Pick One DH. Just One.
Since the Mariners predictably decided to do nothing at the trade deadline, the team and the local media have repeated one primary talking point: we didn’t want to trade impending free agents because we want to re-sign them for 2014. In the post-deadline press briefing, Zduriencik said this:
“When you let a guy leave, it is harder to get him back. Once you break that marriage up and all of a sudden you want to go back and ask that player to come back? It’s harder to do. He probably feels somewhat betrayed. The guys are here, they have the right to walk but also we have the first opportunity to re-sign them if we choose to do that, and that is important to a player, especially if they like Seattle. Who knows what is going to happen? We’re going to be able to have the inside track in bringing some of these players back here. That was part of the thinking as well.”
The obvious player being talked about here is Kendrys Morales. Because of the qualifying offer system, the Mariners can essentially nuke his value as a free agent this winter and force him to either accept a two or maybe three year deal or play out 2014 on a one year contract for $14 million. The talk that the Mariners could net a first round pick for Morales is mostly incorrect; there just isn’t going to be much of a market for Morales once draft pick compensation attaches. The Mariners leverage is being able to make him a free agent with baseball’s equivalent of leprosy, forcing him to pick between a one year deal or a short term contract at a slightly lower AAV.
We covered all this ground in June, when I noted that the Mariners didn’t need to sign Morales to an extension then because of the qualifying offer. There’s a decent argument to be made for retaining Morales, though it’s probably worth noting that if he ends up accepting the qualifying offer, paying Morales $14 million for 2014 is less than ideal, given all the other holes the team has to fill this winter. He might be worth it, especially with the fact that the deal comes with no long term risk, but it’s not any kind of bargain, and keeping Morales at that price would likely prevent the team from making other necessary upgrades.
But, there is some logic and reason to not trading Morales. The qualifying offer is a real piece of leverage that they would have lost if they had traded him. Without knowing what was on the table, I don’t have much of a problem with the Mariners hanging onto Morales and using the QO to try and get him re-signed to a two or three year deal at around $10 million per year.
But here’s the problem. If you’re keeping Kendrys Morales when there’s a significant shortage of offensive pieces available in the trade market, you’re doing so for the sole purpose of re-signing him this winter. And if you re-sign Kendrys Morales, you’re re-signing him to play DH. And if you’re re-signing Kendrys Morales to DH, then you simply shouldn’t have any interest in bringing back either Raul Ibanez or Michael Morse.
I know, I know, Raul is the Golden Boy who can do no wrong. He hit a bunch of homers. He’s beloved in the clubhouse. He’s a great guy. I heard you the first 10,000 times you shoved your Raul Ibanez affection down our throats. He’s still a highly flawed player whose sole value at this point is as a part-time designated hitter. His outfield defense has never been good and has reached embarrassing levels. Whatever offensive value you think he might retain at age 42 will be given back on defense.
Since the start of the 2010 season, Ibanez has accumulated almost 2,000 plate appearances. He’s hit .254/.315/.453, which equals out to a 106 wRC+, making him a slightly above average hitter. That’s what he’s done from 38-41. Yeah, he keeps himself in great shape, yada yada yada, but he’s still getting older, and the laws of nature still apply. If you honestly expect Raul Ibanez to be a productive player in 2014, you’re believing in wishes rather than reality.
And, really, the same thing goes for Michael Morse. Like Ibanez, Morse is simply a one trick pony who is basically terrible at every part of baseball that isn’t hitting home runs. Unlike Ibanez, Morse is also injury prone and unreliable. You could make a case that Morse could be decent DH next year, and perhaps even a lower cost alternative to Morales if the team wanted to keep him around. But he also should never play the field. He might even be worse defensively than Ibanez, which is saying something, and his over-muscled body tends to break down when he forces himself to run with any kind of frequency.
If you’re re-signing Morales, then there simply is not room on the roster for Michael Morse. You could perhaps make an argument that Ibanez could fill a bench role, except we already know how that story plays out, as having him around simply means that he’s going to play more than he should. This organization is not capable of admitting that Raul Ibanez is a poor baseball player, and they won’t be able to admit it next year either.
Plain and simple, logic demands that the 2014 Mariners pick one and discard two. They can have Morales, Morse, or Ibanez, but they can’t have all three. It doesn’t work. The team tried this silly defense-doesn’t-matter strategy already and it blew up in their face. The team is last in UZR and last in DRS, and not coincidentally, they’re 25th in runs allowed. This roster construction experiment was a failure. It should not be repeated.
The fact that the Mariners didn’t trade Morse, Morales, or Ibanez doesn’t bother me all that much, simply because I doubt the offers on the table for Morse and Ibanez were particularly good. Other teams understand that these are two limited players with limited value, and Jack’s track record doesn’t suggest that he and his staff would have been able to identify players worth targeting anyway. Keeping tradable assets that other teams may have been interested in might be silly, but I doubt it hurt the Mariners that much, given the group of people that would have been in charge of making the trades.
However, keeping those tradable assets because the organization is still deluded enough to think that they’re the foundation of a winning team? That’s a serious problem. Retaining one of Morales, Morse, and Ibanez is defensible, but only one of them. The Mariners cannot run three DHs out in the field again next year. It’s time for the organization and the people that cover the team on a daily basis to just man up and admit that the plan that was put in place was a poor one and the team needs to move on and try to get players that can actually play the field again.
There simply isn’t room on a winning team for Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse, and Raul Ibanez. Pick one and wish the other two good luck finding jobs with AL teams that need a DH. It might take some pride swallowing and some actual reflection on why the 2013 Mariners haven’t been very good, but if the people in charge of the team aren’t capable of that, then they shouldn’t be in charge of the team any more.