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Kendrys Morales Rumors
The Rangers are among several teams that are considering signing first baseman/DH Kendrys Morales, reports Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. With the first day of the draft now past, teams can sign Morales without sacrificing a pick.
As Grant notes, the Rangers are anticipating around $8MM in insurance claims to flow back to the club due to the injuries to first baseman Prince Fielder and pitcher Matt Harrison. Texas opened the season with a record $133.5MM payroll, but has struggled to play up to expectations with a series of notable injuries.
A serious pursuit of Morales would certainly signal that the club hopes to stay in contention in spite of its many losses. The Rangers stand at .500 entering today’s action, seven games back of the A’s in the AL West. Grant says that Texas is interested in adding another power bat alongside the struggling Mitch Moreland after losing Fielder from the middle of the lineup. Of course, Fielder and Moreland were already falling well short of their anticipated production, and Morales’s bat represents a clear upgrade over the team’s current internal options.
The Major League Baseball amateur draft is just hours away, and once it commences, free agent Kendrys Morales will no longer be burdened by the weight of draft pick compensation. While fellow draft-pick free agent Stephen Drew returned to the Red Sox recently, Morales elected to remain on the market and become the first free agent under the current CBA to wait beyond the draft to shed his associated compensation. He may not be waiting long, however, as Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that Morales is likely to find a new home within the next day or two.
The Yankees have been connected to Morales of late, but Heyman reports that the team asked agent Scott Boras and Morales to wait on signing as they evaluate the health of injury-plagued switch hitters Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira. Morales isn’t inclined to play that waiting game, however, which makes other clubs more likely to end up with Morales.
Heyman lists the Brewers and Mariners as more likely destinations than the Yankees, noting that another team or two is in the mix at this time. The Rangers have indeed shown interest, he adds, but they aren’t as likely to sign Morales as Milwaukee, Seattle or the alleged “mystery team”(s). Morales has generated some interest on two-year deals, according to Heyman, but he may prefer a one-year deal to hit unencumbered free agency next winter.
Of course, many other reports have indicated that the Mariners simply don’t have the financial flexibility to add Morales after the large amounts they spent this offseason. The Orioles were said to have interest at one point, but executive VP Dan Duquette essentially closed those doors in an on-record interview with ESPN’s Buster Olney. Heyman also reported recently that the Royals could join the Morales bidding, though they’d likely need to clear some payroll first in order to make that happen.
The Diamondbacks announced today that outfielder A.J. Pollock underwent surgery to repair a right hand fracture and would not resume baseball activity for eight weeks. Pollock, 26, had been a rare bright spot on one of baseball’s most disappointing clubs, emerging with a .316/.366/.554 triple-slash with six home runs and eight stolen bases in 192 plate appearances. Here’s more from around the league:
- The Royals could enter the running to sign first baseman/DH Kendrys Morales to bolster a sagging offense, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. While no serious discussions have happened to date, the club is not ruling out the possibility, adds Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star (via Twitter). According to Heyman, pursuit of Morales would require the Royals to move some salary off its books. Ticking through the team’s roster, the most obvious big-salary trade candidate (assuming, of course, that the team is looking to make a run) is DH Billy Butler, who earns $8.5MM this year and comes with a $12.5MM club option ($1MM buyout) for 2015. But his defensive limitations and serious struggles this year make it somewhat difficult to imagine that the team will be able to find a buyer willing to take on enough salary to make the switch-out plausible — especially since clubs looking at Butler would presumably also have interest in Morales. (Then, there’s the question whether Kansas City could both lock up Morales and dump Butler or another contract in early June.)
- Meanwhile, the Yankees have made contact with Morales but are waiting to learn more on Mark Teixeira‘s wrist re-aggravation before acting decisively, Heyman reports. Turning to analysis, Heyman writes that the Yankees have many reasons to pursue Morales strongly, whether or not they get good news on Teixeira in the coming days.
- Informed of recent comments from Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino indicating that the club expects to re-engage him in extension talks, Jon Lester emphasized that he remains focused on the season at hand, reports Boston.com’s Maureen Mullen. “I think right now, obviously with us playing good baseball and us focused on what we need to do today, I think that’s where we need to stay,” he said. “The contract talks will come at the right time. … [T]hat time’ll come, whether it’s tomorrow, I don’t know. Whether it’s in the offseason, I don’t know. We’ll figure that out as we go.”
