MLBTR’s pages are increasingly loaded with draft news, which means that June 5 is fast approaching. Of course, that also means that we are just days away from Kendrys Morales becoming the first ever player to wait out the draft and thereby relieve himself of the compensation that attached upon declining a qualifying offer. (Technically, teams can sign him without sacrificing a pick after the completion of the draft’s first day.)
So, with Morales set to become a true free agent — one who can sign with any team on equal terms, without any strings attached — where is he most likely to go? I’ll list the seven teams that seem, in my view, to be the most compelling possibilities, along with the ever-popular wild card option. (Choiced presented in no particular order; poll choices randomized; feel free to register complaints with my selections in the comments.)
- Yankees — We’ll start with the team most recently linked to Morales. The presence of Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira complicates this match-up, although Teixeira did suffer a potentially troubling set-back today. On the other hand, so did Michael Pineda, which emphasizes further that the rotation is likely a greater need (if not also the infield mix). Owner Hal Steinbrenner has indicated that the club could still unleash its vaunted spending capacity over the summer, but it remains an open question whether the cash would be better spent in other areas.
- Orioles — Baltimore was long viewed as a potential Morales suitor, at least before signing Nelson Cruz. As good as Cruz has been at the plate, he’s been terrible in the field, making it questionable whether the club would be interested in moving him to the outfield on a regular basis (he’s been splitting time about evenly thus far). The elbow questions surrounding catcher Matt Wieters also presents a barrier, as he may need to spend some or all of his time in the DH role. Indeed, executive vice president Dan Duquette has strongly downplayed the likelihood of a Morales signing for those very reasons.
- Rangers — The fit here is obvious: Morales represents a big left-handed bat who could pick up some of the slack for the injured Prince Fielder. But the club, which entered the year with a record $133.5MM payroll, has been treading water for much of the season after being crushed by injuries to Fielder, Jurickson Profar, and seemingly half of the pitching staff. Indeed, much of the latest discussion has centered upon whether, and if so how, Texas might turn into a trade-deadline seller, with GM Jon Daniels saying recently that the organization is not ready to give up but declining to rule out the possibility of making “adjustments” to the organization’s approach if the team falls further back.
- Angels — Could a return to Morales’s original employer be in the offing? The Halos rejected the overtures of agent Scott Boras back in December, with GM Jerry Dipoto noting that the team was uninterested in sacrificing a first-round pick and ultimately signing the grizzled Raul Ibanez. But the draft pick is no longer an issue, Ibanez has been poor, and the Angels are finally in position to make a real run at the post-season. Then again, prospect C.J. Cron has mashed in his first taste of the bigs and the team has something of a glut of talented outfielders in the fold (including the rehabbing Josh Hamilton) who could presumably absorb some plate appearances at DH.
- Athletics – Oakland always feels like a wild card. There may not be a need here, strictly speaking, but the A’s could see a chance to add value by plugging Morales in the DH slot. The hitter-only slot in the lineup has been given most often to Alberto Callaspo, who has been below average with the bat, with players like John Jaso and Yoenis Cespedes also getting significant time away from the field. But will the team have room to add that kind of payroll after entering the season well above its usual spending levels (or, if not, would it be able/inclined to create space via trade)? And would GM Billy Beane want to add a full-time DH to a roster that has thrived on matchups and flexibility?
- Mariners — A return to Seattle seemed the logical choice from the get-go, as the club plainly values Morales. That likelihood dissipated with the acquisitions of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, but injury issues for that pair — along with an underwhelming start for Justin Smoak — has led to renewed suggestions of a reunion. On the other hand, payroll issues could still pose a barrier for a club that is looking up at three AL West competitors in the standings, just as it is in this post. And if this was a fit from the M’s perspective, why did the club seemingly decline to pursue a pre-draft deal (as the Red Sox did with Stephen Drew)?
- Brewers — The only National League club on my list, Milwaukee entered the year with big questions at first base. While Mark Reynolds has been adequate, Lyle Overbay (the left-handed side of that platoon) has struggled. Meanwhile, the front-running Brewers could (and probably should) be looking to upgrade their roster in any way possible to fend off a tough Cardinals squad. This fit would be close to perfect, were it not for the fact that Morales is considered a liability at first.
- Other — Why limit ourselves? There are other teams that could potentially benefit from Morales, at least in a vacuum, though in each case there may be lesser motivation and greater barriers than in the situations of those teams named above. It would be rather surprising, but perhaps not outside the realm of possibility, for teams such as the Indians, Twins, Pirates, or Padres to enter the mix. Of course, none of the clubs just listed sat closer than seven games out of first (or 3.5 out of the Wild Card) entering today’s action. In some respects, their involvement — or that of unnamed others, if injuries were to intervene — could potentially to depend upon whether Morales looks to sign quickly or instead prefers to let things develop over the summer.