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Kendrys Morales Rumors
The 2014 season is about to get underway in earnest and two of MLBTR's Top 50 free agents remain on the shelf. Stephen Drew (No. 14) and Kendrys Morales (No. 28) are still looking for homes months after rejecting one-year, $14.1MM qualifying offers from their respective teams. The qualifying offer system, now in its second year, appears to be getting quite a bit of criticism from agents and players around baseball, but that's nothing new. Last winter, I asked Adam LaRoche for his thoughts on being linked to a compensatory pick and having to wait until after the holidays to sign.
"I think that it did [affect me]," said LaRoche, who inked a two-year, $24MM deal with a mutual option with the Nationals rather than the three year pact he wanted. "That's coming from people a lot smarter than I am that explained it to me. I think it affected a couple of other players worse than me, there are a lot of solid ballplayers out there still looking for a job. It definitely hindered some teams from going after some guys…I think there were two or three, maybe four teams out there that it did affect as far as teams that were interested me but didn't want to give up that pick."
As you might expect, after conversations with high-level MLB executives, it seems that front offices are short on empathy for the predicament of the Scott Boras duo. Executives recognize that the qualifying offer system favors clubs, but at the end of the day, they feel players and agents are responsible for anticipating demand appropriately before making their decision.
"It's certainly advantageous to the clubs, so I can understand why certain players wouldn't like it," said one National League executive. "No one is forcing them to reject a one-year, $14MM offer which is pretty darn good and see if they can do better. Honestly, that's just their reading of the marketplace telling them what to do and if it doesn't go the way they anticipated then they just misread the marketplace."
That might be a reasonable view for some, but Boras vehemently disagrees, recently telling ESPN's Jerry Crasnick that he feels as though Morales and Drew are "in jail" rather than true free agents. From Boras' view, the system is having an unforeseen ill effect on the free agency process. From the club's view, everything is going as planned.
"People keep talking about unintended consequences with the new system and I don't think they're unintended at all," one American League exec opined. "I don't understand why anyone went into the current system thinking there weren't going to be lags in the market or thinking that teams wouldn't give second thought to [second tier] free agents."
The AL exec and others were quick to note that the qualifying offer system has not hampered the true cream of the free agent crop. When the Mariners wanted to sign Robinson Cano, for example, their main deliberation was over cost and not the compensatory draft pick they would have to forfeit to the Yankees. While Cano, an elite player at a premium position who was universally considered the top free agent prize of the winter, didn't have to give any thought to accepting the QO, executives argue that someone like Morales should have thought it over. While Morales is an offensively gifted switch-hitter, his possibilities were limited since his appeal is mostly as a DH. Teams would argue that this was all obvious in November and perhaps should have informed Morales and Boras to make a different choice.
Of course, the current qualifying offer system is only a couple of years old but the concept of a restricted MLB free agency has been around for much longer. The current QO construct replaced the widely reviled "Type A/B" system, which placed the better free agents in one of two tiers based on seemingly arbitrary criteria. A team losing a Type A player would receive the signing club's top pick plus a newly-generated supplemental pick in the sandwich round (between rounds 1 and 2). A team losing a Type B player would get a sandwich pick, but nothing from the club signing the player. Agents and players were vocal about their frustrations with that system and executives that spoke with MLBTR expressed similar thoughts. One executive called the formulas used to determine Type A or B (or C, pre-2006/07 offseason) status "antiquated" while another said that the system was "wrought with abuse and handshake offers" to circumvent its consequences. While teams got used to that process over time, executives seem to appreciate the simplicity of the new system. And as one high-ranking executive told MLBTR, the new system helps to "protect the middle reliever." The old system would routinely lump a solid, but not spectacular reliever in the same group as an elite batter or starting pitcher, making free agency a frustrating process. Now, under the current system, no team in their right mind would put a $14MM+ offer on the table for a seventh-inning reliever.
As Drew continues to look for a home, it has been reported that he would take a one-year deal from the Tigers in the neighborhood of the $14.1MM figure that he turned down just months ago. While plugging Drew in for injured shortstop Jose Iglesias has to have some appeal to Detroit, the idea of sacrificing a pick for a one-year rental is surely unpalatable. The execs who spoke with MLBTR said that they would be very unlikely to sign a QO free agent if they were only getting one year out of him, but each of them also conceded that they would consider it under the right circumstances. If their club was right on the cusp of contending and losing a pick – projected to be towards the bottom anyway – made the difference, they would give serious thought to pulling the trigger. This winter, Ervin Santana and Nelson Cruz both wound up signing one-year deals while attached to draft compensation, so those execs surely aren't alone in that thinking. Meanwhile, all of the executives said that they would not rule out a player strictly because he was tied to draft compensation.
