Editor's note: Stay logged on this offseason as Joe Stiglich files his thoughts on available MLB free agents and the possibilty they could become A's
Kendrys Morales has been an American League West storyline for several years now.
He put together a huge 2009 season for the Los Angeles Angels and finished fifth in MVP voting. The next season, he became a cautionary tale when he leapt on home plate to celebrate a walk-off grand slam, broke his ankle and leg and missed the next 1 ½ seasons.
Last winter, the Angels traded Morales to Seattle for left-hander Jason Vargas, and Morales enjoyed a productive season as the Mariners’ designated hitter.
Might the free agent continue his tour of the AL West?
Here are the pros and cons of the Oakland A’s signing Morales:
The switch-hitting Morales is a steady run producer. He hit .277 with 23 home runs and 80 RBI last season playing in a home park not known to treat hitters kindly. While he’s far removed from his 34-homer, 108-RBI output of ’09, he’s a .280 career hitter and has posted back-to-back 20-plus homer seasons. There’s security in the offense he’ll provide.
That would be a welcome addition for the A’s, who received a combined .231 batting average with 20 homers and 79 RBI from their designated hitters in 2013. The batting average ranked 10th in the league in terms of the DH spot. The A’s never had a regular designated hitter last season -- Seth Smith made a team-high 46 starts as DH and produced just seven homers and 23 RBI from the spot. Morales would offer a consistent presence and steady offense.
We’re talking about a one-dimensional player who wouldn’t bring much in the way of roster flexibility. Morales played 31 games at first base last season but is viewed primarily as a designated hitter. He is a very slow runner, so if he’s not clearing the bases with a homer, he’s clogging them. And while Bob Melvin could pencil Morales in as his everyday DH, that would prevent the manager the freedom to cycle other players through in that spot. For example, Melvin sometimes gives Coco Crisp a start at DH in order to keep his legs fresh and give him a rest from defense.
Morales is just 30 years old, so he would appear to have several productive offensive seasons left. He is younger than Marlon Byrd, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli, hitters with similar numbers who are (or in Byrd’s case, were) part of this winter’s free agent class.
Morales’ numbers are good but they hardly jump off the stat page. Nonetheless, he will be a pricey sign. There’s no doubt his agent, Scott Boras, will work hard to spin the offensive stats in his client’s favor at the bargaining table. Check out this quote from Boras in a recent cbssports.com story, in which he attempts to put Morales’ 2013 numbers in context with declining power around the majors: “'Twenty-three (home runs) and 80 (RBI) is the new 30 and 100.”
Given Morales’ relatively young age, he seems certain to land a multi-year deal. He’s a costly player for someone serving primarily as a DH so soon in his career.
[RELATED: Kendrys Morales' career stats]
Signing Morales would lengthen the A’s batting order, giving opposing pitchers another threat to deal with in the middle of the lineup along with Jed Lowrie, Yoenis Cespedes and Brandon Moss. And the switch-hitting Morales did not show drastic splits last season. He hit .275 from the left side and .282 from the right, with a .453 slugging percentage from the left and .440 from the right. His career batting average split isn’t too dramatic either (.286 left, .262 right). That suggests it won’t be an easy bullpen decision for opposing managers looking to get Morales out in the late innings.
Morales turned down a qualifying offer from the Mariners, meaning the A’s would forfeit their 2014 first-round draft pick if they were to sign him. True, Oakland assistant GM David Forst said the team wouldn’t rule out free agents that cost a draft pick, but there’s no doubt that factor would loom large in considering a player such as Morales.
Morales would be a nice piece for a team looking to bolster itself for what it hopes is a deeper run in the playoffs next season. But the A’s have to ask themselves how much better Morales would make them given his price tag. Let’s say that right fielder Josh Reddick, who struggled offensively last year, rediscovers his power stroke from 2012. That alone could make the A’s a better offensive team, and perhaps money that would have been given to Morales can be re-directed elsewhere.
The New York Yankees are thought to be a potential fit for Morales, and the Baltimore Orioles might be looking for some pop, too. Don’t count out the Mariners to try and bring him back to equip new manager Lloyd McClendon with a powerful bat. Mlbtraderumors.com predicts that Morales will land a two-year $28 million deal somewhere, but you can bet Boras is trying to get a three-year deal. The feeling here is that if Morales stays in the A.L. West, he won’t be in green and gold.