- Carlos Villanueva of the Cubs says that he and fellow righty Jason Hammel hope to stay with the team but realize they could be traded, reports MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat. “What’s happened here the last couple years, you can’t help but wonder if you’re going to be one of those guys, too,” he said. “When they sign here, they know. They know the direction this team is going.” Both pitchers, explained Villanueva, have played with multiple clubs and understand the business of the game. “In a perfect world, we could stay here and build around the young guys, and we could be part of the upswing of the team,” he said. “That could still happen — we’re still here, we’re going to make the most of it.”
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.
FRIDAY: Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner wouldn’t rule out a pursuit of Morales when asked by George A. King III of the New York Post. “We never say never,” he told King. “We always look at all possibilities.” Steinbrenner did add that the current plan is to remain internal, but his answer was far more open-minded than the recent comments by Orioles executive VP Dan Duquette, who plainly stated that his team’s signing of Nelson Cruz closed the door on speculation regarding Morales.
King adds that while the Yankees aren’t too concerned about Teixeira’s ability to play — GM Brian Cashman termed him day to day — the outlook on Beltran is much cloudier. Cashman said it isn’t fair to speculate on Beltran either way. Beltran was able to handle a 25-swing soft toss session with hitting coach Kevin Long and is expected to try the exercise again today. Cashman said he’s hopeful that Beltran can graduate to rehab games soon, but as King notes, if the cortisone shots Beltran has received don’t do the job, he could miss more than two months with elbow surgery.
THURSDAY: The draft pick compensation that is hanging over Kendrys Morales‘ head is roughly a week away from being lifted, and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports hears from multiple Major League sources that the Yankees are among the teams with potential interest in the switch-hitting Scott Boras client.
The Yankees are concerned about injuries to first baseman Mark Teixeira (wrist inflammation) and Carlos Beltran (bone spurs in his elbow), and they lack a true backup first baseman, which caused them to play Brian McCann at first base for the first time in his pro career yesterday.
Rosenthal notes that the Mariners continue to signal that they don’t have the financial wherewithal to sign Morales, and the Brewers, among other NL clubs are concerned with his defense at first place. That concern isn’t as big for the Yankees, as Morales would still be an upgrade over McCann or Kelly Johnson, who are the current backups to Teixeira.
As Newsday’s David Lennon writes, Morales might seem an expensive insurance policy for the Yankees, but it’s also a potentially costly gamble to play the team’s $85MM catcher out of position. McCann, Lennon notes, indicated in the offseason that his preference was to delay any time at first base until later in his contract. He did admit to the fact that first base was less taxing on his body and a nice mental break, but he also told reporters that he was glad whenever a ball wasn’t hit to him.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post says that he’d be surprised if the Yankees signed Morales, as every indication he’s received from the club is that they expect Beltran and Teixeira to be back and healthy (Twitter links). In that instance, signing Morales would create a logjam of first base/DH/corner outfield types with Teixeira, Beltran, and Alfonso Soriano already on the roster.
In his latest notes column for FOX Sports, Ken Rosenthal wonders just how long the Royals can stand behind GM Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost given the team’s struggles to this point in the season. Moore called Yost a “consistent leader” when he spoke with Rosenthal and added that the team is only a hot streak or two away from a turnaround. Rosenthal writes that the entire team seems “too comfortable, waiting for a surge that might never come.” More from his column below…
- On the other hand, Rosenthal doesn’t feel it’d be justified for the Mets to fire manager Terry Collins. Collins hasn’t been afforded the same talent that Yost has, he opines, and his front office has made some questionable decisions behind him regarding the bullpen and the underperforming crop of free agents the team brought in. He notes the team’s sparse spending despite their market, adding that it seems unlikely that Bud Selig would ever confront owner Fred Wilpon, with whom he is close friends.
- Similarly, the Padres should hang onto skipper Bud Black, Rosenthal proclaims. Recent reports have indicated that he may be on the hot seat. Padres ownership too often has worried about alienating fans with personnel decisions, as they did when they neglected to trade Chase Headley after his 2012 season. Black is a highly regarded manager who has seen six of his pitchers hit the disabled list this season, though even Rosenthal admits that the offense’s follies have been virtually inexplicable.
