Get Comfortable, Kendrys Morales

By now, the “Kendrys Morales is this year’s Kyle Lohse” jokes are already stale, but the point remains: Just as we saw with Lohse last year, a decent-yet-hardly-elite player is going to get weighed down by the anchor of the qualifying offer placed upon him. Not only does the offer drop the cost of a draft pick on Morales, but it sets the baseline of a $14.1 million salary, and while there’s nothing that says he can’t ultimately accept less than that, the fact that he’s a Scott Boras client makes it incredibly unlikely.

As you’d expect, the proclamations for his future are getting dire, especially now that the Mariners — the only team who wouldn’t need to surrender a pick for him, of course — went out and added Corey Hart and Logan Morrison to a roster that already had Justin Smoak (and, somewhere, Jesus Montero). One unnamed GM told Peter Gammons that he “can’t see Morales signing until after the [June] draft,” when the compensation pick would disappear, which seems a bit drastic, but Buster Olney’s suggestion of “February or March” looks absolutely reasonable.

Boras eventually found Lohse a home in Milwaukee days before the 2013 started, and he’ll do the same here eventually. So let’s play along: Where can Morales land in 2014?

First and foremost, we have to figure out what Morales is, and that’s surprisingly easy. In the two full seasons he’s had since returning from that broken ankle that cost him all of 2011, he’s put up wRC+ of 118 (Angels, 2012) and 116 (Mariners, 2013). His career average is — wait for it — 117. Steamer thinks he’s going to be at 120 next year; Oliver, 118. There’s really not a whole lot of variance there, and while he won’t keep up that pace forever, one’s age-31 season isn’t usually when a sudden breakdown occurs.

Let’s consider him primarily a DH for the moment, and realize that there’s actually some value here. A wRC+ of 117 is somewhat above average, yet doesn’t seem all that special, especially for a player who adds no value on the basepaths or on defense. Then again, do remember how many American League teams struggled to even make it to that level out of the position:

Primary DH
Red Sox
Blue Jays
Encarnacion / Lind
Santana / Giambi
Doumit / Willingham
Pujols / Hamilton
Carter / Pena
White Sox
Dunn / Konerko
Valencia / Reimold

There’s really only three teams where Morales wouldn’t have been some level of improvement last year, which I’m guessing is fewer than you might have guessed, and all three of those teams will return their primary designated hitters. In theory, that means that 11 other teams (excluding the Mariners here) should have some level of interest. In practice, Kansas City is set at 1B/DH with Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler, while Detroit has Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez and the White Sox just added Jose Abreu to their Paul Konerko / Adam Dunn combo.

Absent the existence of the qualifying offer, you could argue that eight teams should have interest, but now we’re in to the part of the market where the qualifying offer continues to be nothing but a tax on players — and not all players, just a very specific subset of players who weren’t traded and might have made eight digits annually in the market. (There’s a reason why not a single player has accepted the offer in the two years of its existence.) While a wRC+ in the 115-120 range is hardly star-level — Morales tied for 69th last year with guys like Billy Butler, Juan Uribe, and Ian Desmond — it’s still above-average, and you can see a number of those teams willing to add Morales at the right price.

But then, who is going to surrender a first-round pick for a player like this? Of the AL teams we haven’t yet eliminated, only the Astros, Twins, and Yankees either have a protected first-round pick or have already lost it via other signings.

Looking at those others, do the Rays strike you as a team likely to give up a first rounder, especially after giving James Loney three years? Not really. Nor do the A’s, who have more than enough moving parts to staff DH after trading Seth Smith and rarely go after guys like Morales anyway. While the Angels could probably use someone to share first and DH with Albert Pujols, you’d hope they’d have learned their lesson about what happens when you endlessly dump first round picks by now.

The other two, Baltimore and Texas, have better arguments to make. Baltimore’s DH group, led by Danny Valencia, was atrocious last year and still ranks as last among AL teams in our current positional projections, though some reports indicate they’re not interested; Texas may want to improve on Mitch Moreland as a Prince Fielder complement, but isn’t likely to make a move unless they lose a pick for signing Shin-Soo Choo first.

Back to the three teams with protected picks, the Twins probably should be all over this, because a Ryan Doumit / Chris Colabello / whomever else compilation at DH seems dreadful, and they seem to have some interest in competing in 2014 after signing Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, and Mike Pelfrey. But it’s uncertain how much they have left to spend after that trio, and there’s been almost nothing linking them with Morales so far anyway. Houston could conceivably see Morales as a decent trade chip for mid-season, but is more likely to just use Chris Carter at DH.

And then there’s the Yankees, who are in the odd position of not having a productive DH while also potentially not having space for Morales. Considering their never-ending collection of elderly ballplayers who can’t be in the field seven days a week — with Brian Roberts joining Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells, Ichiro Suzuki, and (maybe) Alex Rodriguez — one would think that they have more than enough names to circulate through the DH spot. Then again, draft picks are of no consideration to them at this point, they had the worst DH production in the game last year, and Mark Teixeira is hardly bulletproof at first base, either.

