Phillies offseason targets: Mike Morse, Corey Hart

Phillies offseason targets: Mike Morse, Corey Hart
November 11, 2013, 1:00 pm
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Corey Hart (right) averaged 29 homers from 2010-12 before missing all of 2013 with surgeries on both knees. (USA Today Images)

Over the next several weeks we’ll unveil a list of potential free agents and trade targets the Phillies could pursue this offseason, one in which they’ll need to plug holes behind the plate, in the corner outfield and, most importantly, on the pitching staff.

Today, we take a look at two power-hitting corner outfielders coming off down years:

Mike Morse

Age: 32 in March

2011-13 stats: .277 BA, .325 OBP, .481 slugging; averaged 21 HR, 61 RBIs

Most recent contract: Two years, $10.5 million

The Phillies have had long-standing interest in Mike Morse, the gargantuan power hitter formerly of the Mariners, Nationals and Orioles. Internally, they've viewed Morse for some time as a potential Jayson Werth-like late bloomer.

Morse came up in Seattle’s system as a shortstop before converting into a corner outfielder/first baseman. He's always had the physical tools –- the prodigious power, the 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame -- but it wasn't until 2010 that he finally emerged. With the Nats from 2010-12 he hit .296/.345/.516 with full-season averages of 30 homers and 93 RBIs.

Morse is older now and spent a mostly unhealthy season with Seattle and Baltimore last season after the Nationals deemed him expendable. At 31, he’s a free agent for the first time, and is flying under the radar because of his poor 2013 season and the plethora of better corner outfield options on the market.

The Phillies need some right-handed power to protect the lefties in the middle of the order, but they may have missed Morse’s best years. Can he again be a .290 hitter who mashes lefties and cranks 25-plus homers? Is he a legitimate upgrade -- offensively and defensively -- over Darin Ruf?

These are the questions Ruben Amaro Jr. and his braintrust must ask themselves before deciding whether to tender an offer to Morse. Morse probably wants at least a two-year deal for some financial security, and he’ll find it so long as his asking price isn’t exorbitant. We’re talking maybe two years, $12 million.

If the Phillies miss out on a handful of their outfield targets and Morse is still around, at that point he’d become a player you could talk yourself into. While he and Ruf are similar players, Morse has much more of a track record and can carry you for a week or two, as he did in Seattle at the very beginning of the 2013 season. In his first nine games last year Morse homered six times.

There are better, less redundant players available to the Phillies. But if Nelson Cruz, Curtis Granderson, Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury sign elsewhere, and some of the perceived trade candidates don’t become available, Morse would be an adequate contingency plan.

Corey Hart

Age: 32 in March

2010-12 stats: .279 BA, .343 OBP, .514 slugging; averaged 29 HR, 83 RBIs

Most recent contract: Three years, $26.5 million

Like Morse, Corey Hart will be 32 in March. Like Morse, he’s a giant, power-hitting corner outfielder/first baseman. Hart’s an inch taller, at 6-6/235.

Like Morse, he was unhealthy in 2013. But unlike Morse, he missed the entire season.

Hart had left knee surgery last January and had right knee surgery in June. The Brewers didn’t extend him a $14.1 million qualifying offer, but it appears he’d still like to stay in Milwaukee.

“I would take a discount to stay [in Milwaukee], because I think I owe it to them to stay here and be a cheaper player, because -- nobody wants to play for free -- but I've basically sat there and watched all season,” Hart told MLB.com in September. “I think I owe it to them and the fans to come back. That's kind of what we're hoping for, but at the same time, you don't know what's going to happen.”

Milwaukee, though, is a team in transition that might not be able to afford Hart. It already has Carlos Gomez in center, Ryan Braun in left and Norichika Aoki in right. If anything, Hart would figure into their first-base plans.

Hart is a potential lottery ticket. He won’t command a big contract because of the two knee surgeries and the fear from teams that he won’t be able to roam the outfield too much longer, if at all. His throwing arm has never been great.

The flipside, though, is that if he does regain strength in his knees, his bat is difference-making. He averaged 31 doubles and 29 homers from 2010-12 -- numbers any team in baseball would take from its five- or six-hole hitter.

Look for Hart to sign a one-year contract with incentives and a second-year option. It would allow him to aim for a healthy season which reestablishes his market value, but also protects him with a multi-year deal in case he and his next team wish to exercise the option. Maybe one-year, $4.5 million with the chance to earn $9-10M.

Again, there are better, safer options available. But Granderson, Choo and Ellsbury all hit left-handed, which pushes Hart a bit ahead based on team context and pricetag.

The Mets, reportedly, have already expressed some interest in Hart. The Phillies, as always, will do their due diligence. If they find out Hart still has the legs for right field, don’t be surprised if they go that route.

Tomorrow: We take a look at free-agent relievers Scott Downs and Javier Lopez

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