Top 6 Potential Suitors for Coveted MLB Free-Agent Bat Kendrys Morales
The 2014 Major League Baseball draft began Thursday, and several of the amateurs selected will focus on achieving their dream of reaching the big leagues and making an impact in The Show one day.
There's only one player, though, who can rightfully expect to make an impact this season now that the draft is underway. That's Kendrys Morales, who isn't some fresh-faced teenage draftee but a grizzled veteran who's been stuck in free-agent purgatory since the end of the 2013 campaign.
In many ways, however, the draft marks a new beginning for Morales, who at last is no longer anchored down by draft-pick compensation for rejecting the $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Seattle Mariners last November. Morales was one of 13 free agents to do so, but he remains the only one still unsigned after shortstop Stephen Drew reached a deal to return to the Boston Red Sox in late May.
Morales, a switch-hitter who turns 31 later this month, can still get it done with the bat—he averaged .275/.329/.457, 23 homers and 77 RBI across 2012 and 2013—which means he'll have teams angling to bring him aboard for a midseason boost.
Here's a rundown of clubs who could make a play for Morales.
There's one big reason why Morales doesn't make sense for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and it has to do with his defense—or lack thereof. A liability with the glove, Morales is more of a designated hitter than a first baseman these days, so he's a better fit with an American League team searching for some power to place in the middle of its lineup.
That said, the Pirates have stayed afloat at 28-31 by going with a platoon of Ike Davis (acquired in an early-season trade with the New York Mets) and Gaby Sanchez at first, which hasn't been all that bad but also isn't all that exciting either.
It would take some roster rejiggering to squeeze Morales in as a third first baseman in Pittsburgh, but with top prospect Gregory Polanco expected to soon join the mix as a reinforcement, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the Pirates could decide to make two splashes instead of one.
With Carlos Santana and Nick Swisher currently on the disabled list—and frankly, hitting as if they've been there all season long anyway—Morales could give the up-and-down Cleveland Indians some stability now that they've made it back to .500 at 30-30.
The biggest issue here would be the financial cost for small-market Cleveland. While Morales isn't likely to command a huge amount of cash, he and agent Scott Boras are in position to leverage a handful of teams against each other at the moment, which should drive the price up.
Understandably, the Milwaukee Brewers were hesitant to go after any first baseman with a high cost of acquisition (either in terms of money or draft picks) this past offseason, even though the hole at the position was plain to see. That's because even the Brewers themselves didn't necessarily know what kind of team they'd be in 2014.
Turns out, at 36-25, they're contenders who have been atop the NL Central since April 9 and remain five games ahead of the second-place St. Louis Cardinals.
To keep that position, though, Milwaukee is going to have to make a move or two to bring in some depth and shore up areas of need such as first base. That puts the Brewers in play for Morales, Heyman reports.
After temporarily shifting to third base to cover for an injured Aramis Ramirez, Mark Reynolds is back across the diamond, but he's been, well, his usual self. Reynolds does have 13 homers and 28 RBI but also a .212 average and a 32.0 percent strikeout rate.
The Texas Rangers have endured an unbelievable spate of significant injuries this season, from left-handers Derek Holland, Martin Perez and Matt Harrison to second baseman Jurickson Profar to catcher Geovany Soto.
None, though, was a bigger knockout blow than losing new first baseman Prince Fielder for the season due to neck surgery. That prompted Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News to point out that getting Morales could make sense for Texas.
Despite all that, the team has managed to hang around at 30-30, but if the Rangers are going to continue to do so, they're going to need some productive—and healthy—players.
New York Yankees
While bringing Morales to the Bronx might seem like overcrowding, the New York Yankees reportedly have been in contact with the free agent as recently as earlier this week, according to Heyman (who really has been all over this story).
With Mark Teixeira at first base and Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano splitting time at designated hitter, adding yet another piece could turn the playing-time situation into a very complicated puzzle for manager Joe Girardi.
Then again, those three players are 34, 37 and 38 years old respectively, and Teixeira and Beltran have been battling through serious wrist and elbow injuries for some time. Plus, the team has gotten just six homers and 20 RBI from the DH spot so far, which is not going to get it done going forward.
Morales rejected the Mariners' qualifying offer last winter, which is why he's even in this mess in the first place. But far be it from emotions to get in the way of baseball business, especially now that Seattle won't be getting any compensation pick.
Even more so because at the moment, the M's have been deploying someone named Stefen Romero, a 25-year-old rookie who is hitting .214/.264/.368—and whom you probably never even had heard of until about 20 words ago.
It's come to that for Seattle because free-agent signee Corey Hart and trade acquisition Logan Morrison both remain sidelined with hamstring injuries.
The Mariners have been playing well of late, bringing their overall record to 31-28, which actually puts them in a wild-card spot at the moment. And there are improvements that could be made, considering the team's .658 OPS from first base is worse than every club's other than the Houston Astros and San Diego Padres, and its .596 OPS from DH is ahead of only the Kansas City Royals in the AL.
Seattle's in position to capitalize on a solid start and perhaps even make a playoff push by bringing back a familiar face.
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