By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
HOUSTON — On Thursday night, Michael Morse exited the visitor’s clubhouse at Minute Maid Park following the Seattle Mariners’ 3-2 win over the Astros.
“You’re still here,” a media member joked.
Morse smiled widely and replied, “Yep, I’m still here.”
That changed Friday. The Mariners traded the veteran outfielder and designated hitter to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for minor league outfielder Xavier Avery.
The move wasn’t surprising.
On Wednesday, the Orioles made a waiver claim on Morse and Twins outfielder Josh Willingham. Baltimore couldn’t get a deal done with the Twins, who were reportedly asking too much in return for Willingham, who has another year remaining on his contract. The Mariners were not in that position with Morse, who will be a free agent after the season.
With Seattle converting Dustin Ackley to the outfield and the return of Franklin Gutierrez, the team is stocked with outfielders. It became clear that Morse was no longer a part of the Mariners’ future.
“Injuries were the biggest part of it,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “He got off to a good start in the first couple weeks and it was just injury after injury. He struggled to get on track after that. He just wasn’t able contribute the way we hoped he would.”
Acquired in the offseason in a three-way trade that sent catcher John Jaso to the Oakland Athletics, Morse was supposed to be a hitter in the middle of the order that supplied power and production. That happened for about the first 10 games of the season, when he hit six home runs and looked like everything the Mariners had hoped for.
But on April 11, Morse was struck on the hand by a pitch from the Rangers’ Tanner Scheppers. He suffered a broken pinky finger. After missing a few games, he came back to the lineup. It was clear the finger still bothered him as he struggled at the plate.
After the hand healed and Morse started to swing the bat better, he suffered a severe quadriceps strain running the bases on May 28. With other players on the disabled list, Morse tried to play through the strain. It never got better. He was eventually placed on the disabled list on June 22 and missed 31 games.
Morse appeared in 76 games, hitting .226 with 13 doubles, 13 home runs and 27 RBI. Since returning from the disabled list, he hit just .158 in 20 games with two homers and four RBI.
The Orioles had shown interest in Morse at the non-waiver trade deadline, but the Mariners’ asking price was too high. Since then his value only diminished. It was a surprise that Seattle was able to get a player with major league experience in return for Morse.
Avery, 23, has spent most of the year with Class AAA Norfolk, hitting .237 in 81 games with a .312 on-base percentage and .312 slugging percentage. He was taken in the second round of the 2008 draft by the Orioles out of Cedar Grove, Georgia, turning down a football scholarship from Georgia to play baseball.
Avery played a total 31 major league games in 2012 in two separate stints with the Orioles. He hit .223 with a six doubles, a triple, a homer, six RBI and stole six bases. Coming into this season, Avery was rated as the No. 7 prospect in the Orioles organization and considered its best athlete.
Avery will report to Class AAA Tacoma and has been added to the 40-man roster.
M’s promote Walker, Almonte
The Mariners made some additional roster moves on Friday, selecting the contracts of pitcher Taijuan Walker and outfielder Abraham Almonte from Class AAA Tacoma, and optioning Erasmo Ramirez to Tacoma.
The Walker move was expected since he was making his major league debut on Friday night. But Almonte’s move was a surprise. He was going to join the team when the rosters expanded on September 1. However, with Ramirez not scheduled to pitch until Tuesday, the Mariners called up Almonte a few days early. Ramirez will still make his start in Kansas City and hasn’t actually left the team. It’s only a move on paper.
Almonte caught a 6 a.m. flight out of Sea-Tac on Friday to get to Houston. He was removed in the seventh inning of Thursday’s game in Tacoma. After the game, he was told my Tacoma manager John Stearns that he was going to the big leagues. The emotional Stearns was, well, emotional when telling Almonte. He stopped short of tears.
“Almost,” said Almonte, who batted .314 and stole 20 bases in 94 games with the Rainiers. “We’ve got a good relationship and he’s a good guy. He came to me and gave me a hug and said, ‘Congrats, you’re going to the big leagues.’”
When Almonte was traded to Seattle from the Yankees in the offseason in exchange for pitcher Shawn Kelley, he looked at it as an opportunity.
“I feel like I have more chance here to make the big leagues, like right now,” he said. “Here I am.”
So what’s he going to do now that he’s with the Mariners?
“I’m a fast runner, I can play defense and swing the bat once in a while,” he said. “Just do what I do. I’m still the same person. I just need to be the same guy.”
Several of the current Mariners like Nick Franklin, Brad Miller and Taijuan Walker played with Almonte this season.
“He plays very hard,” Miller said. “It’s why you like playing with him because he plays so hard.”