The Mariners Don’t Need To Extend Kendrys Morales

Dave · June 4, 2013 at 12:43 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

I’ve been planning on writing this post for a week or two now, as Kendrys Morales caught fire in May and is establishing himself as a bright spot in an otherwise miserable season, but then Shannon Drayer went and beat me to the punch. In an article entitled “Morales, Mariners a great fit; time to lock him up“, Drayer is active in her encouragement of the Mariners to engage Scott Boras in negotiations now and try to sign Morales before he hits free agency this winter. An excerpt:

Morales very well may be the guy to build around. At the very least, he could be an important building block. Don’t you have to take a run at that? Boras client or not?

Get him signed and put him on a banner alongside Felix’s in front of the gates to Safeco Field. This is the hitter they have been trying to find for a long time.

Morales has been excellent for the Mariners this year, no question. He has a 140 wRC+, a mark that would represent a career best if he could keep it up all year long. Other players who have been similarly productive hitters this year: Evan Longoria (144 wRC+), Jose Bautista (141 wRC+), and Prince Fielder (140 wRC+). Yeah, it’s driven a bit by a higher BABIP, and he probably won’t keep hitting at this level over the long haul, but he’s a good hitter who has shown marked improvement from the right side of the plate, which was a real concern heading into the year.

If Morales’ improvements against LHPs are part of a real trend — and Jeff gave us reasons to think that they might be, even before he stated crushing them this year — than it isn’t inconceivable to think that he might very well be headed towards a new, higher level of production. Maybe he’s not a 140 wRC+ guy, but 125-130 doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility given his contact rates, power, and development as a real switch-hitter.

So, yes, the Mariners should be interested in keeping Kendrys Morales. They don’t have enough good players, he fills a need, and it’s nice that he apparently has some interest in returning. However, I don’t think the Mariners need to be too aggressive in pursuing an in-season extension, because thanks to the way free agency works, the Mariners are going to have all the leverage in the world this winter.

Assuming Morales stays healthy and keeps hitting all year, the Mariners can make Kendrys Morales a “qualifying offer” equal to the average of the top 125 salaries in MLB, which will be approximately $14 million for 2014. By making Morales that offer, draft pick compensation will attach, and Morales’ stock as a free agent will take a very large hit. In fact, Morales is exactly the kind of player that this system penalizes the most.

For a recent example, simply look at what Washington did with Adam LaRoche last year. LaRoche and Morales are very similar players, and LaRoche was a star for Washington last year, putting up the best numbers of his career (including a 127 wRC+ and +3.4 WAR) while helping carry the Nationals to the playoffs. However, he was also a non-elite first baseman on the wrong side of 30 with a bit of spotty track record and some recent health issues. Sound like anyone else you know?

Morales has been a slightly better hitter than LaRoche throughout his career, but most of that is just park adjustments, which teams aren’t notoriously great at factoring in. From a raw numbers perspective, their career lines are almost identical:

Morales: .283/.335/.491, .353 wOBA
LaRoche: .267/.333/.481, .350 wOBA

Morales is a couple of years younger, but he’s also spent a lot more time on the DL and has the continuing ankle issues that will almost certainly scare any NL team away from a multi-year contract. LaRoche’s ability to play the field everyday cancels out any advantage you want to give Morales in terms of age or offensive ability. Morales is going to be viewed, as a free agent, in a very similar manner to how LaRoche was viewed.

And LaRoche was basically ignored once Washington made him the qualifying offer. Like Morales, he was advised by Scott Boras, and Boras took LaRoche to free agency looking for a three year deal, reportedly with a $36 million asking price attached. Because teams viewed LaRoche as a good-not-great player, they simply weren’t willing to give up a first round pick in order to sign him, especially not to a three year deal. The Nationals offered LaRoche 2/24 — because they wouldn’t have to give up a pick to re-sign him — and refused to budge all winter. Finally, Mike Rizzo just told him to take it or leave it.

“I think we both were getting tired of the process,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We had a lot of conversations back and forth with his representative. Adam and I had a few private conversations. … I made it clear to Adam that it’s time to get this thing done. Make a decision. Our offer is what it is. It’s been on the table for a while. It’s time to think of your options and pull the trigger if you want to be here.”

LaRoche took it because he had no other choice. There just wasn’t a market for his services once draft pick compensation was attached. And it wasn’t just LaRoche either. Nick Swisher — another similar offensive player, just with more defensive value — basically got stonewalled by teams who didn’t want to give up a first round pick to sign him, and eventually landed in Cleveland for a significant discount. Michael Bourn, a significantly better player than Morales, also ended up in Cleveland after no one wanted to pony up a first round pick to sign him. Kyle Lohse sat around until after opening day before finally settling for a modest deal with the Brewers.