After watching Ubaldo Jimenez, Santana, Cruz, Morales, and Drew struggle to find homes for 2014, some have assumed that the QO system will be drastically overhauled in the 2016 Collective Bargaining Agreement. While it's bound to be a high-priority discussion for the union, executives caution that it's far from an automatic to be changed.
"I don't know if it will be changed, but I think if they want it changed, they'll have to give something substantial back," the AL exec said. "Now, whether that's something like an extra year of arbitration, I'm just not sure. I don't think the owners would just give it back to the players, it's something that [the owners] bargained and negotiated for."
Here's the latest from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports:
- The Mariners have made a series of attempts to re-sign DH Kendrys Morales since he turned down their qualifying offer, but the Mariners' proposals probably reflected the reality that if they re-signed Morales, they would lose the compensatory draft pick they would gain if another team signed him. Some Mariners personnel believe the team's greatest need right now is another hitter.
- After Jose Iglesias' injury, the Tigers' shortstop options (Danny Worth, Hernan Perez, Eugenio Suarez) do not impress scouts. The Tigers likely won't pursue free agent Stephen Drew, and trade target Chris Owings of the Diamondbacks doesn't look likely either. Rosenthal speculates the Tigers could look to Clint Barmes of the Pirates or Tyler Pastornicky of the Braves instead.
- The White Sox are excited about Maikel Cleto, who they recently claimed off waivers from the Royals. He's now throwing 96-98 MPH down in the zone with good secondary pitches. Since Cleto is out of options, the White Sox had originally considered trying to sneak him through waivers after they claimed him, but now that seems very unlikely.
- The Reds are worried about their depth of starting pitching, but they don't have enough room in their budget to make a significant addition.
Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew both share the same agent (Scott Boras), the same predicament (unsigned free agents with draft pick compensation attached), and the same frustration over their situation, writes Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. "Nothing I can do," Morales told Cafardo. "I don’t understand, but I’m just waiting for something." Morales and Drew work out together for five hours each day, six days a week. "We don’t talk too much about what we’re going through," said Drew, who turns 31 today. "We talk about other things mostly, but he’s been a good guy to work out with and go through this with." Cafardo opines that the pair reside in baseball prison, adding that Morales makes sense for the Mariners, Brewers, and Pirates, while the Mets remain the best fit for Drew. Also from his Sunday Baseball Notes column:
- According to Cafardo, there are scouts and front office people who feel the best fit for Drew is actually New York's other team: the Yankees.
- The Yankees are a little cautious about dealing catcher Francisco Cervelli since they believe he's the best option to start if something should happen to Brian McCann.
- Manny Ramirez is eyeing another MLB comeback and is working out in Miami with Miguel Tejada, but the 12-time All-Star has an image problem to overcome. "He's poison," one National League GM told Cafardo. “I know he's changed his life around and his personality has changed, but I doubt anyone would take the risk, especially with a 42-year-old player. I think a lot of teams would pardon one PED offense, but two? I doubt it, but crazier things have happened. Never take away the fact he was one of the greatest right-handed hitters ever."
- In a separate article, Cafardo reports, with the renaissance of Grady Sizemore and the very good camps of Bryce Brentz and Corey Brown, the Red Sox's outfield depth could lead to a trade. Mike Carp is the leading candidate to be dealt because of his ability to also play the infield corners. The Tigers, Brewers, and Pirates have reportedly shown interest in the 27-year-old.
Top pitching prospect Julio Urias, just 17, will start the Dodgers' spring training game today against the Padres, the team has announced. Urias has never pitched above the Class A Midwest League, where the lefty posted a 2.48 ERA with 11.1 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 54 1/3 innings last season. That in itself was an accomplishment, given that it was only Urias' age-16 season, and he was pitching in a full-season league. Baseball America's Prospect Handbook 2014 ranks Urias the Dodgers' third-best prospect, noting that he throws 91-96 MPH, has an advanced approach to pitching, and could make quick progress through the minors. The Dodgers will surely have him start the season in the bush leagues, but even starting a big-league spring training game is quick progress indeed for a 17-year-old. Here are more notes from the West divisions.
- The Mariners are still trying to re-sign DH Kendrys Morales, ESPN's Jim Bowden tweets. They still would like Morales to reduce his price, however. Morales, of course, is still a free agent because the qualifying offer has depressed his market. Bowden also tweets that Felix Hernandez has been in touch with Morales and says that Morales would like to return if the two sides' financial differences can be resolved.
- Veteran Xavier Nady is back with the Padres, the team that drafted him, as an NRI, and he's trying to enjoy all the baseball he has left, writes MLB.com's Corey Brock. "I'm thankful for every day to put this uniform on," says Nady. "I know it doesn't last forever, but it's sure been a lot of fun." Nady also looks back to the beginning of his career, when he signed with the Padres in 2000 as a second-round pick out of UC-Berkeley and was immediately promoted to the Majors, where he went 1-for-1 in his only big-league at-bat before heading to the minors for the first time the following season.
