Mariners Plan To Trap Kendrys Morales

Jeff Sullivan · October 1, 2013 at 3:48 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

An important principle is having an understanding of how a team’s success or failure can bias your evaluations. A certain player on a bad team is likely to look better than if he were on a good team, even given a completely identical performance, because good teams come with things like expectations and standards. Everything’s relative, including evaluations, and they’re relative to the context of the team. I had lots of conversations about Michael Saunders a year ago. I was really excited about his breakthrough, coming out of nowhere. Liked him as an everyday outfielder. The reality is that Saunders was and is fine, but he’s more Mariners-good than actually good. Kyle Seager is more Mariners-great than actually great. These guys are values, but they’d seem less valuable on a competitive ballclub.

Kendrys Morales, also, is more Mariners-good than actually good. He seems like a big-bat thumper in large part because of what else and who else we’ve experienced. On a good team, Morales isn’t critical, but the Mariners aren’t a good team, and so that’s kind of how we end up with this:


This has long been the suspicion — now it’s basically been confirmed. The Mariners will offer Morales a one-year deal worth something in the vicinity of $14 million. They’ll also, I bet, try to negotiate a multi-year deal around a similar average annual value. Morales might not be super jazzed about coming back, but the qualifying offer could do a number on his market value, since he’s a DH with an unspectacular track record. He might well end up trapped by the Mariners, and even if he does get away, then the Mariners will get a little compensation. Not so bad, for Seattle.

Except for the ~$14 million part. As a DH who can’t run, Morales needs to hit great to be good, and he hits a level below great, leaving him a level below good. By hitting well, he’s okay, fine even, and the economics of the game are healthy with salaries going through the roof, but Morales is a $14-million player around his career peak, and he hasn’t been there for a long time. He just had an offensive year like Seager’s. We like Seager. Now take away Seager’s defense, and make him less athletic. Also make him years older. You’re left with a role player with a weirdly-shaped head. Morales isn’t the guy the Mariners want him to be.

But he is, at least, acceptable. He’s a demonstrably above-average hitter, and I’m not worried about him collapsing in 2014. The front office would advance the argument that he makes the rest of the hitters better, and, maybe. They’d say it can be hard to find quality bats who want to come to Seattle, and, maybe. They’d say Morales gives the Mariners more credibility, and, maybe. We know the team has a lot of money coming off the books, and even if the Mariners end up overpaying Morales next season, they’ll overpay by just a few million, and they have lots of flexibility. That’s part of the thing — Morales isn’t a $14-million player, but he’s also not a $0-million player. We’re talking about relatively minor inefficiency.

But there’s the matter of a potential long-term contract. That would be an issue beyond 2014, when things look more cloudy. Also, there’s the matter of what this could signify, with regard to the front office’s thinking. I imagine they could spend $14 million better this winter, and to make a commitment to Morales suggests they’re still big on bats and big on dingers and worried about not scoring enough instead of not outscoring enough. I’ll give them time to reveal their plan, but Morales isn’t a star, and I’m not encouraged by a group of executives that thinks that he might be. It’s like if someone at your table can’t calculate a simple tip. In isolation, it doesn’t really matter, but it makes you wonder about what else the person can’t do.

I liked the trade for Morales. I like Morales, as a player. I like that he learned how to improve his switch-hitting, and I like that he doesn’t use gloves. I like that he came back from a devastating injury. I don’t like when the money gets steep. I don’t like when money makes me feel negative about a guy I support. There’s no franchise-ruiner here, but you get the sense the Mariners are about to overpay a DH, and that makes you wonder how else they’ll maneuver. Like it or lump it, the future is coming, and with it some answers.


37 Responses to “Mariners Plan To Trap Kendrys Morales”

  1. Westside guy on October 1st, 2013 4:14 pm

    Your last paragraph expressed pretty much exactly how I feel right now – and it’s not a very good feeling.

