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May 21, 2014 at 6:49 PM

Maybe it’s time to sign Kendrys Morales

Seattle Times file photo

Seattle Times file photo

We were having lunch the other day in Minnesota. Of course baseball is being discussed, and the subject of qualifying offers and the situation of Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew came up. It was mentioned that $14.1 million per season is actually on the higher side of a yearly salary for most players. That led to discussing whether Morales or Drew was actually worth that much for one season. The risks, the rewards were debated.

Then a smart guy at the table said in between bites of food rather casually: “There is no such thing as a bad one-year contract in baseball.” It’s cliche used often. And in some ways it’s true. Of course, there is such a thing as a bad one-year contract (any major league deal involving Hector Noesi). But on most occasions, the commitment is only financial.  And if you have the money, and it isn’t going to handicap your organization, then you just move on if it doesn’t work.

A few days later, that conversation became much meaningful.

On the same day – May 20 – the Red Sox announced they had signed Stephen Drew to a one-year, $10 million contract and a few hours later the Mariners announced that Corey Hart was going to the disabled list with a grade 2 hamstring strain that will keep him out four to six weeks.

Maybe Scott Boras makes his own serendipity. But those two events should lead the Mariners to seriously consider signing Kendrys Morales. A few hours later, Larry Stone called me to talk about the team. We both agreed immediately that Morales should become a priority for the Mariners and that Larry should write about it.  And here’s the column

From the column … 

Yes, that’s a big chunk of change to hand out in the middle of the season. But this is a team that paid $175 million to retain Felix Hernandez, and $240 million to lure Robinson Cano. It seems penny wise and pound foolish to cling to budget considerations when another season — one more promising than most in recent years — is threatened by Seattle’s perennial offensive woes.

Heading into Wednesday’s game in Texas — a 4-3 loss in which they managed just five hits — the Mariners once again had the worst batting average in the American League (tied with Houston at .236) and were 14th out of 15 in on-base percentage-plus -slugging percentage (OPS, .672, just four points ahead of Kansas City).

They masked that for a bit through excellent production with runners in scoring position (RISP), but that’s hard to sustain, as the Mariners have already shown with a recent 2-for-30 stretch with RISP.

To look deeper, the M’s are particularly struggling at the designated-hitter position – Morale’s bailiwick. They have put up a paltry .197/.278/.318 line for batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage (with five homers and 19 runs batted in). Their .597 OPS is the worst at that position in the league. Last year, with Morales putting up 23 homers and 80 RBI to go with a .277 average, Seattle’s DH spot ranked third with a .781 OPS.

A drop of nearly 200 points more than a quarter through the season should be enough to drive home the need for action. And the galvanizing event is the hamstring injury to DH Corey Hart that is expected to sideline him four to six weeks.

Hart, coming off two knee surgeries that cost him all of last season, was hitting .209. Over his last 21 games, Hart had a .158 average with just three extra-base hits.

The Mariners are paying Hart $6 million this season, but they can figure out how to get him at-bats when he returns. They need to be proactive now, while a playoff berth is still in sight. That’s what the Red Sox — further back in the standings and with a worse record than Seattle — did when infielder Will Middlebrooks went on the DL with a fractured finger. They had a need, and they filled it. 

I agree with Larry’s thinking on this (not so much on wardrobe).  For much of the first few months of the season, I shrugged off the cries and demands of signing Morales. There was no spot on the roster for him. Sure he’s proven he could hit at Safeco Field. He also proved that his less than stellar conditioning level and injury history made it impossible for him to play first base more than once or twice a week. He was a simply a DH. And the Mariners had a DH combo in Hart and Morrison.

But it’s different now. Hart is out for at least a month and probably more considering his injury history. Morrison has been out since April 15 with his own hamstring injury. He will need 20 days of rehab at-bats, and even fully healthy, he’s not as good of a hitter as Morales.  Obviously, the question of what to do with Hart once he gets healthy looms, but that’s something you deal with when it happens.

Hart provided some production, but it was not representative of a team that thinks it can compete for a wild card spot. We can debate whether that is a possibility or not, but if the Mariners do believe that, then they need to improve that position. Morales provides improvement. But let me make this caveat .. you only sign him for the pro-rated deal similar to Drew’s deal. No multi-year deals or such

Pros

The Mariners are the only ones that are looking at him right now. Because he turned down the qualifying offer, any team that signs him would forfeit a first round draft pick to Seattle. But it’s become clear that no team is willing to do it. Once the draft passes on June 7-8-9, teams won’t have to forfeit that pick to sign him. They may become more interested in Morales by then. So the Mariners don’t have anyone bidding against them now. And they aren’t going to get an extra pick to compensate for the one they are losing for signing Cano.

Morales can hit. He’s not fast. He can’t field. But he can hit. And he can hit in Safeco Field. Here are his career splits:

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 8.04.53 PM

He’s their best option at DH. Manager Lloyd McClendon said they don’t have a true DH and they will rotate, using Nick Franklin, Stefen Romero and whoever else can play there if they aren’t in the field.  A few people mentioned calling up Jesus Montero from Class AAA Tacoma. It’s certainly a cheaper option. Here’s Montero’s numbers.

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 8.09.25 PM

Let’s take into consideration the hitter-friendly environments and bloated and skewed numbers of the PCL – five of his homers came in Vegas, Albuquerque and Salt Lake City. The 37 strikeouts are an issue. Also much of the production was done early.

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 8.17.45 PM

Morales may not be Mark Grace at first base, but he’s still better than Montero. He can be trusted to play once or maybe twice a week there and not be a total liability.

The Mariners can afford it. With Hart getting hurt, many of his performance options aren’t likely to be realized, to there’s some savings. Let’s not cast Seattle as paupers. They committed $240 million to Cano and $14 million to Rodney to go with Felix’s $175 million. They are still getting one of the best values in Iwakuma, who is making $6.5 million this year and has a $7 million option for next season. I’m not a person that believes in ridiculous spending. But this investment is manageable.  They’ve said often they are serious about this season and winning. GM  Jack Zduriencik and  CEO Howard Lincoln have both said that ownership will go over the allotted budget if the circumstances dictated it. Well this circumstance fits.  This shouldn’t be a tough sell.

Cons

Nobody will every confuse Morales for a fitness model. We have no idea what type of shape he’s in right now. He’s been down in Florida training and working out, but we don’t know the level of intensity of the workouts.

Morales hasn’t played in a game since Sept. 29. He’s been participating in simulated game situations with Drew. But these aren’t real game at-bats. How long would it take for him to get his timing back and rhythm back?  How long would it take for him to be productive?

Boras knows the Mariners are in a predicament. He can see the numbers and what the Mariners’ DHs have been hitting. He knows that Hart will likely miss six weeks. He might ask for more than the pro-rated amount of the qualifying offer. Or he may be believe he can get a better offer for Morales after the draft. He’s a wild card.

I have no idea if the Mariners will hold it against Boras or Morales that they turned down a 3-year, $30 million extension that was offered during last season or that they turned down the qualifying offer. It shouldn’t. This is business.

The Mariners have a need now. Kendrys Morales fits that need. It’s not a cheap solution. But it’s one they can afford. It should happen and happen soon.

I have no idea whether it will happen or not. And if it doesn’t, they have their reasons. But it certainly should a discussion in the front office right now.

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