Kendrys Morales Rumors

Qualifying Offer Decisions

13 free agents received qualifying offers a week ago, and I think they are all likely to decline by today's 4pm central time deadline.  If these players sign Major League deals elsewhere, their old teams stand to gain a draft pick in each instance.  The latest:


Boras On Ellsbury, Choo, Drew, Morales

Agent Scott Boras joined ESPN's Keith Law on his latest Behind the Dish podcast.  A few highlights:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury has "illustrated that he's a highly durable athlete," according to Boras.  The agent explained that people running into Ellsbury, which caused his two major injuries, has nothing to do with his durability.  Ellsbury is "a game-changer for a lot of franchises," as the importance of leadoff hitters has increased as power has declined.  Boras says a player of Ellsbury's caliber is typically locked up by his team and does not reach free agency.  I projected a seven-year, $150MM contract for Ellsbury in my recent free agent profile.
  • Shin-Soo Choo is a "premium defensive outfielder at the corners," says Boras, which is further proven by him being able to handle center field for a season with the Reds.  
  • Seven or eight teams could "change the dynamic of the production of their infield" with shortstop Stephen Drew, in the opinion of Boras.
  • Kendrys Morales' metrics at first base are above average, Boras told Law, adding,  "He clearly is a good first baseman."  Boras feels that pundits don't appreciate the rarity of a switch-hitter with a middle of the order bat, in this case.  Morales is "the only other one really than Cano who you can say has the ability to be a run producer in the middle of the lineup" in this free agent market, says Boras, an assessment with which the agents for Brian McCann, Mike Napoli, Carlos Beltran, Curtis Granderson, and Nelson Cruz might disagree.

Mariners Make Qualifying Offer To Kendrys Morales

The Mariners have officially extended a qualifying offer to switch-hitting DH/first baseman Kendrys Morales, the team announced on Twitter.

The decision to extend a qualifying offer to Morales was met with surprise when it was first reported last month, but the report that Morales would decline the offer was questioned even more. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes predicted that Morales would end up back with the Mariners on a two-year, $28MM contract in his free agent profile of the Cuban-born slugger last month.

Morales, 30, batted .277/.336/.449 with 23 homers for the Mariners this season — numbers that were a near-mirror image of his .273/.320/.467 batting line and 22 homers for the Angels in 2012.

Should Morales reject the $14.1MM offer and sign elsewhere, the Mariners would receive a compensatory draft pick at the end of the first round. However, as a good but not elite bat who is primarily limited to designated hitter, I feel that the qualifying offer is particularly damaging to Morales. He and agent Scott Boras have a week to make an official decision on the offer.



Free Agent Profile: Kendrys Morales

Kendrys Morales is one of the 15 best hitters on the free agent market this offseason.  And among proven middle of the order hitters on the market, only Morales can boast of playing the 2014 season at age 30.

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Strengths/Pros

Offensively, Morales doesn't stand out in any one aspect, but he doesn't have any major holes either.  He owns a .280 career average, .275 over the last two seasons.  He doesn't strike out a ton like Mike Napoli, and he's shown acceptable power unlike Justin Morneau or James Loney have in recent years.  Morales tied Napoli with 23 home runs in 2013, sixth among all free agents.  His power has been consistent since becoming a full-timer in '09, with a slugging percentage that never dipped below .449 and isolated power of .171 or better.

A switch-hitter, Morales doesn't have an extreme platoon split.  Over the last two years, he's hitting .269/.338/.448 against lefties and .278/.326/.460 against righties.

Morales has one particularly impressive offensive season to his credit, as he hit .306/.355/.569 with 34 home runs and 108 runs batted in in 2009 and finished fifth in the AL MVP voting.

Morales has youth on his side, having turned 30 in June.  He's younger than Napoli, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Carlos Beltran, Marlon Byrd, Shin-Soo Choo, and Nelson Cruz.  The only younger free agent bat is Jacoby Ellsbury, who is viewed as a leadoff hitter and isn't in the same price bracket.

Weaknesses/Cons

Morales has a .275/.329/.457 batting line since 2012.  His OBP is slightly below-average for a first baseman or designated hitter, and his power production has been about average.  Agent Scott Boras blames the Mariners' home park, telling Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times in August, "A 20-homer season in Safeco is like a 30-homer season somewhere else."  I'm not sure if Boras was literally suggesting Morales' park cost him ten home runs.  I spoke to Dave Cameron of FanGraphs and U.S.S. Mariner, who suggested it would be more likely for the park to have cost Morales one or two home runs in 2013, especially with the fences having been moved in this year.  Furthermore, Morales actually hit for more power at Safeco than on the road in 2013.