- The Rangers‘ glut of middle infield depth could lead them to field trade offers for Elvis Andrus this summer. With Jurickson Profar, Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas all representing possible starting-caliber infielders, Texas does appear to have a surplus. I, personally, would imagine that each of those players could hear his name circulating on the rumor mill in two months’ time.
- One agent who isn’t affiliated with J.J. Hardy or Derek Jeter suggested to Rosenthal recently that he thought the former would be the latter’s successor with the Yankees. Hardy has a low-maintenance personality, steady glove and experience in the AL East.
- As has been reported previously, the Astros tried to acquire Collin McHugh last summer when the Mets dealt him to the Rockies, but Rosenthal adds more light on the situation. The team’s scouting department felt McHugh was little more than a long reliever, but the team’s statistical analysts pushed hard for McHugh based on trends they’d seen dating all the way back to his minor league days in 2011. The Astros, of course, claimed McHugh off waivers from Colorado, and he’s cemented himself in their rotation. GM Jeff Luhnow said over the weekend he has no plans to trade McHugh or breakout lefty Dallas Keuchel.
- Though Kendrys Morales could be a perfect fit for the Mariners‘ offensive woes, rival executives say that the team is still showing the same payroll concerns that caused them to largely shut down spending after the signing of Robinson Cano this winter.
- Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. called the possibility of trading Chase Utley a “moot point,” noting Utley’s no-trade protection and desire to remain in Philadelphia. Perhaps of greater interest (and perhaps to the dismay) of Phillies fans, is the following quote from Amaro: “I don’t know if we’ll completely ‘sell’ ever. We can revamp, but we can’t completely sell out. We have to have a contending team in 2015 or ’16 — or at least a competitive team.”
It would make sense for the Rangers to sign free agent Kendrys Morales, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes. With injuries to Prince Fielder and Matt Harrison, the Rangers should be able to recoup enough from their insurance policies that they have money to sign Morales. Also, Grant argues that Morales could end up being worth more to the Rangers than the No. 30 overall draft pick they would lose if they signed him prior to the draft. Even if the Rangers’ season fell apart, they could trade Morales later. And by signing Morales now, the Rangers would avoid having to bid against others once the draft passed. Here are more notes from the American League.
- The Rangers’ injuries may have already turned their season into “a lost cause,” Jeff Sullivan writes for Fangraphs’ series at FOX Sports. While it’s easy to overstate the impact of one injury, the Rangers have had so many injuries to so many important players that the impact is clearly significant. Signing Morales would seem to make sense for the Rangers, but they could decide that the injuries have already hurt so much that signing him isn’t worth it right now, particularly given the draft-pick issue.
- The Tigers will likely try to re-sign Victor Martinez this offseason, and they also could try to re-sign Joba Chamberlain if he continues to contribute, Chris Iott of MLive.com writes. Max Scherzer, of course, is a top free agent and is likely to sign elsewhere.
- It’s too early in the season for GM Ben Cherington to be able to use the trade market to effectively upgrade a Red Sox squad that has lost ten straight games, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald writes. Nonetheless, Cherington says, “At some point if production is not there, you have to think about changes.” He continues, “We have to find ways to improve across the board. Some of that is going to happen just naturally with the guys we have here.”
- In light of Prince Fielder‘s injury, the Rangers could pursue free agent Kendrys Morales, although they will not do so until after the draft, since that would require them to lose a pick. If they fall out of contention, they could trade Alex Rios or Joakim Soria, either of whom could become free agents if the Rangers don’t pick up their 2015 options. They could also consider dealing Elvis Andrus, given their depth of young middle infield talent.
- When the Cubs and Blue Jays discussed a Jeff Samardzija deal this offseason, the Cubs asked for Drew Hutchison plus either Aaron Sanchez or Marcus Stroman, Rosenthal reports. Especially in retrospect, that would have been a steep price to pay — Hutchison has been terrific in the Jays’ rotation so far this year, and while Sanchez has struggled with walks at Double-A New Hampshire, Stroman continues to look like a top prospect. The Jays are not likely to pursue Samardzija again this summer.
- All signs indicate that the Phillies will not trade Chase Utley: Utley can veto any trade, he signed an extension last August, and GM Ruben Amaro tells Rosenthal that an Utley deal isn’t going to happen.
- The Astros are not interested in trading pitchers Dallas Keuchel or Collin McHugh, both 26-year-old pitchers who are having surprisingly strong seasons in Houston’s starting rotation.
