Mariners Swap Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales
Sometimes, there’s a trade that makes so much sense in retrospect, you wonder why we didn’t all see it coming. This is one of those trades.
With the signing of Josh Hamilton, the Angels had too many position players, and one had to go. They still needed another pitcher, though, since the back of their rotation was kind of terrible, and they wanted an innings-eater who would just give them reliable starts and take away the potential for disaster. From that sense, trading Kendrys Morales for Jason Vargas makaes perfect sense for the Angels.
For the Mariners, Morales isn’t quite as perfect of a fit, since he doesn’t play the outfield, and they really need an outfielder. But, since they’re apparently not in the market for Nick Swisher, they also needed someone who could handle 1B/DH responsibilities, so that the team didn’t have to depend on Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero hitting again next year. With Morales in the mix, those two are now kind of fighting for one full-time job, though if the team uses Montero as a catcher against lefties, they can end up splitting 800 plate appearances instead of 600.
Both Morales and Vargas are useful pieces with some obvious flaws. We know Vargas’ flaws, so let’s talk about Morales. He’s a switch-hitter with some power, but he’s also too aggressive at the plate and has a pretty lengthy injury history. He missed most of 2010 and all of 2011 after breaking his leg in a home plate celebration (against the M’s), and then he wasn’t as good in his return last year as he was before he got hurt. His contact rate was a career low and his swing percentage was a career high, which are likely related, so Morales only posted a .320 on base percentage. His power makes him a useful hitter, but he’s more good-than-great at the plate, and as a first baseman, that makes him something like an average player overall.
Of course, the Mariners can get a lot better by replacing “horrible” with “average”, and Morales gives them the ability to run out a lot less “horrible” next year. If 1B/DH is a job share between Smoak, Montero, and Morales, they might even get decent production out of those two spots, and this still gives them the flexibility to let Smoak and Montero try and live up to their potential. Rather than flushing one of them down the drain, this gives the team more options. That’s good.
The problem is that swapping an average pitcher for an average hitter doesn’t really make the team any better, because they don’t have an average pitcher just hanging out waiting to step into Jason Vargas’ shoes. They already needed a starting pitcher to replace Blake Beavan, and now they need one to replace Vargas too. Since it’s already late December, a lot of the interesting starters are already off the board, so moving Vargas increases the chances the team goes into 2013 with a guy like Beavan or Paxton as one of the starting five, and there’s no reason to think that either of them are likely to be any good next year. So, the M’s upgraded at 1B/DH by about the same amount that they downgraded as SP.
They have better SP prospects than 1B/DH prospects, and it’s probably easier to sign an SP to play in Safeco than to sign a hitter to play in Safeco, so it’s a trade worth making. Plus, this will hopefully calm the legion of fans who don’t understand that there’s more to winning baseball than home runs, so that’s a nice side benefit. I think this is a nice little deal for the Mariners, but I’m not sure it actually makes them better just yet. It gives them a better chance to improve, if they go sign a pitcher to replace Vargas, but if they just hand Beavan a rotation spot, then this is probably a neutral trade from a wins perspective.
In the long term, this trade probably doesn’t matter too terribly much. If Morales has a great year, he might not be worth re-signing as a free agent next year, since his skillset is usually overvalued in free agency. If doesn’t have a great year, the Mariners might not want him back. I wouldn’t be shocked if this turned into a one year rental. But Vargas was probably a one year rental too, so, yeah.
This helps the Angels more than it helps the Mariners, but it probably helps the Mariners a bit too. Especially if they go sign a couple of starting pitchers. Let’s hope they do that too.