Though Ervin Santana and Nelson Cruz have both caved and agreed to one-year deals after their free agent markets were significantly weighed down by their rejection of qualifying offers, Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew have no such plans to do, agent Scott Boras tells ESPN's Jerry Crasnick. Instead, the two plan to continue working out while awaiting multi-year deals, and could hold out until after the June amateur draft to do so (after which the draft compensation will no longer apply).
Boras feels that the qualifying offer system has "basically prevented them from free agency," opining that the system has instead placed both players "in jail." He offers criticism both of the system and of those who feel that his clients simply made a poor decision by not accepting a qualifying offer. Says Boras:
"Everybody talks about these players turning down these (one-year) qualifying offers like they're village idiots. The reason is, they don't want to be in the same position again next year. If I'm a good player, I'm going to take the prospect of free agency. If I'm one of these players, I'm not on the train to free agency — I'm on the ferris wheel of multiple qualifying offers. It is circular. There is no escape hatch to the system."
Whether or not one agrees with Boras' assessment of the system, there's certainly truth to the fact that players coming off strong seasons don't want to sign a one-year deal and find themselves in the same situation a year later. Players want security and stability both for themselves and their families; the prospect of either being separated from your family for a year or continually moving your family around the country does not appeal to many.
From my view, it's rather telling that Jhonny Peralta, who is nearly 11 months older than Drew and coming off a season in which he served a 50-game suspension for PEDs, was able to secure a four-year, $53MM contract while Drew remains unemployed. There's something to be said about contending teams with significant payrolls simply not feeling a need to add a shortstop, but one would imagine that Drew's market would improve significantly were the qualifying offer not attached. That's not to say he'd have received as large a guarantee as Peralta, but a reasonable three-year deal seems like it should have been attainable. A one-year deal, even at a higher rate than the average annual value he might receive on a three- or four-year deal, doesn't seem practical for a 30-year-old shortstop coming off a solid season.
While some believe that Mariners ownership isn't happy with Morales and Boras for turning down their $14.1MM qualifying offer earlier in the offseason, Zduriencik says there are no grudges held. "It strictly has to do with where they're at (in negotiations) and where we're at," Zduriencik told Heyman.
Morales has been connected to his former team all offseason, but the most recent report on him prior to tonight's piece from Heyman stated that the Mariners have "little or no" money left to spend on another free agent. Robinson Cano, he of a ten-year, $240MM contract, has gone on record as stating that the he'd like to see his new club sign Morales and Ervin Santana. However, Santana has since agreed to a deal with the Braves. Morales, for the time being, is working out at the Scott Boras Training Institute in Miami as he waits to find a home for the 2014 campaign.
Diamondbacks pitcher Brad Ziegler, a member of the players' association's executive subcommittee, says that Major League Baseball and the players' union are unlikely to address the qualifying offer issue before the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires following the 2016 season, USA Today's Bob Nightengale reports. "The CBA won't be reopened," says Ziegler. "There's no way it's a big enough deal to do that right now. I haven't heard any rumblings that's even realistic."
Nelson Cruz, Ervin Santana, Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew have all struggled to find markets after declining qualifying offers this offseason. Cruz signed a one-year deal with Baltimore that guarantees just $8MM, and Santana appears set to sign a one-year deal in the $14MM range with either Toronto or Baltimore. Morales and Drew remain unsigned well into spring training, and there's little indication that either of them will sign soon.
MLBPA head Tony Clark has also expressed concern about the qualifying offer, but like Ziegler, he suggested that the CBA would not be reopened. "There's certain criteria that's going to have to be met for a CBA to be opened up (before then) and I'm not sure that's happened," Clark told the Associated Press in February.
As expected, Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker both won't be ready for Opening Day, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon told reporters (including MLB.com's Greg Johns) yesterday. Iwakuma is dealing with a strained tendon on his right middle finger and will be sidelined until mid-to-late April, while Walker has been shut down for a week with shoulder inflammation. With Seattle's rotation thinned, it will only increase speculation that the M's could increase their interest in Ervin Santana. Here's some more from the M's…
- While the Mariners could still use a pitcher and a right-handed bat, two sources tell CBS Sports' Jon Heyman that the team has "little or no loot left to spend," which GM Jack Zudriencik wouldn't confirm. A lack of payroll space could explain why the Mariners haven't extended offers to Santana or Kendrys Morales, and didn't make an offer to Nelson Cruz (before he signed with the Orioles) despite interest in all three players.
