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.
A media member joked, “You’re still here.”
Morse smiled widely and replied, “Yep, I’m still here.”
That had changed by Friday afternoon. The Mariners traded the veteran outfielder/designated hitter to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for minor league outfielder Xavier Avery.
The move wasn’t totally unexpected.
On Wednesday, the Orioles made a waivers claim on Morse and Minnesota 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, there was a logjam of outfielders. It was clear that Morse was no longer part of the Mariners’ future.
Acquired in the offseason in a three-way trade that sent catcher John Jaso to the Oakland Athletics, Morse was supposed to be a middle-of-the-order hitter that supplied power and production. That happened 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 Texas Rangers’ Tanner Scheppers and suffered a broken pinky.finger. After missing a few games, he came back to the lineup and it was clear the finger still bothered him as he struggled at the plate.
After the hand eventually healed and Morse started to swing the bat better, he suffered a severe quad 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 a total of 76 games, hitting .226 with 13 doubles, 13 homers and 27 RBI. Since returning from the disabled list, he hit just .158 in 20 games with two homers and four RBI.
His return to Seattle was, by most measures, a failure.
“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 (to) contribute the way we hoped he would.”
The Orioles had shown interest in Morse at the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, but the Mariners’ asking price was deemed to high. Since then his value has only diminished.
That Seattle was able to get a player with major league experience was a surprise.
Avery, 23, has spent most of the year with Triple-A Norfolk of the International League, hitting .237 in 81 games with a .312 on-base percentage and .312 slugging percentage. Avery was taken in the second round of the 2008 draft by the Orioles out of Cedar Grove High School in Ellenwood, Ga. He turned down a football scholarship to the aUniversity of Georgia to play baseball.
Avery did play in 32 major league games in 2012 in two separate stints with the Orioles. He hit .223 with six doubles, a triple and a homer plus six RBI, while stealing 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 the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers and has been added to the 40-man roster.
WALKER, ALMONTE ADDED
The Mariners made some additional roster moves on Friday, selecting the contracts of pitcher Taijuan Walker and outfielder Abraham Almonte from the Rainiers , and optioning pitcher Erasmo Ramirez to the Triple-A club.
The Walker move was expected since he was making his major league debut on Friday night, but the call-up of Almonte was a minor surprise. Almonte was going to join the team when the rosters expanded on Sept. 1, however, with Ramirez not scheduled to pitch until Tuesday, the Mariners called up him a few days early. Ramirez will still make his start in Kansas City against the Royals and hasn’t actually left the team in what is called a “paper-roster move”
Almonte was removed in the seventh inning of Thursday’s game in Tacoma amd was told by Rainiers manager John Stearns after the game that he was going to the big leagues. Stearns was emotional, but stopped short of tears when he told Almonte.
“We’ve got a good relationship and (Stearn’s) a good guy,” said Almonte. “He came to me and gave me a hug and said, ‘Congrats, you’re going to the big leagues’.”
When the New York Yankees traded Almonte to Seattle 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,” Almonte said. “Here I am.”
So what’s he going to do now that he’s here?
“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 in Tacoma.
“He plays very hard,” Miller said. “It’s why you like playing with him because he plays so hard.”
Left-hander Joe Saunders (10-13, 5.09 ERA) will make the start for Seattle, while Houston sends up left-hander Dallas Keuchel (5-7, 4.82). First pitch is scheduled for 4:10 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Root Sports, 1030-AM and 710-AM.