgers with cash. Morse is due 8.5 million dollars this year, but the Dodgers are sending around half his owed money to the Pirates for taking him off their hands. The Pirates will pay Morse around 4.5-5 million dollars this year. Rogers is still pre-arbitration so he will be making around league minimum, or around 535 K. The fact is the Pirates are paying Morse about 4 million dollars more than Rogers. The Pirates could DFA Morse, but they run the chance of paying Morse a nice sum of money to play in AAA (Jose Tabata 2.0?). The best case scenario there would be that someone would pluck him off waivers. However, that does nothing for the Pirates, as they are just losing a player at a discounted rate and getting nothing in return. Not to mention that scenario is just not likely, as the Bucs will not send him down. Why is it not likely? Rogers still has one option left. The Pirates can avoid any real roster moves by sending Rogers down to AAA and using that last option to protect him from waivers. Then you have Rogers continuing to player multiple positions and getting at-bats in Indy. This allows more depth to the team at the MLB level, and it will allow them to have a solid player to keep playing. Eventually a player will get hurt, it could be Freese or Morse, and when that happened you still have a cheap, MLB asset waiting in AAA for the call.
With all this said, I believe that Morse is the better option. The guy seemed to mesh with the team last year, can play 1b and help in right-field (especially once Kang comes back and Freese can play some 1b). Morse has done everything possible this spring to make this team, as he just continues to hit. Morse also has the contract details going for him with the higher pay rate and no options. Rogers has not done much with an underwhelming spring by batting .214. The Pirates will take the player with options and use them while they will take the player they are paying more money and utilize him. So on Sunday look for Morse to be on the bench and Rogers at Victory Field.
UPDATE: Depending on injury situation the Bucs could hold onto 13 hitters. If that is the case I could see Rogers opening on the roster. If that is the case his one option will be used when Kang comes off the DL.
All statistics are provided from Baseball-Reference*
All contract details are provided by Spotrac.com