Turns out a congratulatory text message from Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik last week to Angels counterpart Jerry DiPoto on his Josh Hamilton signing was what got the wheels turning on today’s Kendrys Morales-Jason Vargas trade. Zduriencik had been in contact with DiPoto throughout the past year and at the recent winter meetings, discussing possible fits between the club.
Zduriencik was surprised when DiPoto swooped in and landed Hamilton, but moved on to his next plan soon after.
“When he got Josh, I sent him a message and said ‘Congratulations on the deal. I’m still interested in acquiring some offense and do you have some pieces there that would interest us?”’ Zduriencik said in a conference call with reporters a short time ago. “He texted me back and said ‘I will keep you in mind. We’re just letting the dust settle and just trying to figure out all of our options with adding Josh to the club.”’
Zduriencik said DiPoto another text over the weekend, reminding him he was still open to any bat talks.
Then, in the late morning yesterday, DiPoto called him back and said Morales was potentially available.
“We talked all through yesterday and then consumated the deal late this morning and early this afternoon,” Zduriencik said.
Now, we see where Morales plays and at whose expense that comes.
First baseman Justin Smoak and DH Jesus Montero appear most at-risk, given that Morales is a switch-hitter and even at his not-so-best in a comeback year in 2012 was easily superior to those two players. Much will depend on the health of Morales, who broke his leg in a home plate celebration after hitting a walk-off grand slam against Mariners closer David Aardsma in 2010 at Angel Stadium.
Morales only made it back last season, appearing in 134 games and making 522 plate appearances with no further DL stints. But he played only 28 games at first base, and no one expects him to man the positiondaily in Seattle. So, really, if he’s to primarily be a DH, there is going to be lots of juggling here for the Mariners unless they plan to trade somebody or move them to Class AAA.
Zduriencik said the team has been in contact with all of the medical staff and doctors who treated Morales, have his medical reports and are satisfied he’s healthy. He liked the two productive months Morales put together in August and September and felt it was a good indicator of what’s to come.
As for where he’ll play and who will give up time, Zduriencik said he’s discussed this with Eric Wedge and his staff and “we both were very confident there will be enough at-bats to go around to be able to work well with everyone.”
That’s easy to say now, of course, but might be quite a different story trying to apply in real life. Even Zduriencik applied the caveat that: “A lot of things happen. Who can predict what’s going to happen two months from now? Who can predict what’s going to happen at the end of spring training? Who can predict what happens during spring training?
“So, I think the biggest thing we’ve seen here recently is you just want to get your guys on the field and let them compete. And I think that’s a good thing for everybody, so as long as we create competition and as long as we have these pieces in spring training we’ll see what happens. I don’t have an exact answer. We certainly have talked about a lot of scenarios. I think we both feel very comfortable that, as I said earlier, there will be enough at-bats to go around for all these guys.
“But in the end, if you’ve added a piece that you think makes your club better, then that’s just better.”
Zduriencik has yet to engage Morales in any contract extension talks, though the pair did speak by phone today. The plan for now is to let Morales get acclimated a bit.
You can’t help but notice that this move gives the Mariners some salary relief as Morales will likely earn less than Vargas this season via arbitration, or even if he signs a long-term deal. Zduriencik acknowledged of the salary difference: “It helps us a little bit.”
And that gives him a bit more flexibility as he pursues free agents.
I think we can take Nick Swisher off the board after this move because part of the value he brought was his right field/first base flexibiity and now the Mariners only need the outfield part.
I also think this makes Michael Bourn more attractive as a free agent since Morales addresses some — not all, but some — of the bigger bat needs without allocating a ton of financial resources towards it in the short term. Bourn could help the team address a potential long-term need in center field now and the Mariners could still look to add a pitcher via free agency or trade to address the rotation’s needs sans Vargas.
Don’t forget, the Mariners now have either Smoak or Montero they can dangle via trade and that seemingly could carry more value this winter than an unproven minor leaguer.
As for Vargas, like I wrote earlier, he should help an Angels team in need of pitching. But nobody really knows how his numbers might have been impacted by the moving in of fences at Safeco Field. Better to deal him now with innings totals and numbers that look more like a mid-rotation guy than with inflated stats next year that scream “back of the rotation!”
Besides, if the Mariners do plan on breaking in their minor league arms to increase their potential value, they will need room in the rotation to do that longer-term, so extending Vargas another couple of years might not have been the best strategy.
Like I said yesterday, timing is everything. The timing on this move works out pretty well for the Mariners. A couple more like it, they can turn the outlook of this winter around in a hurry.