Kendrys Morales Rumors
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
On this date 17 years ago, A's outfielder Brian Lesher became the first Belgian to play in a MLB game contributing a RBI single off Andy Pettitte (who went on to win a career-high 21 games and finished second to Toronto's Pat Hentgen in the AL Cy Young voting that year) as Oakland beat the Yankees 6-4. Lesher would go on to play parts of five seasons with the A's, Mariners, and Blue Jays posting a slash line of .224/.275/.380 with nine home runs and 38 RBI's in 288 plate appearances (108 games). To this day, Lesher is the only Belgian ever to appear in a MLB contest. In other news and notes from the AL West:
- Rangers Assistant GM Thad Levine told Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette of MLB Network Radio (via Bowden on Twitter), if the club is going to make a trade before August 31st (players acquired after this date are ineligible for the post-season), it will be for a starting pitcher.
- Levine adds (again from a Bowden tweet) the Rangers have been searching the waiver wire actively, but most of the quality players are being claimed before them.
- A's outfielder Josh Reddick left today's game against the Orioles with discomfort in his right wrist and he thinks it's 50-50 as to whether he lands on the disabled list, reports the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser. John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group tweets Daric Barton was pulled from Triple-A Sacramento's game after one at-bat and may join the A's to replace Reddick. Slusser isn't surprised Barton would get the call over outfielders Michael Taylor and Michael Choice because Barton was slated to join the team when rosters expand September 1st and he plays first base very well allowing Brandon Moss to move to the outfield (all Twitter links). The A's 40-man roster currently sits at 39, so Barton could be added without a corresponding move.
- A reunion between Kendrys Morales and the Angels would not be shocking, if the pending free agent doesn't re-sign with the Mariners, tweets the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo. The Mariners acquired Morales, hitting .283/.339/.450 with 17 home runs in 522 plate appearances this year, from the Angels last December for left-hander Jason Vargas.
- Earlier today, Angels manager Mike Scioscia denied reports he has philosophical differences with GM Jerry Dipoto.
Though the Rangers worked to bolster their struggling lineup at the deadline, GM Jon Daniels felt the market for bats was thin, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports. “There was not a lot out there really appealed to us,” he said. "Teams now are signing young players long-term and you aren’t getting the same caliber of player to free agency that you once did.” The Rangers rank ninth in the AL in runs per game but are 47-9 when scoring four or more runs, Grant notes. Here's more out of the AL West..
- Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik hinted that he hopes to re-sign some of the club's veterans, writes Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times. Jack Z inferrred that he didn't deal pending free agents Mike Morse or Kendrys Morales because he'd like them to be a part of the club going forward.
- The Astros inquired about Royals prospect Kyle Smith in talks last year before finally nabbing him in this week's Justin Maxwell trade, GM Jeff Luhnow tells Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. Though his club wasn't aiming to trade Maxwell, the team jumped at the chance when Smith's name came up in talks, Luhnow says.
- The Rangers didn't add a bat, but the deadline wasn't a failure, writes Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com.
- While the Bud Norris deal leaves a hole in the Astros' rotation, they have some arms coming up through the minors including Brad Peacock and Asher Wojciechowski, notes MLB.com's Brian McTaggart.
Aaron Steen contributed to this post.
Four straight losses have dropped the Rangers to 1.5 games out in the wild card. Here's the latest:
- The Rangers aren't planning on making any major moves prior to the deadline, writes Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. General manager Jon Daniels doesn't think his team will acquire a significant right-handed bat, nor does he plan on trading Joe Nathan. Daniels told Wilson that the idea of trading Nathan never gained much traction: "We'll talk about anything," Daniels said. "That's our jobs, but talking about something and having it happen are very different things." Wilson adds that the Rangers haven't had any serious talks about Alex Rios, Hunter Pence or Kendrys Morales recently, and they were never that big on the idea of re-acquiring Michael Young or Marlon Byrd.
- The Rangers are strongly considering standing pat, writes Yahoo's Jeff Passan.
- Manny Ramirez doesn't have an opt-out in his minor league deal with the Rangers, writes Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, but the team "never intended to keep him dangling." They haven't yet decided whether they'll keep Manny in the organization, though they aren't expected to promote him. The 41-year-old is hitting .269/.347/.418 in 75 Triple-A plate appearances.
- "I've never had to worry about this stuff before and I'm not going to start now," closer Joe Nathan told Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News regarding his rumored availability. It's hard to picture which contender could offer a quality bat for a closer, anyway.