Major League teams showed, en masse, that they weren’t giving up their first round pick for the right to sign guys who are slightly above average players. And, for as well as Morales is hitting right now, that’s what he is. He’s a good-not-great hitter who can’t run and who has to sign with an AL team in case his ankle flares up. He might be able to pitch himself as a part-time first baseman, but he’s still an AL only player at this point in his career. Combine that with draft pick compensation, and you have all the makings of a guy who just isn’t going to be a hot commodity this winter once the Mariners make him that qualifying offer.

He can probably do better than $14 million for one year, but the Mariners probably don’t need to do better than a two year deal at something in that AAV range in order to get him signed. If they decided to offer a third year, you can probably knock the AAV down closer to $10 or $11 million per year.

The M’s should want to re-sign Morales, but they should also know that they’ll probably be able to get him back for something like 2/25 or 3/33 if they let him reach free agency, and there’s no reason to give him that kind of money now when they can just wait until the end of the season and make sure he stays healthy before they make the commitment. If he wants the guaranteed money now, you get a discount for taking on the additional risk, so maybe the Mariners should be willing to re-sign Morales now for something like 2/20. If he was up for that, I’m in. Sign me up for 2/20 or 3/27 or something in that range right now.

Want some history to support that kind of offer? The Blue Jays signed Edwin Encarnacion to a 3/29 extension last July in the midst of his break-out year, and like Morales, Encarnacion is a DH who plays the field occasionally. He was also 29-years-old last year, so he even had a slight age advantage. His career line? .264/.344/.473. His first half wRC+ last year? 156. This is what the market has established as the price for this kind of player.

If he wants more than that, though, there’s no rush. The Mariners can simply keep him for the rest of the year, make him the qualifying offer, and then let him see what the market for his kind of player really is once draft pick compensation attaches. Boras loves to shoot for the moon and prefers to take his players to market, so trying to re-sign him now is unlikely to lead to any kind of discount, especially with Morales hitting as well as he has been lately. So, there shouldn’t be any sense of urgency here. Let him prove he can play first base regularly over the rest of the season. Let him show that his improvement against LHPs can be sustained over a full year. Let him stay healthy for an entire season.

The price isn’t going to go up that dramatically, because the Mariners have the hammer here. This is no longer a situation where the M’s have to re-sign him now or trade him away at the deadline before they “lose him for nothing”. Now, with the new free agent system, keeping a player you intend to make a qualifying offer to is a significant benefit, and the Mariners should be happy to take advantage of the leverage that offer will bring them.


34 Responses to “The Mariners Don’t Need To Extend Kendrys Morales”

  1. jordan on June 4th, 2013 1:15 pm

    Too much common sense. This isn’t the Mariners way.

  2. dc24 on June 4th, 2013 1:19 pm

    Agree 100%

    I really hope that’s what the Mariners will be thinking as well, but you can’t ever be certain.

  3. rowlandice on June 4th, 2013 1:20 pm

    Good post Dave. Conversely, should the Mariners decide to trade him, the other team can’t give him a qualifying offer under the CBA. Would the Mariners be able to ask for a better return since they would potentially be giving up a good player at 1yr/14 mil or a decent comp draft pick?

  4. bookbook on June 4th, 2013 1:30 pm

    Nah. The Mariners can choose not to trade him, but no team is going to offer more than he’s worth to them in order to get a deal done.

    The M’s problem is that, for the most part, they have B/B- prospects all over the place. They don’t need somebody else’s B guys. They need to be able to trade a B prospect plus a current ML player to upgrade to a B+/A- type of player. Those kinds of trades would have to be rare, because creating that kind of fit with a contender at the deadline ain’t easy.

    I honestly don’t see much prospect (so to speak) for a deadline trade that makes the M’s better, no matter how coveted bartender and Morales might be.

  5. MrZDevotee on June 4th, 2013 1:45 pm

    To what extent in your estimation does the fact we might be “between General Managers” this offseason affect resigning Morales?

    I’ve been worried about that situation, with no real idea how much it hurts (or helps, or…?)?