- The Nationals could trade Ross Detwiler, a potential starter who’s currently in their bullpen. He’s currently earning $3MM in his second year of arbitration eligibility. (Detwiler is currently struggling with a 5.24 ERA with 13 strikeouts and 13 walks in 22 1/3 innings. That means the Nationals aren’t likely to get much for him.)
News earlier today that Prince Fielder will miss the rest of the season sparked speculation that Kendrys Morales would be a fit to replace him, and Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the team has indeed scouted the switch-hitting slugger’s workouts at the Scott Boras Training Institute in Miami. The Rangers, according to Heyman, had seen Morales work out even before the news of Fielder’s injury.
A pair of other clubs with potential need for an offensive boost have also watched Morales — the Brewers and Orioles. Additionally, the Mariners have remained in touch with Morales “at times,” according to Heyman. He adds that it isn’t hard to see the Brewers getting involved after the draft, especially if their offense continues to sputter (Milwaukee has dropped five of its past six games and scored just 15 runs in that time). Heyman runs down a list of potential suitors for Morales, though most are classified by him to be long shots.
In my estimation, the Brewers and Rangers appear to be the best fits on paper. The Orioles may want to keep their DH slot open for Matt Wieters, whose arm issues could prevent him from throwing and therefore from seeing time behind the plate. Seattle already has a large number of first base/DH types, though the news that Corey Hart will be out for an extended period of time and the persistent struggles of Justin Smoak could alter their plan of attack.
Barring a surprise push from the Mariners to re-sign Morales in the next two weeks, it seems unlikely that he’ll agree to a deal before the MLB Draft, which begins on June 5. Teams other than the Mariners, of course, will no longer be required to forfeit a draft pick should they sign Morales at that point.
Earlier today we learned that Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder was “seriously considering” season-ending surgery to fix a herniated disc in his neck. Later, an afternoon conference call with Rangers GM Jon Daniels confirmed that the five-time All-Star will go ahead with that plan. Naturally, the injury to Fielder raised speculation from many that the Rangers could consider free agent Kendrys Morales. While Daniels didn’t refer to the former Mariners slugger directly, I asked him if he might consider making a notable out-of-house pickup to fill the void in the batting order.
“Not today, not right now,” Daniels said. “I think that our focus right now is on the group of guys [including the injured Jurickson Profar and Dan Robertson] that are going to come back…There’s a group of guys that are up here in the big leagues that have put together a few good games this week, and we want to see if we can build on that and then evaluate where we are and adjust if that time comes.”
The Rangers received $30MM from the Tigers to help cover part of Fielder’s deal, but with an Opening Day payroll north of $136MM, one might wonder if the owners are feeling tapped out. When I asked Daniels if he might be afforded some financial flexibility to make a significant out-of-house addition, he simply said that he’s not willing to divulge one way or another.
In addition to losing Fielder, the Rangers also got some bad news concerning Profar, who will be sidelined another 8 to 12 weeks thanks to the Grade 2 strain in his right arm. That’s similar to the timeline we initially heard on Profar in late March, but the clock has been reset and this time around his rehab process will be “even more conservative.” With the rash of injuries that the Rangers have had to deal with, Daniels had a hard time concealing his frustration.
“My reaction to the news unfortunately wasn’t surprise just because from talking to [Prince] and seeing him, we knew that this was serious. We were hoping the injection could keep him comfortable and get him through the season. Sometimes you have that response. His response was initially positive,” Daniels said. “The upside is that I’ve been told that this particular surgery has a high success rate. It doesn’t have the same level of risk that a lumbar [problem] of the lower back has in terms of how you use those two parts of the body and the weight you have to support. I’m looking forward to seeing this guy healthy and what he can do, but that’s more of a 2015 and beyond thing.”
The other silver lining, if there is one, is that Profar is not ticketed for surgery at this time. For Fielder, he’ll have to have a cervical fusion on his c5 and c6 vertebrae on Tuesday. One might wonder if the problem could have been caught if the Rangers had Fielder undergo a full physical after acquiring him, but Daniels says that a cervical MRI wouldn’t have been conducted anyway since there was no prior issue there.
It remains to be seen whether the Rangers will make a splashy move to help bolster their weakened lineup, but there’s no doubt that they’ll miss Fielder in 2014.