Greg Johns of MLB.com confirms that the Mariners sent reliever Stephen Pryor to the Twins in exchange for Morales:
Morales isn’t an impact bat, but he should be able to provide a slight improvement as a designated hitter at a low cost. It’s a sensible move for the Mariners to make, albeit a weird one after Morales rejected multiple contracts from the team in the offseason, including a $14.1 million qualifying offer.
Best-case scenario, Morales shakes off the rust from his late start to the season and matches his numbers from last year for the rest of the season. If Morales doesn’t turn it around, the Mariners are no worse off than before, either this year or for the future, as they didn’t give up much value to get him.
Morales signed with the Twins after the MLB draft, as he would no longer come at the cost of a compensation pick. Since debuting on June 9, Morales has hit .234/.359/.325 with just one home run.
Those numbers aren’t going to help Seattle’s woeful DH situation, so the Mariners are hoping Morales’ slow start is due to rust from not having a spring training. Morales has been a little better since July 7, raising his season average from .219 and collecting six doubles in that span.
The Mariners need Morales to hit well right away. Seattle is 2-5 since the All-Star break and has lost control of the second AL wild-card spot, as Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times highlights:
If Morales can even get close to his 118 wRC+ of last year over the rest of the season, the Mariners will be quite happy with the trade. With Michael Saunders out, Seattle has two healthy regulars in the lineup with wRC+ marks over the league average of 100.
Lloyd McClendon said that Morales can at least give some flexibility to a lineup that has been counting on Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager to do everything, via Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com.
"He's a professional hitter. He gives us the opportunity to stretch out our lineup, so to speak. He's a nice fit, switch-hitter, hitting behind Robbie (Cano). ... He gives us options, what we want to do with (Kyle) Seager, where we want to hit him. I like it," he said.
Even if Morales continues to struggle, he comes at a low price. Pryor has upside, but he has not pitched well in Triple-A this season while recovering from major lat surgery.
The big concern is about Pryor’s velocity. His fastball currently sits at around 92 mph after averaging 96.2 in the 2012 season before the injury, according to FanGraphs.
Pryor could get healthy and become an effective reliever once again, but he wouldn’t have been an upgrade over anyone in the deep Mariners bullpen. Barring multiple injuries, Pryor wasn’t going to pitch again in the majors this year, as prospect Carson Smith is also waiting in Triple-A.
Morales’ addition will likely cost at-bats for Corey Hart as the team’s primary DH. Hart has been unable to get going after missing all of last season in addition to a lengthy stint on the disabled list earlier this year.
As a switch-hitter, Morales will likely be in the lineup every day as the DH. He has been considerably better against right-handers in his career, so a platoon with Jesus Montero (career .827 OPS versus left-handers) would make some sense, but the Mariners don’t seem too keen on giving Montero playing time.
Morales could potentially start at first base against lefties, although he is awful defensively. Johns confirmed that the current plan is to platoon Hart and Logan Morrison at first, with Morales playing if needed.
The only way this trade could hurt the Mariners is if they get complacent and make no other moves, as Morales is not enough on his own to key a playoff run. That doesn’t seem to be the case, as Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reports that Seattle asked about outfielder Drew Stubbs on Thursday:
Morales should offer a slight improvement at basically no cost to the Mariners. It’s not a flashy impact trade, but it makes sense.
All stats via FanGraphs.com, unless otherwise noted.