The Mariners long seemed destined to bring back Kendrys Morales after the first baseman/designated hitter declined his $14.1MM qualifying offer. With interest already likely limited to American League clubs since he is not generally viewed as a regular first baseman, Morales's market figured to be dragged down further by draft pick compensation. That, in turn, made a return to Seattle an obvious fit.
But now, after adding both Corey Hart and Logan Morrison in quick succession, Seattle may no longer be a real landing spot for Morales. Both of those players seem more likely to see time at first and DH than in the outfield, and the club still has Justin Smoak in the mix as well. (Smoak, of course, just had his best big league season at age 26.)
On the other hand, the M's could elect to deal Smoak and bring back Morales. But if they do not, the remaining market looks to be a tough one for the Cuban national. It may be fair to wonder whether he will be able to better the qualifying offer that he turned down. (It would not be the first time that something like this has happened: Jason Varitek declined arbitration, under the prior Type A/B compensation system, only to re-sign with the Red Sox for far less than he stood to earn via arbitration.) Indeed, one GM even told Peter Gammons that he "just cannot see Kendrys Morales signing until after the draft." (Twitter link.)
There are, of course, some other American League clubs that would seem to make sense as a landing spot for Morales. (Presumably, NL teams will remain disinterested given his defensive limitations, even if agent Scott Boras is pitching him as a regular in the field.) After all, the switch-hitter is capable from both sides of the plate and mashes righties in particular. He has hit thirty home runs and seems a good bet to knock over twenty on a regular basis. Since his first season as a regular in 2009, he has a 128 OPS+. There is a reason he received, and declined, a qualifying offer, and he begins to look more and more appealing the more top players depart the open market.
There is one team that, like the Mariners, could make a great deal of sense if they make a trade. The Yankees currently stand to give a lot of DH at-bats to Alfonso Soriano. If the club deals Brett Gardner — however unlikely that may be — Soriano would move back to the oufield and potentially open the door for Morales, who could also spell a recovering Mark Teixeira at first. Bear in mind, New York would have relatively little to lose in terms of sacrificing draft picks, having already given up its first rounder. And Yankee Stadium would make quite an appealing spot for Morales to up his power numbers.
Then, there are the Orioles and Angels, both of which could definitely use Morales' bat. Unfortunately, each of those teams would also be required to give up a first-round draft selection (the 15th and 17th overall, respectively) to bring him in. And that is before considering payroll limitations. Nevertheless, the Brewers ultimately proved willing last year to give up a top choice to bring in Kyle Lohse on a seemingly reasonable deal last year, so it would be unwise to count the Halos and O's out completely.
The most interesting alternative possibility, however, could be the Astros. Houston has begun spending after trimming payroll to minimal levels in years past, and an interesting bat would elevate interest and expectations. And the team would only lose a second round choice if they inked Morales. GM Jeff Luhnow said just yesterday that the first base/DH slot was an area that the club might consider upgrading. Brett Wallace and Chris Carter are both limited players, while top prospect Jonathan Singleton might still need time to develop. If Morales could be had at a low enough cost, Houston could slot his bat in the middle of the lineup and use Wallace and Carter in some manner of platoon (or shed one of them).
While a return to Seattle may not be in the cards, there's still a market out there for Morales, even if there isn't a clear odds-on favorite for his services.