  2. CCW on October 1st, 2013 4:15 pm

    Well articulated. On its face, the qualifying offer is fine. Probably a marginal overpay, but it’s low risk and paying for a little bit of certainty early in the off-season makes sense. But (a) if it leads to a multi-year deal, then all the good from the low-risk one year deal is erased and (b) one worries the FO is making the offer for the wrong reasons. In other words, what Jeff said.

  3. Westside guy on October 1st, 2013 4:18 pm

    I must admit I’m also swayed negatively by Z’s other comments today… specifically how the Figgins deal was “a mistake”. No, really it wasn’t, given the information he had available at the time – unless he somehow knew that Figgins was going to completely implode and decided to give him $36 million anyway. The only way I can interpret Z’s comments is basically “the whole statistical approach was a mistake”… which would explain where the team is now, quite frankly.

  4. Longgeorge1 on October 1st, 2013 4:19 pm

    Did we not learn – slow unathletic DHs are not the way to build a roster. Now lets add Raul and we are just one more DH away from a repeat of this year. Wedge was not THE problem. The problem is the guys who ran Lou out of town and they are still at the helm of this rudderless ship

  5. Logan Davis on October 1st, 2013 4:28 pm

    Re-posted from my comment on LL:

    Because Morales’ value is entirely tied to his offense, your evaluation of him depends almost entirely on your opinion re: the fence move.

    If you think that the fence move essentially had no effect, as was suggested pre-season by Jeff, you probably agree with Baseball Reference that Kendrys was a significantly above-average player in 2013 and is thus worth the QO.

    If you think that the fence move made Safeco a more or less neutral park, as is proposed by Fangraphs’ wRC+, you probably agree with Dave that Morales isn’t worth the qualifying offer and Boras would be a fool to decline it if it’s offered.

    If you think (as the Mariners do, according to their interviews last offseason) that Safeco is improved for hitters but still pitcher-friendly overall – say, a 95 Park Factor – then Morales is something of a fringe average player, like we thought he was when the Mariners acquired him in the first place. However, if he’s a fringe case, the combination of [difficulty in attracting free agents to Safeco] and [reward of draft pick if he declines] makes me think the offer is worth the risk of a slight overpay to keep him.

    Personally, I’m OK with this decision, pending a better evaluation of the effects of the fence move (which I plan to attempt on LL soon).

  6. phineasphreak on October 1st, 2013 4:37 pm

    I’d be okay with this if, and only if, Morales is THE DH, through and through. Not part-time DH & part-time 1st baseman, or any other crap like that.

    If he can be THE DH of the team, then we wouldn’t have to deal with another flurry of 1b/DH/shitty OF’s that can all “platoon” or sit when necessary. Doing that would only open up the exact same problem as last year.

    I’d be fine with Morales as THE DH. I’d even be okay with maybe a 2 year deal with a lower AAV.

    But if he accepts, which he should, then I’d want him to be our version of David Ortiz (which he isn’t, but whatever).

    Then, we’d have DH out of the way, and can begin to focus on more necessary and practical and REASONABLE decisions.

    Basically, if we sign Morales, for the love of goodness, DON’T RESIGN RAUL IBANEZ. I can’t stand to see another season of dingers and grit and all that nonsense, when Jack Z’s focus when he started with the M’s was defense and more defense, especially up the middle.


  7. ripperlv on October 1st, 2013 5:01 pm

    I hope Morales doesn’t get busted for PEDs prior to signing his Mariners contract because that would just ruin the story.

  8. nathaniel dawson on October 1st, 2013 5:08 pm


    But (a) if it leads to a multi-year deal, then all the good from the low-risk one year deal is erased

    Well no, it’s not, that’s a reason for making the qualifying offer. It’s a key to getting a good multi-year deal. Because many teams balk at paying a guy like Morales the going rate with the associated loss of a draft pick, his marketablility suffers, leading to better terms for the Mariners on a multi-year deal. It’s an advantage for the M’s that other teams would lose a pick for signing Morales, and they can use that leverage to get a better deal.

  9. SonOfZavaras on October 1st, 2013 5:21 pm

    $14 million is too much to pay for what a Kendrys Morales provides…but considering how hard it is to acquire offense AT ALL, I’ll go with it.

