BOSTON (AP) _ J. Baker Inc., which runs shoe departments in more than 1,000 discount stores, said Monday it is discussing a possible merger with fellow retailer Morse Shoe Inc.

Morse Shoe, based in Canton, emerged from bankruptcy court earlier this year and underwent a management shakeup.

In a joint statement, the companies said they were holding preliminary discussions and there was no assurance that any agreement could be reached.

''We felt a need to go public,'' said Jerry Socol, chief executive officer of J. Baker, based in Readville. ''It seemed like rumors starting to float around.''

While the companies said they were discussing a merger, analysts said J. Baker was the stronger of the two and apparently would like to acquire Morse at a bargain.

Morse, which had $528 million in revenues in 1991, operates 450 Fayva shoe stores and also sells shoes through 500 footwear departments in stores such as Bradlees and Hills Department Stores.

Morse Shoe's department store business ''would dovetail nicely'' into J. Baker's operations, said Lee Backus, an analyst with Buckingham Research in New York.

J. Baker, which also operates specialty shoe stores, had sales of $493.5 million in its last fiscal year.