Could the M’s make room for Morales?

 It’s no secret that the Seattle Mariners have been stuck in a rut recently and after being swept this weekend by the Miami Marlins, it may be time to shake things up a little bit. Certainly the M’s would be in a better position at the moment if their rotation wasn’t decimated by injuries, but their .225 team batting average is the third worst in all of baseball and is nearly an equal cause for concern. Yes, there’s an awful lot of season to be played, but if Seattle still fancies themselves as contenders this year, now is as good a time as any to get the lineup some help while the rotation recovers. And that could still come in the form of a familiar face; Kendrys Morales.

Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill outlined several possible moves the Mariners could make to help the club in the immediate future and one of those suggestions was to option Logan Morrison to Triple-A, and sign Morales who remains a free agent. Of course this comes with two very important caveats: Corey Hart must be able to man right field four times a week and Morales must be willing to sign a one-year deal. Both factors are relative unknowns at this point, but one would have to think that the possibilities of both occurring do have some life.

Hart started in right field this past Thursday and Sunday and after starting at first base on Friday, shifted to right field after Michael Saunders was pinch hit for. The 16 2/3 innings of action he’s seen in the outfield aren’t near enough to draw any legitimate conclusions from, but the fact that he’s actually looked decent out there is definitely an encouraging sign. Realistically it could take the M’s another month if not longer to make a determination on whether or not Hart’s knees can handle the outfield, and there’s no reason to take any course of action other than easing him back in slowly. After all, he was signed for his ability to hit a baseball, not necessarily his ability to catch one.

With Hart seeing outfield time and Morrison not on the big league club like Jason suggested, there would be plenty of at-bats available for Morales who could DH when Hart plays the field and possibly see some time at first base when Hart is the designated hitter. As it stands Morrison is on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so the club would have to wait until after he’s activated to send him down anyways. His contributions have obviously been limited, but a quick comparison of his results after 18 team games this year to Morales’ first 18 last year show that there’s a strong likelihood than an upgrade could be made. Justin Smoak has cooled off of late, but thanks to a hot start has his overall numbers don’t look too bad and are relatively comparable to what Morales produced in last year’s sample. It’s unlikely to suggest that he would be removed from everyday duties anytime soon.

In some ways Morales could conceivably replace Morrison, but of course it’s not quite a simple trade off since LoMo hasn’t been an everyday player and he’d be taking at-bats from other players as well. But it is easy to see the potential offensive upgrade that would come with bringing the free agent back into the fold and taking at-bats from players like LoMo.

The second impediment to potentially signing Morales is what it has been all along; his agent, Scott Boras. Obviously an agent wants to get their client the best deal they can, but what the best possible deal is varies from player to player of course. The trend with Boras though, has been the bottom line dollar playing the most significant part of any deal so nobody should’ve been surprised when the party announced they were content to wait in order to get that best possible deal. But perhaps as the calendar turns to May, Morales gets a little anxious about getting back into a team’s everyday lineup and the concept of a “bridge” contract becomes more palpable. After all, he’s already guaranteed that he won’t be tied to draft pick compensation next winter since he will have signed after the season started.

It really is unfortunate that Morales, and another Boras client Stephen Drew, are still without contracts since the draft pick compensation has seriously diminished their value to any interested club, especially since there are more than a few teams who could benefit from the addition of one or the other. However, now that the Pittsburgh Pirates have acquired Ike Davis — the Pirates were rumored to be a moderately serious suitor for the first baseman/designated hitter — would Boras really be able to get a multi-year deal for Morales even if he waits until after this June’s draft and is freed of draft pick compensation?

It’s been reported that the Mariners had offered Morales a three-year deal worth $30 million last summer, and at the time it probably seemed likely he could top that offer once he hit the open market. But, considering the fact he’s all but limited to designated hitter duties, did Boras really anticipate a bidding war to break out for his services? Sure, Morales has been a capable defender at first base in the past and he is another year removed from the broken leg he suffered at the beginning of the 2010 season, but a team is could be taking a lot of risk if they are signing him to be their everyday first baseman. It’s really no different than the Mariners signing Hart to be their everyday right fielder, but they didn’t sign him for that purpose; the fact he may actually be able to play in the field is pure gravy at this point. Teams would be lining up to give David Ortiz a multi-year deal to be their designated hitter since he’s a legitimate game changer; Morales is not at that level.

