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Morse makes for intriguing Nats trade chip

The Nationals signed first baseman Adam LaRoche on Tuesday, which is just fine, except for one thing: They already had a first baseman in Michael Morse.

Morse, primarily an outfielder for Washington in 2012, found himself bumped to first base earlier this winter when the Nats acquired Denard Span. The trade moved Bryce Harper out of center field to a corner spot, and with Jayson Werth already on one corner, Morse became the first baseman.

He's not anymore, not with LaRoche signed for two years and $24 million.

So Washington, potentially, has a very intriguing trade chip. Morse, who will turn 31 in March, is under contract for $6.75 million in 2013 and can become a free agent next winter. With all four starting-corner spots spoken for through at least 2014, there's not an obvious place for him to play, so Morse could find himself on another team by Opening Day.

As's own Bill Ladson notes, it's not necessary for the Nationals to deal Morse now or anytime soon. They could keep him as a utility player, and odds are he'd get plenty of plate appearances.

And if they deal him, they might not look to gain immediate benefits. Morse is probably worth more than a left-handed relief pitcher, which is really the only significant hole on the 2013 Nats. So Washington could simply try to get the best package of prospects when the time comes to move Morse.

Morse hit .291 with a .321 on-base percentage and a .470 slugging percentage in 406 plate appearances in 2012, following a breakout .303/.360/.550 line in '11. He's primarily an outfielder and first baseman, but has also made 50 big league starts at shortstop and nine appearances at third base.

Morse's power and versatility make him an appealing asset to plenty of teams, but here's a look at a few destinations that might make particular sense for Morse.

Baltimore Orioles: It's no secret that the O's need a middle-of-the-order bat, and Morse is that. He'd likely thrive in cozy Camden Yards, to boot.

As far as a trade partner, the Orioles might make a good one for the Nationals. They have left-handed pitching to spare, of a sort that might be appealing. Someone like Brian Matusz might be very intriguing, since he emerged as a shutdown reliever last year but also was a top starting prospect not that long ago. Washington wouldn't be getting just a reliever, but a reliever who might still be a starter down the road.

New York Yankees: The Yankees are in the market for short-term solutions these days, what with their desire to get under the luxury-tax threshold for 2014. They also need a corner outfielder to replace Nick Swisher, who departed for the Indians.

Yankee Stadium tends to favor left-handed power hitters more than righties, but at this point in the winter, New York can't exactly be too picky about whom it adds to the lineup. There's a shortage of difference-makers on the open market.

Morse would make up for some of the power lost due to the departures of Swisher and Russell Martin and the injury to Alex Rodriguez. The Yanks might be better suited to deal a reliever than a prospect to the Nats.

San Francisco Giants: The reigning World Series champs have been pretty quiet this winter. They enter 2013 with Gregor Blanco penciled in as their starting left fielder, and while Blanco is a useful player, he's nobody's idea of a typical corner-outfield masher.

AT&T Park is a tough place to hit, but it's friendlier to right-handed batters than lefties, so it wouldn't necessarily sap all of Morse's pop. It's not entirely clear what the Giants could give up to get Morse, but they could use him. You'll notice, by the way, that there aren't many National League teams on this list. That's not entirely an accident -- most of the best NL fits are in the East, and it's tough to imagine Morse being dealt within the division.

Seattle Mariners: They had him once before. Morse's first 107 big league games came in Seattle before he was dealt to Washington for Ryan Langerhans. He posted a .300/.365/.397 line with the Mariners from 2005-08.

Seattle has already made some moves to bolster its offense this winter, highlighted by the trade for Kendrys Morales, but its lineup needed lots of work. Morse's power would be a boost for a team that needs it. And the Mariners certainly have an impressive array of promising young arms from which they could deal.

Tampa Bay Rays: Like Seattle, it seems Tampa Bay could always use a bat. And like the Mariners, the Rays always seem to have pitching to spare. The Rays have already made their big move for a hitter this year, adding Wil Myers, but they could very much use a slugging first baseman.

As of now, they have James Loney slotted to play first, and Loney is nobody's idea of a power threat. Morse's salary is quite reasonable, making him more affordable to Tampa Bay than many free-agent bats, and his versatility could benefit the Rays as well.

Texas Rangers: The Rangers been rumored all winter to be a player for Justin Upton, but that has yet to materialize. If Texas could pull the trigger on an Upton deal, that would presumably supersede any interest in Morse, but in the absence of such a blockbuster, he'd be pretty interesting to the Rangers.

Texas has tons of young talent in its system and an opening in its outfield with the departure of Josh Hamilton to the Angels. Of course, the Rangers also are trying to fit youngsters Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt into their plans, so there are a lot of moving pieces in Arlington.

Matthew Leach is a writer for Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach.
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