One of the early stories of the 2014 offseason was that Kendrys Morales of the Seattle Mariners would be turning down the qualifying offer that the team had made to him. This seemed curious to outsiders, since most of the online-baseball community was slightly puzzled that the Mariners made the offer in the first place. It certainly isn’t that Morales is bad; he put up a totally respectable .277/.336/.449, despite his atrocious work in the field dragging his fWAR total down to 1.2 on the year, but more a question of value for the money. The qualifying offer made to Morales offered to pay him $14.1 million for his services in 2014 to stay with the M’s on a one-year deal. Amongst players who earned 14 million dollars or more in 2013 and got 500 or more plate appearances, Morales’ performance in 2013 was worth the fifth-lowest WAR. He was better than only Justin Morneau, Nick Markakis, Adam Dunn and Michael Young. Only Dunn and Prince Fielder were worse defensively than Morales. Amongst the players in the salary-bracket he would be in, both his OBP and wOBA rank 15th out of 21 and he provided the largest drain on his team in the baserunning department out of the entire group. Basically, while Morales is quite good, he would be amongst the worst players to be paid like the Mariners were willing to pay him. But, nevertheless and for reasons we may not begin to understand, Kendrys Morales and agent Scott Boras denied the Mariners offer in search of a more lucrative contract. It’s debatable whether they’ll find it, and I welcome that debate in the comments, but the fact is that Kendrys Morales will not be out of baseball. He will sign somewhere, even if it’s not for a $14.1 million dollar AAV. Let’s run down some of the teams that could use his services the most.
In order to establish who could use him, we should first establish just who he is. Morales is an excellent pure hitter who cannot defend. He hits for a particularly strong average and ordinarily strong power; this year saw him post an unusually low ISO of .171 after not dipping below .180 since 2006. His strikeout rate is slightly below average but so is his walk-rate, and overall we get the picture of a player with a talent for putting the barrel on the ball and driving it, if not one with the best eye. He is and has been one of baseball’s worst baserunners, so really he is the quintessential, one dimensional DH-type player. Here’s a look at some of the many possible destinations for the slugger this season; as many warts as his game may have, there is always a market for a player who can hit the ball consistently and with authority in the way that Morales has throughout his career. We’re going to focus on AL teams, since the consensus is that the team who values him most will do so because they are able to minimize the damage done by his atrocious defense. Never count Ruben Amaro Jr. out on anyone who can hit the ball, though; that’s all I’m saying. Never.
- A reunion with Kendrys’ original franchise, the Los Angeles Angels, doesn’t seem out of the question as the team appears to give most of it’s DH opportunities to the inferior Raul Ibanez this year, however the team’s weak farm system may be motivating them to hold onto this years first-round pick.
- The New York Yankees project, currently, to give the bulk of their DH at-bats to Alfonso Soriano. In a year which they hope to contend (every year), this is obviously a less-than-ideal scenario. Don’t be surprised if the Yankees get spurned by Tanaka’s asking price and turn right around and immediately sign Morales for a fairly high price. His wOBA would certainly be a massive upgrade on Soriano, and he would mash in that joke park.
- The Minnesota Twins have a hole to fill, and Morales would certainly be an upgrade on the combination they plan to deploy at DH in 2014, but unfortunately I just can’t see them spending the money to inch that much closer to contention without another, more significant splash that would make that win or two Morales would buy worth it. Though they surprised the baseball world with their signings of Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco this offseason, a move like signing Morales seems to be reserved for teams further along on the projected win curve.
- The Baltimore Orioles are an obvious fit, in spite of their marquee signing of Delmon Young this week, as the team projected to pull up in the basement of the AL East is currently both hurting for WAR and trying to piece together a useable outfield in spite of owing Nick Markakis a lot of money and not really having a left-fielder. Morales’ bat would play well in Camden Yard, and considering the team appears poised to deploy an underwhelming DH platoon of Young and prospect Henry Urrutia, the team could limit Morales’ exposure in the field.
- The Cleveland Indians don’t have a clear answer at DH and their recent success could definitely push them toward making what they could view as a real difference in their chances at a wild card race. I would place the Indians near the top of the list of good-fits for Morales, although if they are close to their payroll limit he may simply cost more than they can afford.
- Overall, the team that could likely use Morales’ contribution the most is the team that offered him more than he was worth to begin with, though one could now legitimately question whether that team has room for the slugger. The Seattle Mariners certainly need to add a precious win or two anywhere they can, and I wouldn’t count them out of the race for Morales just because it seems like they have too many DH-types in Corey Hart and Logan Morrison (and the ghost of Jesus Montero). It didn’t stop them last year.