- Missing Iwakuma and Walker early in the season could particularly hurt the Mariners since they play the A's 10 times before May 7. "If Walker and Iwakuma miss the month of April, with our schedule that month it could get ugly," a Mariners source tells Heyman. Robinson Cano and at least one other M's player expressed the opinion that Santana would be a great fit, while Cano would also like to see the switch-hitting Morales brought back. "I'm not going to lie. We need an extra bat, especially a right-handed bat," Cano said. "We have many left-handed hitters. We need at least one more righty. You don't want to face a lefty pitcher with a lineup of seven left-handed hitters."
- The Mariners have sent scouts to watch young Rays pitchers, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. The two clubs recently came close on a trade that would've sent Nick Franklin to Tampa, though Topkin believes that the M's can find a better fit elsewhere for the young infielder.
- Danny Hultzen will miss the entire 2014 season as he recovers from major left shoulder surgery, but the highly-regarded prospect tells Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times that he's optimistic about his recovery and resuming his pro career.
The Orioles introduced new outfielder Nelson Cruz today, and MLB.com's Britt Ghiroli has a transcript of the press conference. Cruz, of course, settled for a one-year, $8MM deal with Baltimore after previously declining a $14.1MM qualifying offer from the Rangers. "It was a frustrating process," said Cruz, "but I'm happy for the decisions that I made. I'm really excited for the opportunity." Here are more notes from the O's and the rest of the AL East:
- We learned previously that the Orioles had made a competitive offer for free agent starter Bronson Arroyo before he signed with the Diamondbacks, and now Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com has the details. Baltimore ultimately offered Arroyo a $21.5MM guarantee over two years, including a third-year option that could have brought the total value to $33MM. The pitcher instead signed with Arizona for a $23.5MM guarantee, but his deal can only max out at $30MM if his option is exercised.
- Though agent Scott Boras softened his strong words towards the Blue Jays in comments today, he continued to implore the team to open its pocketbooks by saying that Toronto has a "rare opportunity" to add impact free agents because of its protected first-round draft picks, reports Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca (interview via Jeff Blair of Sportsnet 590 The FAN). In addition to its advantageous draft situation, Boras argued that the Jays have the "flexibility in the long term" to backload contracts.
- Boras said that client Stephen Drew could significantly upgrade the team's second base position, and that Drew would be willing to shift to the other side of the bag "if the club came and made the position a long-term one for him." Meanwhile, Boras argued that the switch-hitting Kendrys Morales would offer a better option against lefties than incumbent DH Adam Lind, who Boras said could be dealt for pitching. Toronto could recoup a future draft choice via qualifying offer when those players' deals end, the agent added.
- In spite of (or, perhaps in part, because of) their success last year, the Red Sox are sticking with their strategy of "caution and strict sensibility," writes MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince. "We recognize that our goal is to be as good as we possibly can be in 2014 but also 2015 and 2016 and beyond," explains GM Ben Cherington. "To do what we want to do, year in and year out, there has to be integration of young players. We're not going to force that unless we're reasonably confident those guys can contribute right away."
The calendar will turn to March soon, but our #6, #14, and #28-ranked free agents remain unsigned. The primary factor in the delay for Ervin Santana, Stephen Drew, and Kendrys Morales is that signing any one of them requires the new team to forfeit its highest unprotected draft pick and its associated bonus pool money, because these players were among 13 to turn down a one-year, $14.1MM qualifying offer in November. Earlier draft picks are more valuable, of course, so let's take a look at the pick each team would have to forfeit to sign one of these three free agents. The 2013 slot value for each pick is also provided; those numbers will increase for 2014. 2014 draft order information comes courtesy of River Ave. Blues.
As many have pointed out, the current system provides a major incentive for teams to sign multiple compensation free agents. Now that the Orioles have surrendered their #17 pick for Ubaldo Jimenez and their #52 pick for Nelson Cruz, they could sign Santana, Drew, or Morales with the smallest draft pick cost of any team. In theory, teams at the bottom of this chart should be willing to offer at least several million more than a team near the top, assuming a desire and need for one of the three free agents. It's why Drew makes so much sense for the Mets.
These three free agents have a good reason not to sign a one-year deal right now, with the season less than a month away, even though Cruz did so recently. As Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently pointed out, a player must be with his team for the entire season to receive a qualifying offer. Santana could sign a one-year worth $15MM or so and make it official on March 22nd, and not have to worry about being saddled with another qualifying offer after 2014. On the other hand, losing the ability to make a qualifying offer lowers his value to the signing team, to some degree.
If any of the three compensation free agents is willing to wait until June 5th to sign, the draft pick compensation issue goes away and the players can be signed without forfeiture of a pick. The old teams, the Royals, Red Sox, and Mariners, would not gain a supplemental round pick in that scenario. If those teams perceive that threat to be real, it provides an incentive for them to explore deals to bring back Santana, Drew, and Morales, respectively.