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Trade for Morse latest move in Orioles' quest to return to postseason

Baltimore is hoping Michael Morse can provide the offensive punch it has often needed this year. (AP)

Michael Morse, Orioles

NEW YORK -- There have been times, some not very long ago, in Adam Jones’ six seasons with Baltimore when the team not only wasn’t adding players late in the summer but also wasn’t exactly selling.

“I’ve been here when we were big-time sellers, but [when we were] not even sellers because nobody wanted nobody from here,” Jones said before Friday’s game, “but now we’ve got the opportunity to acquire.”

Orioles general manager Dan Duquette has made a series of acquisitions all summer long -- trading for pitchers Bud Norris, Scott Feldman and Francisco Rodriguez, as well as catcher Steve Clevenger -- and he made yet another addition on Friday in Mariners outfielder Michael Morse.

“We can win, and we can win this year,” Jones said. “It’s showing us players that our front office is behind us.”

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Baltimore trails in the AL East by 6 1/2 games and in the wild card by only 3 1/2 games. Morse is a power-hitting slugger from the right side of the plate whom the Orioles hope can fill a few obvious needs: the club has a losing record (19-22) against lefthanded starters; their righthanded hitters’ .721 OPS against lefty pitchers ranks just 18th in the majors; and, most glaringly, the O’s have just a .672 OPS from their designated hitters, which is third-worst in the AL.

“He’s a professional hitter with some pedigree of success,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said.

Indeed, the trade is a bet on Morse’s track record more than on his 2013 performance. (Interestingly, Baltimore's press release announcing the trade only noted Morse’s career stats and not his 2013 numbers.) Morse is batting just .226 this season, with a .283 on-base percentage and .410 slugging, with 13 home runs in 76 games. That’s respectable power but sub-par hitting and on-base rates.

As it happens, the O's offense is largely built on the homer. The club leads the majors with 177 longballs but has scored four or fewer runs in seven of its last nine games.

“Runs are at a premium down the stretch, obviously,” first baseman Chris Davis, who leads the majors with 47 home runs, said. “Everyone’s trying to make a playoff push. . . .  We’ve played close games. Close games are going to be well-pitched games. Bullpens are going to be used, maybe from the fifth inning on, so it’s big whenever you can get a bat like that in our lineup. He’s going to fit in great in our lineup and our park. We play in a very hitter-friendly park.”

Morse’s former manager with the Nationals, Davey Johnson, told reporters in Washington about Morse’s great potential across the Beltway, “In Camden Yards? I shudder to think. That ballpark is made for him.”

The move for the free-agent-to-be Morse -- which came at the cost of minor league outfielder Xavier Avery, who projects as a fourth outfielder -- continues an active period of transactions for Baltimore. Last season, when the club snagged a wild-card, it’s sole impact move was the promotion of rookie third baseman Manny Machado. This year, the team has gone outside the organization to take full advantage of what appears to be a more sustainable window of contention.

“I think it’s more realistic,” Davis said. “I think last year in some sense was kind of a wild ride for us. I think we were doing a lot of things that were new, not only for the group of guys that’s here [in the clubhouse] but the management. Dan obviously came over --he had been in Boston with an organization that had won, but he kind of had the same task ahead of him, of rebuilding and putting together a young team.”