    But I’m firmly in the same camp as phineasphreak- he’s ONLY a DH, and NO IBANEZ back.

    That hurt me to say, because I’ve always had the deepest respect for Raul Javier Ibanez. But there is just. No. Way…that we should be turning to him for help.

    As for 2 outfielders we NEED…I think a lateral move or two is really the way to go. What I think I would do is target guys who are better than Ackley/Saunders (though I’m NOT saying kick those two to the curb) and who are 1-2 years away from free agency. Guys like Seth Smith and Norichika Aoki.

    And then do my utmost to sign them to fair money on both sides, for like 3 years, but not 4-5.

    I bet the right deal of young talent can pry guys like Smith and Aoki away. We’re almost certainly going to have to part with some of our young blood in order to expedite the process.

    Why wouldn’t a team cash in on players like that instead of running the risk of seeing them do their time and walk, and they likely get nothing?

    The sheer lack of palatable deals and the lack of trigger-fingers around the league pre-July 31 had to have made GMs around baseball take note.

    And as for us, any seasoned baseball watcher would know that the Mariners simply can’t buy their way to contention with THIS free agent market (our dollars available being a point of contention and hard to say)- even if they were somehow able to do a 180-degree turn with their “successful cajoling rate” and get players to agree to come here.

    All I’m saying is- Jack Z, show some imagination and fortitude. This org needs both.

  10. stevemotivateir on October 1st, 2013 5:26 pm

    The only way I can interpret Z’s comments is basically “the whole statistical approach was a mistake”… which would explain where the team is now, quite frankly.

    That may very well be it. Jack also admitted to knowingly sacrificing defense for outfield pop, though the results obviously didn’t work out the way he had hoped.

    I just wonder if he’s learned anything. I doubt it, especially since he’s still deflecting responsibility, but we can hope.

  11. Eastside Crank on October 1st, 2013 5:27 pm

    This is all about saving face for Zduriencik. Morales still has two very fragile ankles waiting to break. He spent the season looking like he was running on eggshells, why do you think he avoided sliding at all costs? Morales got very lucky and did not suffer another major injury and the Mariners should thank him for the good year and move on. Zduriencik is a nightmare of a gm and a perfect reflection of Lincoln/Armstrong.

  12. bookbook on October 1st, 2013 7:52 pm

    I was in this place, and now I am not.

    The M’s won’t have the opportunity to spend all of their available money wisely and efficiently this offseason(much less a clue of how to do so). There aren’t enough bats out there, much less enough willing to come to Seattle with 29 other options.

    I bet the ultimate Morales contract will be less bad than the alternatives available and attractive to this FO. And I don’t care if the “wise move” for ownership was to pocket the money instead.

  13. californiamariner on October 1st, 2013 7:54 pm

    At least let Morales DH everyday and don’t bring in 8 DH’s like this past season and try to play them in the field!

  14. scraps on October 1st, 2013 8:03 pm

    Dave was hoping that the Mariners would step back and say “maybe we were wrong.” This is the first sign that the Mariners would just stay the course.

  15. scraps on October 1st, 2013 8:08 pm

    As a DH who can’t run

    “Can’t run” is a under under under under under understatement.

  16. djw on October 1st, 2013 8:08 pm

    Let’s all hope and pray this is the dumbest move of the off-season.

  17. Snuffy on October 1st, 2013 8:09 pm

    14 mil down the crapper. On the bright side he likely won’t get thrown out stealing.

  18. californiamariner on October 1st, 2013 8:17 pm

    If this is the dumbest move of the off-season I will be pleasantly surprised.

  19. tmac9311 on October 1st, 2013 8:52 pm

    Got to look at it half full, at 14M a year, Morales takes all the DH payroll on our team, so we don’t carry 5 of them again this year.

  20. Liam on October 1st, 2013 9:01 pm

    I must admit I’m also swayed negatively by Z’s other comments today… specifically how the Figgins deal was “a mistake”. […]

    Nobody’s perfect Jack, […] if you had to do a few things over, I mean we all make mistakes, we all look back at things we could have done differently. If you had to do one or two things over, over the last five years during your tenure so far, what would some of those things be Jack?

