Morales and agent Scott Boras have been waiting for the right offer since the beginning of the season to no avail. The hang-up with signing Morales is the team that picks him up will have to send its highest unprotected draft pick over to the Mariners should he sign before the draft, which begins on June 5.
No team in their right mind would sign Morales this close to the draft, and he wouldn’t even be ready to play for a few weeks anyway. Now is the time for general manager Jack Zduriencik to act, as Morales fills an obvious need and will be scooped up quickly after June 8.
That’s why the Boston Red Sox finally signed Stephen Drew on May 20, leaving Morales as the last major free agent standing.
Morales should come at a similar price to Drew, as it would be pretty unreasonable at this point for him to expect a multi-year contract. At that price, Morales would provide great value over the rest of the season while addressing one of Seattle’s most critical needs.
Last season with the Mariners, Morales compiled a solid .277/.336/.449 line over 156 games. Anything close to that kind of production would easily be an upgrade over the Mariners’ current situation at DH and would continue to be even if the team was at full health.
In addition to good patience, Morales has the power to make an instant contribution to the Mariners’ offense. He may not ever match his career high of 34 home runs in 2009 again, but Morales slugged 23 a year ago, including this absolute blast late in the season against the St. Louis Cardinals.
As a switch-hitter, Morales could help provide the right-handed production the Mariners desperately need. Seattle’s team OPS of .648 against left-handed pitching ranks 27th in the majors, as the club was lefty-heavy to begin with and has been unable to get much from the few righties it does have.
Morales is a considerably better hitter from the left side. But his career OPS of .736 from the right side easily beats what the Mariners will get out of Stefen Romero or Nick Franklin against left-handed pitching.
The Mariners hoped the DH role would be occupied by reclamation projects Logan Morrison and Corey Hart before the season. Both are currently suffering from hamstring injuries and have been ineffective in the brief time they have played this year.
Morales would likely be ready right around the same time Morrison and Hart are supposed to return, creating a bit of a logjam, but the Mariners could find a way to optimize their lineup either way. There’s no reason to think Morrison would be better than Morales over the rest of the year against right-handed pitching, likely relegating the former to a bench role.
Hart, one of Seattle’s few right-handed hitters, has compiled a line of .209/.295/.303 with five home runs in 37 games. If the Mariners were to platoon the two for a bit to see if Hart can provide anything, that’s fine, but Morales should be able to roughly match Hart’s power over the rest of the year with a far better on-base percentage.
That’s assuming Morrison and Hart even come back healthy, which is no guarantee. Morrison has been out for six weeks with a hamstring strain, and Adam Lewis of Sportspress Northwest reports he isn’t ready to return from a rehab stint yet.
Hart, even more of an injury risk, suffered the same injury and was given the same timetable as Morrison. It could be some time before he is ready.
Morales isn’t a player that’s going to improve the Mariners so much that they jump over the Oakland Athletics or Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Calif. But at 26-26, the Mariners are just two games out of the Wild Card, and Morales could help them stick around in that race for a while.
Sliding Morales into the No. 4 spot in the lineup between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager would make the Mariners lineup look fairly dangerous all of a sudden. With the way James Jones and Michael Saunders are producing at the top of the order, the Mariners would have a strong one through five, with Mike Zunino providing a legitimate power threat lower in the lineup.
Couple that with the fact that the Mariners hope to get James Paxton and Taijuan Walker back in the next month, and they aren’t totally out of the race yet. Bringing in Cano with that massive contract means Seattle thinks it can win now, and Morales is the type of signing that would back that up.
Of course, there could be unforeseen circumstances preventing the Mariners from grabbing Morales. It could be that Morales is still hoping for a multi-year contract or that he simply doesn’t want to play in Seattle.
Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reports that Morales turned down an extended deal from the Mariners during the offseason.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports also recently wrote a piece that suggested the Mariners don’t have the financial resources to sign Morales. His report states that “rival executives, however, say the M's are again signaling that they lack the payroll flexibility to make such a move.”
Who knows to what extent that is true, but the Mariners may have just found some extra money. Hart’s contract is loaded with incentives based on plate appearances that he may not reach due to injury, potentially saving the team up to $4.65 million.
Zduriencik’s hands may be tied, but if it’s a matter of just two or three million, he needs to act now in an attempt to improve his club as much as possible.
There were times during the offseason and earlier this year where signing Morales didn’t make sense. Now is the perfect time for the Mariners to bring him back.
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