  6. hailcom on June 4th, 2013 1:56 pm

    This makes perfect sense. Trading him might work, but I would think only to a team that would be able to extend him as part of the trade (and with Boras, that would be problematic). The trading team would have to offer something better than a first round compensation pick since that’s what we would get if he rejected our qualifying offer and signed elsewhere. Perhaps more importantly, I like the idea of resigning Morales and, with the leverage from the qualifying offer, I think we are in a good position to make the best offer. Any trade would therefore have to give us a lot to pass on that. I’d prefer to keep Morales if we can. If that means ultimately trading Smoak or Montero, so be it.

  7. SonOfZavaras on June 4th, 2013 2:12 pm

    I’m embarrassed to admit I never thought this through when it came to Morales, there’s a lot of common sense of in this post.

    I just assumed one of two things would happen- we would re-sign Morales or trade him off to a contender before the July 31st deadline.

    Nice work, Dave. Nice, nice work.

  8. nwade on June 4th, 2013 2:27 pm

    I’m very afraid that our F.O. will rush to sign Morales & Morse (for too much money) mid-season because they need _something_ to point to as signs of building a team – ya know, to try to save their jobs.

  9. greentunic on June 4th, 2013 2:35 pm

    I read the title of the post and was a little upset, thinking you were just trying to go against popular belief for it’s own sake. But I love the logic and the reasoning behind it all. Well done.

    Now, can we be fairly certain Morales will be a type A free agent?

  10. bookbook on June 4th, 2013 2:38 pm

    In fairness, we should note that the teams with the first ten picks are immune from this problem. In that mix, are likely to be 2 or 3 teams willing to spend.

  11. B13a on June 4th, 2013 2:42 pm

    I still think it’s awesome that Morales is with us, mostly because he came from a rival team and he broke his ankle at home plate against the M’s. Oh, and hitting like he has hasn’t hurt things either.

  12. shortbus on June 4th, 2013 3:06 pm

    Can we make sure Mike Trout hits a walk off grand slam against us next? A surprisingly high percentage of players who do end up on the Mariners.

  13. kbarnhouse on June 4th, 2013 3:13 pm

    I have a question in regards to the “acceptance period”. Can a player wait longer than a week? Lets say the M’s offer Morales a qualifying offer and he doesnt originally accept it within a week, but then ends up signing with them anyways. The rule says that after a week the M’s would receive compensation, but obviously if he ends up signing with them then that wouldnt be the case, right?

  14. Steve Nelson on June 4th, 2013 3:25 pm

    After seeing the impacts of qualifying offers last season, there’s also the possibility that Boras might approach things a bit differently now. If Boras believes that Morales’ perceived value to the Mariners is at its peak now, then it would behoove him (and his client) to explore getting a deal done now.

    Perhaps something like a two-year deal, with a provision that the Mariners will not extend a qualifying offer at the end of that deal. That would give Morales two more years to build value and let him hit the free agent market without restrictions while he is still young enough to garner another multi-year contract.

  15. SonOfZavaras on June 4th, 2013 3:30 pm

    After seeing the impacts of qualifying offers last season, there’s also the possibility that Boras might approach things a bit differently now.

    Truth, brother.

    A guy like Boras doesn’t get to where he is- and where he’s been for AWHILE now- by not taking notes about the changes of the times. I’m sure he noticed the sitch with LaRoche last year and marked it down as a land mine to avoid.

  16. JasonJ on June 4th, 2013 3:31 pm

    Great post. I wonder if Boras will be more willing to sign extensions now that he’s had a taste of the new rules. Moreover, I would think that players would be more inclined to avoid the possibility of a Kyle Lohse or even a Michael Bourn situation and take a harder look at a multi-year deal that’s on the table now.

    2/22 or even 3/33 right now is probably a deal for me although I do agree that it would be nice to see how his body holds up playing the field more often. At the same time, I really don’t want to lose this guy just because it’s so nice having a good major league hitter in the middle of the line-up…it’s sad but it feels like a special treat after watching the dreck we’ve trotted out there for the last few years.

  17. hailcom on June 4th, 2013 3:35 pm

    I haven’t double-checked the language of the recent CBA, but my understanding is that the Ms only receive compensation if Morales rejects the qualifying offer and signs with another team. If he simply agreed to a contract with the Ms, there would be no compensation, just like there’d be no compensation if they extended him this summer. There is no Type A qualification anymore. It’s my understanding the qualifying offer replaces that system, so the Ms would be in control of whether they were set up for compensation.

  18. SonOfZavaras on June 4th, 2013 3:36 pm

    One question I’d like to ask…without lending to rosterbation.

    What could we conceivably get for Morales in trade?