Morales provides no value defensively and is likely limited to American League teams with an opening at the designated hitter spot.  He played 28 games at first base in 2012 and 31 in 2013, serving as DH the majority of the time.  An inability to play the field regularly sets the bar extra-high for offense, which is part of the reason Morales was valued by FanGraphs at just 1.7 wins above replacement in 2012 and 1.2 in 2013.  Among free agent position players this year, Morales' WAR isn't in the top 20.  Fangraphs' WAR pegs him as a $6-8MM player, yet the price tag will surely be higher.

Morales is one of the slowest players in baseball.  He cost the Mariners 5.5 runs on the basepaths in 2013, sixth-worst in the game.  Even in his standout 2009 season, he was the worst baserunner in MLB.

Morales' career took a major turn on May 29th, 2010.  He hit a walkoff grand slam against Brandon League, fracturing his ankle and lower tibia in his celebratory leap onto home plate.  His recovery required two surgical procedures, and he didn't return until the beginning of the 2012 season.  Morales seems fully recovered now, having played 134 games in 2012 and 156 in 2013.

In early October, Mariners GM Jack Zdurenick said his team will definitely make Morales a qualifying offer, which is worth $14.1MM for 2014.  A week later, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports wrote that Morales will turn down that offer.  

Personal

Morales played for the Cuban national team as a teenager, and successfully defected in 2004 at age 20 after more than ten failed attempts.  He drew interest from teams such as the Mets, Marlins, Indians, and Rangers before landing with the Angels.  Morales told Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today in 2009 he found the culture shock jarring, but became used to the lifestyle change.  In that article, which I should stress is four years old, Ortiz notes that Morales was hesitant to speak English and had limited but friendly communication with non-Spanish-speaking teammates.  More recently, I've heard that Morales leads by example in the clubhouse and gets along well with teammates.  Ortiz also mentions in the article that Morales is an only child who lost his father early in his life.  He is married and has three children.

Market

The Mariners expressed interest in extending Morales before the trade deadline, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, who says the team "balked at contract figures suggested by Boras and never made the player a formal offer."  "I would love to bring Kendrys back," Zduriencik said on ESPN 710's Bob and Groz show in early October.  Since the Mariners already consider Morales a $14MM player, they seem the team most likely to meet Boras' demands.

As a good player and not a great one, Morales' market could be hurt greatly with the draft pick cost attached.  Team like the Rangers and Orioles won't be keen on losing their first-round pick to sign Morales, while a club like the Twins may not even want to surrender their second-rounder.  Perhaps Boras will attempt to piggyback onto another free agent, aiming for a team that already lost a draft pick, as happened with Boras, the Indians, and Michael Bourn last winter.

Since pure designated hitters are rare in general, Morales' competition in terms of bat-only players is light, with names like Ibanez and Luke Scott.  If we include first basemen, players such as Mike Napoli, Morneau, Loney, Mike Morse, and Corey Hart enter the mix.

Expected Contract

Boras will likely set out seeking a four-year contract for Morales, aiming high as a starting point.  Contracts given to Cody Ross, Michael Cuddyer, and Josh Willingham the past two offseasons lend credence to the possibility of a three-year contract for Morales, though none of them were as far down the path toward full-blown DH nor did the signing teams lose a draft pick.  The best comparable might be Adam LaRoche, who was tied to draft pick compensation last offseason and was unable to get a third year.  Ultimately I think Morales will beat LaRoche's contract and sign a two-year, $28MM deal with a third-year vesting option.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Kendrys Morales Expected To Reject Qualifying Offer

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik recently said that the team will "definitely" make a qualifying offer to designated hitter/first baseman Kendrys Morales this winter, and Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that Morales will likely reject that offer in search of a multi-year deal on the free agent market.

Morales isn't ruling the Mariners out as a potential landing place on a long-term deal, writes Heyman, nor are the Mariners ruling out agreeing to a multi-year pact with Morales. That may still be the most likely outcome, as Morales' defensive limitations and solid but unspectacular stats may not be a package that teams are anxious to surrender a draft pick to acquire. Last winter, Adam LaRoche struggled to find a lengthy deal after being tied to draft pick compensation, and he was coming off a .271/.343/.510, 33-homer season. Morales, in contrast, hit .277/.336/.449 with 23 home runs, though he's three and a half years younger than LaRoche.

