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Michael Morse was rewarded for his breakthrough season.
The Nationals have agreed to a two-year, $10.5 million extension with outfielder/first baseman Michael Morse, the club announced this afternoon.
The two sides actually reached the agreement prior to Tuesday's arbitration filing deadline. The contract, however, was contingent upon Morse passing a physical, so he and the club still needed to submit their competing arbitration offers ($5 million for Morse, $3.5 million for the Nationals).
Morse passed the physical today, making the deal complete and negating the need for the arbitration hearing.
The two-year contract doesn't prevent Morse from becoming a free agent following the 2013 season, but it does buy out his two remaining arbitration years at an affordable rate.
This extension, though, could factor into the Nationals' potential pursuit of first baseman Prince Fielder. Though Morse is slated to open this season in left field, he's a logical candidate to shift to first base in 2013 if the club doesn't pick up a $10 million option on Adam LaRoche.
Thus, signing Fielder to a long-term deal now would require Morse to remain in left field for at least the next two seasons, leaving either Jayson Werth or Bryce Harper to play center field through at least 2013. Team officials are willing to try Werth in center this season, but they don't believe the veteran is a long-term solution there. Harper has seen minimal time in center field in the minors and is viewed within the organization as only a corner outfielder once he reaches the big leagues.
Regardless of the domino effect, the Morse extension is a nice reward for a player who enjoyed a breakthrough season after finally getting a chance to play on an everyday basis. Though Morse had always produced off the bench or while platooning, he took off as a lineup regular in 2011, leading the Nationals with a .303 average, 31 homers and 95 RBI while also ranking fourth in the NL with a .550 slugging percentage.