Throughout the offseason, and even after the Hart signing and Morrison trade, Seattle was considered to be the most logical landing spot for Morales. Perhaps they became even better suitors after adding the pair considering the team’s affinity for stockpiling designated hitter types and then deploying them regularly in the field. But after the Baltimore Orioles agreed to sign Nelson Cruz to a one-year deal worth just $8 million — remember, both he and Morales had rejected the one-year $14.1 million qualifying offer — many figured that a potential Morales deal would probably be of the same term but with a slightly higher dollar amount. And with the Orioles and now Pirates out of the picture, are there really any other options outside of Seattle? Barring an unforeseen injury, probably not.

The question that has to follow pertains to whether or not the Mariners even have room for Morales on their roster at the moment. Let’s say Morales is reluctantly willing to accept a one-year deal worth the pro-rated portion of the $14.1 million qualifying offer to spend another year in the Pacific Northwest. Of course there’s still the question of whether or not ownership would allow the club to take on further payroll since this could all be a moot point if they say there’s no more cash to spend, but let’s remove that hurdle for right now. Although he has been working out regularly, he’ll need to spend at least a couple of weeks in extended spring training to get close to game speed, and will likely require an adjustment period at the major league level as well. Even if Morales was signed today, he’s probably three or four weeks away from actually producing something tangible for the club.

If it’s in fact determined Hart can regularly spend time in the outfield, Morales should be able to slide nicely into the regular designated hitter slot. The next question to be asked is who takes the hit as the 25-man roster casualty? Jason suggested sending Morrison down to Tacoma and I’d agree with that since letting him get back to basics and gain some confidence could be beneficial and he still does have an option available. As does Stefen Romero who’s been used sparingly thus far and has seen little success at the major league level. The 25-year old would definitely benefit more by playing everyday in Tacoma instead of seeing pinch-hit duty and the occasional start.

Another suggestion of Churchill’s was to send down Romero and call up Cole Gillespie, a 29-year old journeyman, who could fill Romero’s role of right-handed hitting outfielder and would have minimal downside. It would appear that both Romero and Morrison would be better served playing everyday in Triple-A as opposed to sitting on the bench and pinch-hitting late in games. Sending down Romero and calling up Gillespie doesn’t solve the 25-man roster issue however, so even if the pair were to trade places, adding Morales would require another roster move.

Perhaps Michael Saunders, who’s become the odd man out in the outfield, could be dealt for pitching help. It’s very surprising to hear that Saunders has found himself in the fourth outfielder role after appearing to be a near lock to play everyday in the outfield just a few months ago. He hasn’t hit well in limited action this year, but does represent an upgrade defensively and on the base paths compared to what Romero and Abraham Almonte provide. That’s pure speculation on my part however and there’s no real benefit to selling low on Saunders right now. The club also doesn’t have the necessary depth to deal an outfielder right now anyways.

Certainly there’s a scenario in which the club could fit Morales into the everyday lineup and there’s little doubt that he does represent an upgrade over some of what’s there now. His .280 career batting average would fit quite nicely in a lineup in dire need of a boost. Any kind of a boost. Players like Brad Miller and Kyle Seager will see their averages come around eventually and others will see their lines even out as the plate appearances add up, but the club is failing to score runs and that presents a huge problem when there’s only one proven starter currently in the rotation.

A lot of stars will have to align for Morales to wear blue and teal again, and by stars I mean Hart’s knees and Boras’ contract demands, but it could still happen. The roster moves will likely sort them out — LoMo or Romero being sent down make the most sense — so it really is just a matter of patience on the Mariners’ part and seeing whether or not things might work out in the favour for once.

A few more weeks and we should have an idea what the extent of Hart’s outfield abilities will this year and Morales’ camp might get a little more anxious about getting him playing time sooner rather than later. The 2014 Seattle Mariners can still be a .500 team as-is, but that extra bat would push the scales further in their favour and they could really use that right about now.

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Tyler Carmont

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