    “The one obviously at the time you did it made a lot of sense, in hindsight it just didn’t work. That would obviously be the Chone Figgins deal. That’s the way it was, it made sense at the time. Here’s a guy coming off an All-Star year, an on-base guy who can do a lot of different things for you, but for some reason it just went away in a hurry and that was too bad.”

  21. Westside guy on October 1st, 2013 9:27 pm

    Ah, thank you Liam. I was going by a reporter’s summary which did not convey the full thought – and since it followed the tone of what I’d heard Jack say on TV the other day, I just assumed it was accurately conveyed.

    I actually feel a little better now. Thank you for the correction / clarification.

  22. PackBob on October 1st, 2013 9:52 pm

    I feel about Morales continuing as a Mariner the same way as he’s an okay player on a good team: it depends on what else the M’s do. For the really good players, I wouldn’t mind if they could be cloned so the team ended up with 2-3 of the same. I would want only one Morales, and that’s with some better players added.

    His hitting is okay, but the lasting impression I have of him is chugging around to third base like a locomotive hauling 100 cars up an incline, only to be thrown out because he didn’t slide. Please M’s, no more slow motion without a slow-motion replay.

  23. eponymous coward on October 1st, 2013 10:00 pm

    Here’s some more answers.

    …if you expect the 73-year-old Lincoln to walk away, he won’t. He intends to be around when the Mariners are good again.

    “I recognize that we have made mistakes,” Lincoln said. “I’ve made mistakes. Jack’s made mistakes. Chuck’s made mistakes. I’m fully cognizant of that.

    “But I am determined to get this thing turned around before I go to my grave.”

    In a related news story, due to a wormhole opening up in the space-time continuum, we have a quote from a year-end interview from September 2094, with Seattle Mariner CEO Zombie Howard Lincoln, talking to a MLB android blogger about the 80th consecutive last place finish of the Seattle Mariners…

    “I am still determined to get this thing turned around before I go to my grave. BRRRAAAAAAINSSSSSS”

  24. Spanky on October 1st, 2013 10:04 pm

    PLEASE…NOT ANOTHER BILL BAVASI WIN AT ALL COST OFFSEASON! It set the organization back too many YEARS!! I can’t take it anymore!

  25. Eastside Crank on October 1st, 2013 10:20 pm

    But Lincoln is in the perfect position to turn this team around before he goes to his grave. All he has to do is quit and take Armstrong with him.

  26. eponymous coward on October 1st, 2013 11:00 pm

    I hear the Yankees can always use more fans, Spanky.

    That article is just full of chuckles.

    Lincoln knows there is nothing he can say to pacify enraged fans. He knows the franchise is running out of time before anger turns to apathy.

    You think? Hello, you’ve already slipped well behind MLS for fan enthusiasm.

  27. Westside guy on October 1st, 2013 11:23 pm

    More from that story – right at the beginning.

    “I think this has been the most frustrating season that I’ve experienced,” the Mariners chairman and CEO said Tuesday afternoon during a wide-ranging, 55-minute interview. “And the reason why is I thought we did a lot of good things in the offseason. When we got to spring training, the way we played in spring training was really encouraging. I think everyone in the organization that saw those games, and I certainly saw all of them, was really encouraged. And so, for whatever reason — injuries, or this or that, the vagaries of the game — it’s been a very, very frustrating season.

    That’s scary – we have confirmation right there that one of the two head honchos operations-wise doesn’t have a freaking clue. He watched it go down, yet he still somehow doesn’t grasp that this past offseason was just awful.

  28. leftfield limey on October 2nd, 2013 3:59 am

    I do not believe $14m is great value for Morales but given the lack of alternatives in free agency; the apparent unwillingness of hitters to go to Seattle and the room on the Mariners’ payroll it does not look like a vast overpay. Mulitple year deal though could be a different story depending on the numbers.

