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Kendrys Morales' Surprise Signing Shows Twins Are Serious About Playoff Push

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Kendrys Morales' Surprise Signing Shows Twins Are Serious About Playoff Push
Ed Szczepanski/USA Today Images

After months of waiting, Kendrys Morales has landed on a team for the remainder of the 2014 season. In what can be described as a major surprise, the Minnesota Twins were the team to ink the former Angels and Mariners slugger in a move that doubles as an edict toward a muddled American League postseason picture.

The deal, first reported by Jon Heyman of CBS, came just days after the first-year player draft began, assuring that Minnesota would not have to surrender draft-pick compensation to the Seattle Mariners for the rights to sign Morales. According to Phil Miller of the Star Tribune, the team isn't planning on making an official announcement on Saturday.

On the surface, the fit is puzzling. With Joe Mauer now entrenched as an everyday first baseman and players such as Josh Willingham and Chris Colabello taking swings at designated hitter, the idea of Minnesota adding Morales wasn't on the radar for baseball insiders.

Furthermore, the Twins entered play on June 7 in the cellar of the AL Central, three games under .500 and garnering little national attention as a team that could compete for a postseason berth in 2014.

Despite those factors, Morales is now a switch-hitting member of the Twins lineup because of parity that has swept over baseball, especially the AL. Typically, it would be time to think about selling and looking ahead to the trade deadline.

This year, however, Minnesota's below-average 59-game start actually puts it in the thick of the race, just five games behind the division-leading Detroit Tigers. Remarkably, Minnesota woke up on June 7 within two games in the loss column of Seattle and the New York Yankees, the two teams currently tied for the second AL wild-card spot. 

While Morales isn't an all-around impact player who can add four or five wins to Minnesota's total over the next few months, he's a major bat that can be paired with Mauer, Willingham and Brian Dozier in the middle of manager Ron Gardenhire's order.

After a recent loss to the deep, powerful Milwaukee Brewers, Twins starter Kevin Correia praised a lineup that features Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez and Aramis Ramirez. In a way, his words foreshadowed Minnesota's front office attempting to replicate a bit of the Brewers' magic, per Alex Smith of MLB.com.

"They're arguably probably the best-hitting team in the National League," Correia said. "They have a lot of guys that can hurt you. You've got to be careful."

Now, opposing pitchers must be careful against Minnesota's order. After posting a .277/.336/.449 line for Seattle in 2013, Morales will try to bolster a Twins offense that entered play on June 7 ranked 19th in OPS, 21st in home runs, 15th in runs scored and 20th in slugging percentage, per ESPN. 

Despite an OPS under .800 since the start of the 2012 season, Morales' experience in the cavernous Safeco Field should dispel concerns about his ability to rake at Target Field in Minnesota.

On that note, ESPN's Buster Olney was puzzled by the fact that Morales didn't end up in a park more conducive to his skills in the batter's box:

In fact, when comparing Morales' adjusted OPS—weighed using league and park factors—to his contemporary first basemen and designated hitters, it's clear that the Twins added a bat that has the ability to be ranked among the best in the game.

Since becoming a full-time player in 2009, Morales owns a 128 OPS+ across 2,012 plate appearances for the Angels and Mariners. If he can reprise that figure while in Minnesota, Gardenhire would be able to pencil in a hitter with a better OPS+ than all but 10 first basemen and designated hitters this season. 

1B/DH Sluggers: 2014 OPS+ Leaders
Player Team OPS+
Brandon Moss Athletics 165
Victor Martinez Tigers 162
Edwin Encarnacion Blue Jays 162
Jose Abreu White Sox 152
Miguel Cabrera Tigers 145
Anthony Rizzo Cubs 144
Paul Goldschmidt Diamondbacks 141
Freddie Freeman Braves 137
David Ortiz Red Sox 134
Adam Dunn White Sox 129

Baseball-Reference

To be fair, the idea of the 2014 Minnesota Twins playing meaningful September baseball—with or without Morales—seems like a stretch. Outside of Mauer and the ascending Dozier, the offense is full of aging veterans or young players with questionable upside. On the pitching side, Phil Hughes is one of only two current starters with an ERA+ above league average.

Perhaps that's why ESPN's playoff odds only give the Twins a 20.1 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason.

Caveats aside, give the Twins credit for attempting to win over the next few months. Although 20.1 percent seems like a low figure, it's nearly equal to the Yankees' (21.0 percent) and Orioles' (21.4 percent) chances, two teams with October dreams.

Can Kendrys Morales help keep the Twins in the playoff race?

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If the Twins had signed Morales in the offseason or prior to the June 5-7 draft—surrendering a critical draft pick along the way—the franchise would be ripe for criticism. That's not the case here. By inking Morales, Minnesota has buoyed a mediocre offense and told its fanbase that back-to-back-to-back 95-plus-loss seasons aren't acceptable any longer.

 

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Roster projections via MLB Depth Charts.

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