We’ll hear NL teams getting into the mix from time to time, but Morales simply can’t be in a place where he needs to wear a glove more than once a week, and while there’s certainly options here — Baltimore, Texas, and the Yankees probably ranking the most highly — there’s no perfect solution. That puts Morales in a very uncomfortable position, since not only is he likely to be unemployed for weeks or months to come, his best bet might be the same way that Boras got Fielder his mega-deal with Detroit: an unfortunately timed winter or early spring injury causing desperation. (Or otherwise having the remaining qualifying offer guys like Choo, Ervin Santana, Nelson Cruz, and Ubaldo Jimenez falling in such a way that a particular team no longer cares about losing another draft pick.)

That’s unfortunate for Morales, a reasonably valuable player who could provide one to two wins in the right situation, yet one who now finds himself unable to get his true market value thanks to the oddities of the qualifying offer.

Mike Petriello used to write here, and now he does not. Find him at @mike_petriello or

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mario mendoza
10 years ago

All of this should’ve been readily apparent to Boras and Morales before they turned down the QO.

Not only won’t Morales make 14MM this year, I doubt he manages to total 25MM over the next THREE years with this strategy.

Brandon Firstname
10 years ago
Reply to  mario mendoza

The only thing stupider than the Mariners making Morales a qualifying offer was him not accepting it.

Looks like the pride of Boras got in his own way this time. Then again Boras may be able to pull this one out, but I have serious doubts.

10 years ago

I would be very surprised if Boras didn’t advise his client to take the QO in this case.

You have to remember, he’s an advisor. He doesn’t make the decisions.

10 years ago
Reply to  RC

Not sure about that, this looks like more ammo for Boras’s fight against this whole QO system. He has been very vocal against it from the beginning and also could not have the only player ever to accept the offer be one of his clients.

10 years ago

Why was it stupid for the Mariners to make the offer?

That makes no sense.

If someone caves and signs him, they get a draft pick. If he doesn’t, no cost to them.

Even if he had ACCEPTED, it wouldn’t have been a bad outcome.

Jack Zduriencik
10 years ago
Reply to  Steve

Oh yes it would’ve been. The man isn’t worth 14.1 million per year.

The Real Jack Z
10 years ago
Reply to  Steve

Look at all those homers and RBIs! We can fit him in at shortstop.

10 years ago
Reply to  Steve

It’s a one year commitment for a player that is better than the one they signed to replace him.

They just dropped $6 billion dollars on Cano, who cares if they “overpay” a 1Bman by $2M?

And since he declined the QO, then it seems like they read the situation correctly, and it was very smart to make the offer. Strange argument. How many Boras clients have accepted QO’s?

10 years ago
Reply to  Steve

“They just dropped $6 billion dollars on Cano, who cares if they “overpay” a 1Bman by $2M?”

Maybe because he is not a 1B.

10 years ago

It’s simply whack job nuts folks keep banging the ‘he shudda taken the offer’ number. No, absolutely he should _NOT_ have. Why? This is the one time in his career that Kendrys Morales has a shot a a _MULTI-YEAR_ contract. Multiple years are more total dollars. Multiple years are a serious committment of playing time too, which matters a lot, especially to a guy who is bat-only. What is it about the word ‘guaranteed’ that isn’t comprehended by folks not on Kendrys’ side of the table? In the end, Kendrys will get a multi-year deal.

If Morales had taken one year, and had so-so results or gotten injured, he would _never_ again have a good shot at a multi-year deal. He would have to take one-year deals, and prove himself in Spring Training every year from here on out. And those delas would be well under $10M per annum, at least as far as the guarantee. Essentially, Kendrys would see his ‘quote’ drop substantially—and permanently. Even if Morales took the offer and had a good year, he would be in much the same situation as this year, the Mariners could extend him another QO. Except he’s a year older then.

There was no upside whatsoever for Kendrys Morales to take a one-year offer. The only circumstance under which it would have made sense to take that would have been if Kendrys was either injured or coming off such a bad year that he needed a pillow contract situation. But that wasn’t the case.

Don’t be surprised if Morales ends up back with the Mariners, either. Kendrys has the lowest ISO of his career, by .20. Start of a decline, or just normal variation? I’ll take the over, with Kendrys likely to hit at least as well for another year or two. Subtract Smoak and add back Morales while finding a real outfielder would be no bad deal. I’d be happy with the pick here as an alternative, either first round or supplemental. Morales has real value; not a huge ceiling, not over 4+ years, with the right roster fit only. But he’ll find a place and play, with multi-year money guaranteed.