    B+ prospect(s)? Any chance at a close to premium one (i.e. a say, #4-#5 prospect in an org, but not THE top guy they have on the farm)?

    My gut feeling now that I’ve read this post is “We can’t get enough” to ship him off. It’s better to lock him up or get the draft pick compensation if he somehow finds a team willing to pay that price to sign him away from us.

    Certainly he’s a nice piece offensively, and I know the Yankees in particular have been having run-scoring problems- relying on their pitching all year.

  19. Bodhizefa on June 4th, 2013 3:36 pm

    My biggest fear is that this front office isn’t smart enough to recognize this type of valuation situation and that they deal Morales for a B prospect and re-sign Morse in the off-season for what they should have re-signed Morales. Here’s hoping Zduriencik’s team isn’t around long enough to screw this one up.

  20. Dave on June 4th, 2013 3:42 pm

    In fairness, we should note that the teams with the first ten picks are immune from this problem. In that mix, are likely to be 2 or 3 teams willing to spend.

    I doubt it. Among the projected 10 worst teams, one of them will be the Mariners, so that brings it down to nine others. Now, throw out the NL teams due to his questionable ability to play the field, and that gets rid of the Marlins, Mets, Padres, Cubs, and Brewers.

    That leaves the Astros (total rebuild, won’t be signing aging FAs), White Sox (still owe Adam Dunn a bunch of money), Royals (have Billy Butler), and Twins (in total rebuild mode, may prefer to re-sign Justin Morneau instead). It is possible that one of those teams might unpredictably love Morales, but love him enough to pony up their second round pick and blow the Mariners out of the water in the bidding? And does Morales really have much interest in playing for a bad AL Central team after spending his career on the west coast in a division he knows well?

    Now, can we be fairly certain Morales will be a type A free agent?

    No such thing anymore. Any free agent can receive the qualifying offer, and once they do, they come with compensation. Of course, they can also just accept the $14 million offer, so teams are choosy about who they give it to.

    Perhaps something like a two-year deal, with a provision that the Mariners will not extend a qualifying offer at the end of that deal.

    This is actually illegal now. The new CBA prohibits teams from making promises that subvert the qualifying offer process.

    The rule says that after a week the M’s would receive compensation, but obviously if he ends up signing with them then that wouldnt be the case, right?

    You don’t get compensation if you re-sign your own guy, no. They have a week to accept the qualifying offer, but it expires after those seven days. The Mariners could always re-sign him to a 1/14 deal even after he turned it down if he decided to just do a “pillow contract” year, but they wouldn’t be bound to it.

    I’m sure he noticed the sitch with LaRoche last year and marked it down as a land mine to avoid.

    Boras has a pretty big ego. He doesn’t like to let the owners win. Unless Morales tells him to, he’s not going to sign a below market deal because he’s scared of the QO.

    In fact, it might be in his best interests to have another LaRoche situation take place. He’s publicly argued that the new system is “corrupt” and is behind efforts to get it negotiated out of existence, or at least modified to hurt mid-level players less. His case would become stronger if he could show that it was an annual problem and not a one year fluke.

  21. kbarnhouse on June 4th, 2013 3:49 pm

    Ok great, thanks for the clarification! One more question: If a team with a protected pick ends up signing Morales, would the M’s still receive a compensation pick after the 1st round?

  22. JasonJ on June 4th, 2013 3:52 pm

    Yeah I don’t want to see Morse back on a multi-year deal at all. I like him, and he’s entertaining but he simply isn’t very valuable. He’s worth 0.0 WAR right now after 45 games and projected to come in around 0.4 – 0.9.

    Might as well keep Bay around for much cheaper if we need bodies.

  23. PackBob on June 4th, 2013 3:58 pm

    Hope the Mariners go for Morales but not for Morse. Morse seems like the type of hitter whose skill could fall off a cliff and he loses value having to defend in the outfield. And while Morales has the ankle that will always be a concern, it’s a known commodity that can be managed. Morse spreads his injuries around to all types and body parts. Like Gutierrez, the only question is what next? Morales is the better hitter, less of a liability defensively, and likely to play more games in a season.

  24. Typical Idiot Fan on June 4th, 2013 4:08 pm

    One more question: If a team with a protected pick ends up signing Morales, would the M’s still receive a compensation pick after the 1st round?

    Yep. The only thing that happens in that instance is that the team with the protected pick doesn’t lose theirs.