The Mariners showed interest in an extension for Morales over the summer, but he and agent Scott Boras had an asking price that was high enough to prevent the team from even extending a formal offer.


Rangers Notes: Washington, Payroll, Morales

Rangers GM Jon Daniels spoke to the media today and already shared some information about his team's plans for Nelson Cruz and Joe Nathan this offseason.  Here's some more from Daniels' press conference and other Ranger-related news items…

  • Daniels said he will speak to manager Ron Washington about a contract extension this winter (via Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram).  The GM hasn't yet spoken to upper management about extending Washington's deal but Daniels doesn't want Washington to be a lame duck in the final year of his current contract.  It could mirror the situation in January 2012 when Washington was heading into his final year with Texas and signed his current two-year extension.
  • The Rangers' 2014 payroll will be "a little below" its $125.3MM figure from last season, Daniels said (via Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News).  The club has around $85MM committed to nine players next season, plus five arbitration-eligible players.  Since the club will have at least $31MM worth of free agents coming off the books, Grant notes, the Rangers will still have room to spend.
  • The Rangers "certainly have interest" in free agent Kendrys Morales, MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan reports.  Since the Mariners plan to extend a qualifying offer to Morales, signing Morales would cost the Rangers their first-round draft pick as compensation.
  • Also in Sullivan's piece, he breaks down the Rangers' offseason needs and notes that Jurickson Profar's positional future could play a role in Texas' moves.  For instance, the Rangers could experiment with Profar at third base, which would allow Adrian Beltre to save his legs by seeing regular DH at-bats.
  • The firing of bench coach Jackie Moore has generated some rumors of Daniels wanting more influence in on-field decisions, but ESPN Dallas' Richard Durrett believes that Daniels is simply trying to find the right coaching mix rather than engaging in a power struggle with Washington or Nolan Ryan.

Mariners Will Make Qualifying Offer To Morales

The Mariners will "definitely" make a qualifying offer to impending free agent Kendrys Morales, general manager Jack Zduriencik said on 710 ESPN Radio in Seattle (h/t: MLB.com's Greg Johns on Twitter).

A qualifying offer — the average salary of baseball's 125 highest-paid players — will be a one-year deal worth roughly $14MM this winter. Should Morales reject the offer, the Mariners would receive a compensatory first-round draft pick were he to signed elsewhere. The team that signed Morales, in turn, would lose its own first-round pick (or second-round pick, if that team has a protected draft pick).

Morales, 30, had a solid season with the Mariners and could likely find multiple guaranteed years on the free agent market, but a qualifying offer figures to hurt him perhaps more than it would most players. Morales offers little in terms of defensive value and is best utilized as a designated hitter. That limits his market to American League teams in the first place, and forcing a team to forfeit a first- or second-round pick to sign him will likely give a GM pause. Morales' .277/.336/.449 batting line was above the league-average this season (123 OPS+, 116 wRC+), but not to the point where he's considered an elite slugger. The list of teams looking to surrender a top pick for a good, but not great DH doesn't figure to be particularly long.

Dave Cameron of Fangraphs and the U.S.S. Mariner touched on this topic in late August, ultimately concluding that Morales' summer swoon made a qualifying offer a poor investment for the Mariners. Morales did pick things up a bit with a .270/.330/.490 slash line and six homers in September, giving him a total of 23 bombs on the season. Extension talks with agent Scott Boras reportedly didn't get too far off the ground earlier this year, but he could always reject a qualifying offer and sign a new contract with Seattle.


Quick Hits: Ricketts, Perez, Morales, Konerko

Closer is "the most overvalued position in baseball," Tyler Kepner of the New York Times writes, an opinion shared by no less an authority than Hall-of-Famer closer Dennis Eckersley.  Kepner notes that teams often err in signing closers to expensive contracts and then end up using replacement closers that were already on their rosters in the first place.  “I don’t want to take away anything from what I did, but it’s not as tough as you think," Eckersley said. “You could groom somebody to do it who’s on the staff, if you manage it the right way."

