The Mariners kept to their word and officially extended Kendrys Morales a $14.1m qualifying offer on Monday. Morales now has until next Monday to accept the offer, but his agent Scott Boras has already made it clear that that won’t be happening. That means that he will hit the open market as a compensation free agent, meaning that if any team signs Morales to a free agent contract offer, Seattle will be rewarded with a compensation pick at the end of the first round. And if the signing team’s pick is outside of the Top-10 selections of the first round, they would surrender said first round pick. Those with protected first round picks would surrender their second round pick.
As you can understand -- and as we saw firsthand last off-season with a few free agents -- such a move can greatly depress a player’s market. First baseman Adam LaRoche, Outfielder Michael Bourn and pitcher Kyle Loshe were among nine free agents tied to compensation last year and they each sat on the free agent market much longer than expected, most likely because of their ties to the new compensation rules, adjusted under baseball’s latest update to the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
On top of the compensation concerns, Morales himself limits his market a bit with his profile. He has played a fair amount of first base in his career, including 31 mainly uneventful games there last year for Seattle, but despite his somewhat favorable standing in the 2014 FanGraphs Free Agent Leaderboards, he is generally viewed as a player that is best suited to serve as a designated hitter. He isn’t fleet of foot, has had injuries in the past and doesn’t have a super athletic body type. And while he is a switch-hitter with some power and decent plate discipline, he isn’t viewed as a big bopper capable of 30-plus home runs year in and year out, which is the type of bat that most teams look for to plug into their first base or DH roles. Meaning that teams aren’t likely to be lining up to surrender a draft pick for his services.
Of the 10 clubs with protected picks, just half of them are American League teams: the Houston Astros, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle. The other half are in the National League, and they don’t seem likely to gamble a large dollar contract on Morales being able to stay healthy for several seasons while playing primarily first base. And, again, as Morales doesn’t have the type of difference making bat that most teams look for to plug into their first base or DH roles, Seattle is somewhat uniquely positioned to bring him back.
The Astros aren't a team that is likely to spring for a $10m-plus annual contract at this point in their development. The White Sox and Twins appear to be fairly set at first base and designated hitter. And while Toronto could certainly add another bat to their lineup -- particularly if they end up moving Adam Lind -- GM Alex Anthopoulos doesn't seem like the type to pay double digit millions to a 6-hole hitting, defensively challenged free agent. And along that same line of thought, will teams be willing to part with a draft pick for such a player? Not likely.
This isn't meant to unfairly talk down on Kendrys. Morales led Seattle in hits (167), doubles (34), RBI (80), Intentional Walks (6) and AVG (.277) in 2013, ranking second on the club in home runs (23), OBP (.336), SLG (.449) and OPS (.785) while playing in a career high 156 games in his age 30 season. For his career Morales is a .280/.333/.480 hitter overall and a .285/.341/.496 hitter at Safeco Field. He was originally signed out of Cuba (as a refugee living in the Dominican Republic) by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in December of 2004. Seattle is looking at an off-season where they will have a lot of money at their disposal to chase after improvements for their team, and retaining Morales could easily fit in their budget.
Some Mariners fans, and possibly even some in the M's front office, may want to keep the designated hitter role open for one time can't-miss-prospect Jesus Montero. He is a right-handed bat that has the potential to help what has been a very heavy left-handed lineup in Seattle, but his early 2013 struggles and eventual 50-game suspension from the Biogenesis cluster that ended his 2013 season really seems to have taken all of the shine off of him. Montero is still just 22, but he seems like he's further away from being a major league regular now than he has been in years. Morales seems like a safer bet, and he definitely seems like a better fallback option as a defensive option at first base at this point in each player's career.
I believe that the Mariners, Morales and Boras will ultimately agree that Kendrys best fits in Seattle, where he can be a middle of the order bat and an everyday DH, and find enough common ground to agree to a two-year contract with an option for a third year that could bring the total value to the $32m-$35m range.
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