  25. stevemotivateir on June 4th, 2013 4:10 pm

    I would question Boras’ view on this. Does anyone really think he sees the M’s as having more leverage (even if that is the case)? I could see him still demanding a ridiculous price and daring the M’s to hang on and make a qualifying offer. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he tried to sell other teams on the fact that he’s produced in what he would describe as the hitters-hell, Safeco Field, which makes him well-worth the loss of a draft pick.

    I see everything as a gamble. I would love to see him extended, and an annual salary around 10 million sounds about right, but it’s just tough to see Boras settling for that. It’s Kendrys’ choice, but is he likely to ignore the advice?

    Boras could be playing for time as well. If Choo, Ellsbury, Pence, and Napoli are extended, or even just a couple of them, it could drive Morales’ stock. That could also backfire if they don’t re-sign, or do so for reasonable prices. But the fewer hitters reaching free agency, the more demand there will be for Kendrys’ services.

    Maybe I’m reaching a bit, but we’ve seen Boras drag things out time and time again. Can the Mariners afford to wait and see if he’ll try to negotiate a deal after he declines the qualifying offer (assuming Boras won’t negotiate right now)? What if he accepts it? Are they OK with paying 14 million for a one year DH? Could this prevent them from missing out on someone else?

    A lot of questions are unanswerable right now. I’m probably more worried than I should be, but I have little confidence in Jack’s ability to do things wisely, and I really don’t wanna see the outfield ignored again in the process. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have zero interest in seeing Bay, Ibanez, or Morse (as an outfielder) extended.

  26. ck on June 4th, 2013 5:16 pm

    If Morales likes the M’s and hopes to stay here, and if that info somehow gets to the front office, who then try to sign an extension before the trade deadline, and Boras will delay until the last minute ( as he has with draft picks ) then Morales won’t be signed, …but will the M’s even make a qualifying offer. It makes too much sense. Sadly, Morales will become a free agent, and Howard Lincoln will blame Boras, and the lowest attendance records being routinely broken this year will be broken again next year.

  27. scraps on June 4th, 2013 6:33 pm

    Ooooh, Howard Lincoln! Brrrrr!

  28. PackBob on June 4th, 2013 8:04 pm

    While the M’s may not need to extend Morales to keep him per Dave’s reasoning here, it sure would be refreshing to have a quality bat locked up for a few years, even if it meant some overpay.

  29. Dave on June 4th, 2013 8:41 pm

    Yeah, overpaying for +2 to +3 win players is a fantastic way to build a team into a contender. Just look at the miracles it’s done for the two teams in LA.

  30. Steve Nelson on June 4th, 2013 10:55 pm

    @stevemotivateir on June 4th, 2013 4:10 pm

    I would question Boras’ view on this. Does anyone really think he sees the M’s as having more leverage (even if that is the case)? I could see him still demanding a ridiculous price and daring the M’s to hang on and make a qualifying offer.

    I haven’t the foggiest idea of what you are trying to convey here. What’s the “dare” for the M’s to make a qualifying offer? That he might accept the offer and the Mariners have him on a one year contract for ~$15? What’s the fear in that???

    Seems to me that if anything the “dare” is with the Mariners, if they want to play it that way. “Either negotiate seriously for a multi-year contract, or we make a qualifying offer and tank Morales’ value in the free agent market.”

  31. maqman on June 5th, 2013 1:55 am

    I agree with Dave’s take on this across the board.

  32. stevemotivateir on June 5th, 2013 3:28 pm

    @Steve Nelson

    Do you wear glasses? If so, maybe they got a little foggy?

    My point was pretty clear. Regardless of the reality of the situation, Boras has an ego, and it’s reasonable to assume he doesn’t see himself as the one with less leverage.

    Complications can arise because of this. And while I’d be happy to see Morales stick around even for just one more year, 14-15 million for a DH is a lot of dough, especially when you consider the need of outfielders and the fact that we have 5 who are not under contract beyond this year.

  33. sawsatch on June 6th, 2013 9:35 pm

    We’re going nowhere next year anyway.

  34. diderot on July 2nd, 2013 12:33 am

    I agree with the idea of offering him a reasonable extension right now–say Dave’s 3/27. Boras will almost certainly demand that he refuse this.
    But two things:
    1) None of us knows Morales’ mind. He may want out as soon as the year is up…or he may strongly want to stay. Why not give him the chance for the latter at a reasonable price?
    2) He’s human, and if push comes to shove in the offseason, he may appreciate the fact that the M’s wanted him ‘from the start’.

    In other words, I don’t see the downside to making an offer now.

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