10 years ago
Reply to  Balthazar

This is likely the reason he declined the offer, but it is very pessimistic for a 31 year DH to believe he has peaked. If he had taken the 14 million, has a comparable season to this past year, as he most likely will, he would be in a position to get a nice multi-year deal in ’14. As it is, any deal he gets will be tempered by the compensation pick and the lack of suitors.

10 years ago
Reply to  Balthazar

If he has a good year, he’s a 32-year old even more probably DH stone certain to have a qualifying offer hung on him after 2014. What’s different in that? Yes, maybe Kendrys rakes so fine he’s in big money; if not, he’s deep in manure and never going to get an eight-figure offer again. Handicap the downside as well as the upside. What did Chris Young sign for this offseason?—And he’s a defensive plus at a crucial field position!

10 years ago
Reply to  Balthazar

That makes no sense to me what so ever. To date Kendrys Morales has made $13.5M playing baseball. In one year he’d double his life earnings if he took the QO. If you look around, its pretty easy to see that the difference between having $14M and $28M is still very large, and after you take about 50% out for taxes, its more like $7M and $14M. That jump is still pretty large and with QO its CERTAIN, which is a very important point.

Now without the QO, he had to know his list of suitors is low because of his relatively limited value (DH only) and the loss of a pick. So, he’s really not looking at getting 3+ years on a contract. Most organization have some sort of internal option to get 1-2 WAR out of a bat-only player. Or at the very least, they should have the ability to turn a few half decent AAA players into one with a trade and maybe a couple million bucks. The 1-2 WAR DH-only is the position player equivalent of middle relief. Its the easiest position fill because A) you can pull from the entire pool of hitters since no glove is required and B) 1-2 WAR isn’t much, your best hitter in AAA should generally be able to do that.

So the idea that he was going to get more than $14M in total dollars, even in multi-year deal, was far from certain. And that’s the really issue, certainty. Maybe Morales gets lucky and a team that wants to compete loses a DH/1B and suddenly has a whole to fill and a decent contract can be found, but that was far from certain when he declined the QO. And any team that isn’t going to compete really shouldn’t be interested in a player like Morales, since, as I said, most teams can get the same or close to it product from their best OF/1B/DH bat in AAA for $500K if they bring him up.

So what was this multi-year deal value, say 2x10M or something, but what was the chance it actually happened? I can’t even put 50-50 on it in my head. More like 25-75 (for-against). It seems to me he was most likely going to make less in 2 years without the QO than he would make in one year with the QO. So, why even worry about where this puts him next year? With that math anything you make next year is all gravy anyway. If you flame out or get injured, at least you got the $14M while you could, and now you can try to fight back with $4M year-to-year deals. Or you have a better year and maybe a multi-year, 8 digit deal is more likely….Either way its all up side.

10 years ago
Reply to  Balthazar

“If he has a good year, he’s a 32-year old even more probably DH stone certain to have a qualifying offer hung on him after 2014. What’s different in that?”

If he makes $14.1M this year, and gets another QO next year for probably ~ 5% more, he’ll have earned ~ $29M/2. I doubt he’d earn that even over three years right now. That’s why some FAs don’t receive a QO. The team doesn’t want to go through a series of one-year $14M+ agreements for players only worth $10M.

Dag Gummit
10 years ago
Reply to  Balthazar

I don’t know if that’s an appropriate assessment, Joe. After all, in continuing the comparisons with Lohse, we see that even he got 3/$33M deal. Given how many of the late-signings last year shook down into that range, I’d figure something in that ballpark for Morales wherever he ends up signing.

10 years ago
Reply to  mario mendoza

Players don’t look at AAV so much as total dollars guaranteed. A 2 year deal at 25 might be better than 1 yr at 14 million, and 3 yrs at 30 million might be better than 1/14 also.

Morales will be signed, it makes no difference when you sign, December or March. Heck, he could make more waiting for June 15 when some contender loses a key 1B/DH . Boras gets it, patience pays.

10 years ago
Reply to  pft

This is a good point. Also, if Morales takes the QO, that might be his last crack at a 8 figure salary. He is almost forced because of his age and experience to try and break out of where he is. Its not going to change next year, if he performs they’ll slap the QO right back on him. In a way its kind of a screwy move by the FO, but within their rights. You know every player on the cusp like this is furious with the comp sapping value.

10 years ago
Reply to  pft

pft, I think the main issue is that people don’t think he’d be able to get close to 2 years and $25MM, or 3 years and $30MM. If those offers were on the table, then it’s much more acceptable to turn down the QO. But if he winds up with 2 years and $16-18MM, I don’t see that as a win for him.

Having said that, it’s always amusing to read articles and comments about this in December, as if Boras has finally messed up. Then a month or two later, he signs a nice deal for his client and everybody wonders how it happened. I can’t criticize him for rejecting the QO until he signs a bad contract.