There are a ton of reasons not to bring Kendrys Morales back to Seattle next season. His baserunning at times can make him look like a bumblebee that’s hit the nectar a bit too hard, while his iron-man tendencies at first base would be more Billy Ripken than Cal Ripken.
He’s no WAR darling these days and frankly, there aren’t many teams jumping at the chance to spend $15 million or $20 million per year for an all-bat first base/DH type with a sub-.800 OPS who missed two years with a broken leg. That about cover it?
Tonight, Morales hit a 97 mph fastball 414 feet over the center field fence down two strikes in the ninth inning. On paper, you’d like to think the Mariners have a bunch of guys capable of that. They don’t. This team has some guys capable of putting up decent stats over prolonged stretches. They don’t have a bunch of guys who can thrive in the middle of the order for any length without embarrassing themselves.
This team is in a 3-for-40 stretch with runners in scoring position. They were 2-for-12 tonight and had stranded eight baserunners before Morales hit his two-run jack.
When it comes to potential elite level hitters for 2014, Morales is the best this team has. Kyle Seager has posted some real good numbers, but you sense a ceiling for him that you don’t have with Morales. This year will go down as a solid Morales season, even with his recent month-long slump. But there’s a sense that more awaits a guy who is still only 30 years old.
And even if Seager does morph into an elite guy, this team still needs more than just him.
Tonight, we saw the ice-in-his-veins Morales the team wants up there with two strikes and two out in the ninth. The guy they’ve left in the middle of the order all year and watched him mostly thrive. And even though a one-year, $14 million deal on a qualifying offer sounds high for a guy with a .780 OPS, the context is important here.
These are the Mariners. They are likely going to lose 90 games again and there isn’t a parade of elite free agents banging down their door.
It was mentioned to manager Eric Wedge postgame that Morales is one of those few players who can change a game like tonight’s with one swing.
“He really can,” Wedge said. “He hit that one really good tonight. That’s the best ball he’s hit in a while.”
Morales admitted he hasn’t felt right the past month.
“I was trying to produce but I wasn’t able to,” he said, with Raul Ibanez doing the interpretation.
He watched video of himself hitting earlier this year on Tuesday with hitting coach Dave Hansen, then tried to make some changes in the batting cage afterwards. The past two games, he says he’s felt better.
“We went and watched some video and then we went to try to perfect and get to the place I was a few months back,’’ Morales said.
So, we’ll see. He’s batting .279 with 18 homers, 71 RBI and that .780 OPS. There is still a chance to better those these final 3 1/2 weeks in what has been a solid all-around season.
Compare what he did tonight with what some other Mariners have done lately.
Nick Franklin has struggled the past two months. Tonight, he got a big double, then an RBI single in the fourth inning. Franklin admitted after he’s tried to make some changes to his mental approach.
“I’ve been trying to change a few things and not let the little things get to me,’’ he said. “Runners in scoring position, you’ve just got to drop your shoulders and just get it done, not put too much pressure on yourself.’’
Mike Zunino again looked overwhelmed in striking out against Luke Hochevar for the second straight night with a runner in scoring position late.
Dustin Ackley also did not distinguish himself right before that by staring at a bunch of pitches before taking a called strikout with that same runner in scoring position.
Wedge wasn’t happy about the Ackley at-bat afterwards.
“Ackley’s got to swing the bat,” Wedge said. “He can’t go up there in a situation with a runner on second base and nobody out and take three pitches when we’re trying to get the runner over. At least a couple of those, he could have done something with. So, that’s just a mindset there. And he’s been a lot better with it, but that was something we hadn’t seen from him in a while. You;ve got to give yourself an opportunity to help the ballclub out.”
Which goes to show that, for all the offensive improvements the Mariners have made this season — and the offense is better while the pitching has regressed badly — there is still quite a ways for this team to go. There’s a reason the Mariners take so many losses in the other team’s final at-bat. A big reason is the Mariners not doing enough with their prior at-bats when given the chance.
Morales is one dependable, middle-of-the-order presence the team can count on. In a strict, WAR sense, he 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.
This team has plenty of holes that need filling already. It may want to keep from creating new ones, even if they have to overpay in order to satisfy their own unique circumstances here on a 90-loss team that doesn’t have many potential, top-ceiling guys to give away.