While the agents of this year's free agent stoppers compose their counter-arguments, here are some more news items from around baseball…

  • Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts isn't planning any major payroll increases in the near future, telling Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times that, "You can’t just throw money at the problem. We have to build the organization from the ground up. And that’s what we’re doing right now."
  • Chris Perez will be shopped by the Indians this offseason, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer predicts, and Pluto thinks Perez will be pitching elsewhere in 2014.  Perez will earn a raise from his current $7.3MM salary in the arbitration process and Pluto feels the Tribe will want to move him rather than pay the closer that much.  Perez's solid season could help his trade value, as Pluto notes that the Indians found only an "iffy" market for Perez when they attempted to deal him last winter.
  • "In a strict, WAR sense, [Kendrys Morales] may not compute to be worth $14 million or more per season. But the real cost the Mariners will have to weigh is what it would be like without him," The Seattle Times' Geoff Baker writes.  While Morales has slumped lately, Baker argues that the M's are still short of big bats and thus need to at least extend Morales a qualifying offer.
  • Paul Konerko answered a simple "No" to questions about any decisions on his playing future, MLB.com's Scott Merkin reports.  We heard yesterday that Konerko was telling friends he wanted to keep playing in 2014, but the White Sox captain reiterated his stance that he would wait until a later date to make a decision.
  • Fangraphs' Dave Cameron looks at which free agent hitters should or shouldn't receive qualifying offers from their current teams this winter.
  • Neal Huntington would win a fictitious "MLB Comeback Executive of the Year" award, MLB.com's Tom Singer writes.  The criticism faced by the Pirates GM has turned to praise as his recent moves have the Bucs on the cusp of their first playoff berth since 1992.
  • Despite Ryan Vogelsong's tough season, Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com (via Twitter) thinks the Giants will pick up his $6.5MM team option for 2014 if the righty remains healthy.  Vogelsong has a 5.49 ERA in 14 starts, but entering tonight's action, Vogelsong had posted a 2.93 ERA over five starts since returning from the disabled list.

Extension Talks Between Morales, Mariners Never Got Serious

The Mariners were interested in negotiating a long-term contract extension with first baseman/DH Kendrys Morales as recently as July, but agent Scott Boras' contract suggestions caused the team to balk, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Because of the figures suggested by Boras, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik never even made a formal offer.

Rosenthal writes that Boras plans to market Morales as a player whose production would improve away from the pitcher-friendly confines of Safeco Field. He notes that Adrian Beltre went from averaging 20 homers per season to 30-plus upon leaving Seattle.

Boras' claim figures to be a tough sell for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Mariners altered the dimensions to Safeco Field this past offseason, lessening the advantage to pitchers in the process. Secondly, and more importantly, is the fact that Morales' numbers at Safeco and on the road are nearly identical. In 277 plate appearances at Safeco Field this season, Morales is batting .283/.332/.453, and he's batting .278/.344/.435 in 262 plate appearances on the road. He's actually hitting for more power in Seattle than on the road.

Because the Mariners declined to trade Morales before the deadline and when he was claimed off trade waivers earlier in the week, it seems that the Mariners are leaning toward extending a qualifying offer of roughly $14MM to 30-year-old switch-hitter (that's just my speculation). Rosenthal closes by saying that Morales' former team, the Angels, could have interest in him as a free agent this offseason, though that also appears to be more of a speculative statement than anything else.


Mariners Pull Morales Back After Waiver Claim

THURSDAY: The Orioles, who have claimed both Josh Willingham and Mike Morse this week, may also have been the team that claimed Morales, tweets Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. However, as Jon Heyman of CBS Sports pointed out this morning, Morales was not traded within 48 hours of his claim, meaning the Mariners pulled him back. Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik will now have to decide whether or not to extend a qualifying offer to Morales following the season.

MONDAY: An unknown team has claimed Kendrys Morales off revocable trade waivers from the Mariners, according to Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (on Twitter). It has yet to be reported when Morales was claimed or by whom, but the Mariners and the claiming team would have two days to work out a deal.

Morales, 30, is batting .284/.340/.449 with 17 homers in his first season with Seattle. The Mariners acquired him from the Angels straight up for Jason Vargas in a rare intra-division trade this offseason. The Cuban switch-hitter is earning $5.25MM this season, meaning he's owed roughly $1MM for the remainder of the 2013 campaign.

Morales will be a free agent for the first time this offseason, so the Mariners do have the option of hanging onto him and making a qualifying offer of roughly $14MM following the season. Were he to decline such an offer, the Mariners would gain a compensatory pick in the 2014 draft (a new team would not be allowed to do so, per the new CBA). However, as Dave Cameron of Fangraphs and the U.S.S. Mariner wrote last night, extending a qualifying offer to Morales doesn't look as wise at it did two months ago, as he's regressed significantly since early June.

Several teams have been looking to acquire offense, including the Orioles, Indians, Yankees and Rangers. It seems likely that an American League team placed the claim on Morales, as every team in the AL would have a crack at him prior to the NL (in reverse order of standings), and he's only played first base 27 times this season (as opposed to 96 games at DH).