    However more interesting to me than the making of the QO is whether Morales will accept it. My guess is not (and therefore making the QO is a no brainer). If someone does not make him a sufficient offer in the thin free agent market then it would not appear totally illogical for Morales to opt for an underpay year in a bandbox/higher profile market and try again next year.

  29. djw on October 2nd, 2013 5:33 am

    I really hope Morales takes it, actually. My new approach to this off-season is this: every one year deal is worthy of celebration, no matter how objectively terrible. The less $$ Zduriencik has to hamstring the next GM on multi-year contracts, the better.

  30. Jopa on October 2nd, 2013 6:20 am

    I question the use of the word “overpay”. For older players, there is a great deal of value to the team in keeping the contract as short as possible. It’s not logical to say that he’s worth only $9M/yr when that would require, for example, a 4yr contract.

    Would the Angels be better off if they had signed Hamilton to a 1yr $35M contract instead of a $150M/6yr, such that they could cut bait now? Obviously, yes.

    They are essentially paying his market value, which is a combination of what his (reduced) annual salary would be on a long-term contract, plus a premium paid to shorten the deal to one year.

    Add to that the 1st round pick if he declines and it’s a no-lose situation to the M’s. Great move.

  31. Mekias on October 2nd, 2013 8:11 am

    I 100% approve of this 1-yr qualifying offer for Morales. It’s a slight overpay but, as others have stated, there are a lot of good reasons to make this decision. It mostly comes down to the situation we’re in, the difficulty of getting good hitters to come to Seattle, and the lack of quality in the free agent class. We know we’ll have to overpay for any hitter so a 1-yr overpay is actually a bargain.

    If he rejects the QO, that’s fine, we’ll get a draft pick. Since he’s a Boras client, I completely expect him to reject it. If this knocks down his market value enough so that we can sign him for a lower value 2 or 3 year deal, I can live with that (around 9-10 mill/yr). The only concern is that we offer him a 3 or 4 year deal for $14 mill or more per year. I don’t “think” we’ll do that.

  32. Dobbs on October 2nd, 2013 9:54 am

    Making the qualifying offer makes sense just to get a draft pick out of it of Kendrys. Boras is the least likely agent to accept a QO.

    Trying to actually sign Morales is a bad idea.

  33. Easley45 on October 2nd, 2013 10:26 am

    Now I have a nice term to describe something that seems better than it is, due to low expectations. Thank you, Mr. Sullivan.

  34. evolvingcaveman on October 2nd, 2013 12:27 pm

    KC’s Billy Butler will be making 12.5 million in 2014 and Kendrys is a good DH/1b comparable and slightly outhit him this year so I’m fine with a QO since it’s the price of doing business. Can we please as fans not talk ourselves out of getting a free agent Outfielder because they “cost too much”. Do we have a U.S.S Mariner stamp of approval on one of Choo/Ellsbury/Granderson so I can root quietly for the right move or are we going to hate the years/length no matter what.

  35. JasonJ on October 2nd, 2013 12:44 pm

    Assuming any of those guys you mentioned would even sign with Seattle I’m pretty sure the contract is going to be shocking and everyone will deem it an overpay – especially if it’s Ellsbury or Choo.

    I tend to change my mind on who I would like but the fact that Ellsbury plays center makes me think he is the best option (also the most expensive). We need athletic outfielders with range and Ellsbury provides that.

  36. Westside guy on October 6th, 2013 2:09 pm

    Jacob Ellsbury only had nine dingers and fifty three RBI this season. A lot of his value is in defense and baserunning. No way this regime seriously pursues him.

    Granderson, on the other hand, seems like an ideal Zduriencik pick. Aging player, declining skill set, was once very good so he still has the reputation even without the performance.

  37. Westside guy on October 6th, 2013 2:17 pm

    I could see Choo as well. Horrible defender coming off a career best offensive season, wrong side of thirty, another guy Mariners fans ask “why do they always get better…” about.

    At least he’s more durable than Morse…

    Yeah, my money’s on Choo being our big off-season signing. And yes, I am completely serious.

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