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February 4, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Monday, February 4

by Daniel Rathman

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The Super Bowl is now behind us, and that means that spring training is only one week away. As teams ponder some final pre-camp tweaks to their rosters, here are two stories that surfaced over the weekend.

Multiple teams exploring trade for Franklin Morales
The Red Sox struggled for much of last season to field a rotation with five competent starters, but now, if you take the optimistic view of John Lackey’s return from Tommy John surgery and account for the addition of Ryan Dempster in free agency, it appears that first-year manager John Farrell has at least six. According to the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, that could mean that Morales’ days in Boston are numbered.

A former Rockie, Morales—who was acquired by the Red Sox in May of 2011—had made only 15 career starts entering the 2012 season, when he tacked nine more onto that tally. In 46 total appearances, the 27-year-old lefty logged a career-best 23.4 percent strikeout rate and issued free passes to only 9.2 percent of the batters that he faced, his lowest walk rate since an eight-start cup of coffee in 2007. The teams that have placed calls to general manager Ben Cherington to gauge Morales’ price tag most likely would view him as a starter, but despite the progress that he made last year, his ability to succeed in that role over the course of a full season remains unclear.

Morales’ occasional bouts of wildness are one concern, but his ineffectiveness against right-handed batters could be a more difficult hurdle to clear. He held opposing lefties to a .197 TAv in 2012, but coughed up a .276 TAv to righties, and those numbers are relatively consistent with his career data. In his 2008 list of the Rockies top prospects, Kevin Goldstein ranked Morales as the best minor leaguer in the system, labeling him “an upper-echelon big-league starter.” Unfortunately, most of the warts that stood between the then-22-year-old Morales and that lofty ceiling—including fastball command and erratic off-speed offerings—have continued to hinder his performance.

Morales’ walk percentage against righties (9.9 percent) last year was not terribly far from his overall rate, but he was felled by a disproportionate volume of extra-base hits. He faced 113 lefties and 212 righties, and while the former group managed just one double and one home run, the latter bunch teed off for eight doubles, a triple, and 10 home runs. And despite the fact that Morales is one of the hardest-throwing lefties in the league, most of the long-ball damage (eight of the 10) came off of his fastball.

With all of that said, there are a couple of redeeming factors for Morales, which might inspire needy teams to give him another chance. One is that, after three years of working almost exclusively in relief, he may simply need a more consistent rest pattern and regular exposure to opposite-handed batters in order to hone his command and develop a less-vulnerable approach. The other is that Morales served up seven of the aforementioned 10 home runs in a pair of starts against the Yankees, both of which came under less-than-ideal circumstances. The first, at Fenway Park on July 7, came just two days after a 1 1/3-inning relief stint versus the A’s; the second, at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 17, came a week before he was placed on the disabled list with shoulder fatigue, an ailment that would ultimately end his season.

Assuming that he is healthy—and, considering that Morales reported to Fort Myers a couple of weeks early, there is little reason to believe that he is not—Morales still has a good deal of upside, and his floor is essentially that of a dominant lefty specialist. Morales forewent his second year of arbitration by agreeing to a $1.5 million paycheck on Jan. 18, so he would not represent a significant financial risk for interested teams, either. That could make him more attractive than Rick Porcello, who is a more established starter but is owed $5.1 million for 2013, to GMs who are operating on a tight budget.

The identities of the teams that have contacted Cherington are unknown, but the same clubs that have been connected to the Joe Saunders bidding and the Porcello trade race may view Morales as a viable alternative. The Mariners, who—as Seattle Times beat writer Geoff Baker wrote several days ago—could use a lefty to supplant Jason Vargas in their rotation, are one possible landing spot, though Baker also suggested that a lower-risk option would suit them better than an upside play like Morales.

Reds are hunting for bargains on the relief market
With Brandon Lyon on the verge of joining the Mets, there aren’t many bullpen arms left for the taking. But Reds general manager Walt Jocketty is undeterred by the dwindling supply, and, per ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, he appears determined to snag a desperate reliever for a wholesale price.

After reeling in Jonathan Broxton from the Royals last summer and retaining the portly right-hander on a three-year extension earlier this offseason, the Reds do not have a pressing bullpen need, even with Aroldis Chapman shifting to the rotation. Jocketty added Manny Parra to the mix on a one-year deal last Friday, giving manager Dusty Baker a southpaw to use for situational duties, while his other lefty, Sean Marshall, serves as the primary set-up man for Broxton. Right-handers Jose Arredondo, Logan Ondrusek, Alfredo Simon, and Sam LeCure round out the crew, which is stout despite Chapman’s transition and Nick Masset’s shoulder surgery.

Crasnick did not mention any specific players, but it’s possible that the Reds could take a gamble on either Jose Valverde or Brian Wilson, if one of them is willing to accept a heavily incentivized contract. Todd Coffey, a former Red who underwent his second Tommy John surgery in July, and Francisco Rodriguez, another erstwhile closer whose stock has tumbled, might also be on the radar. Newsday beat writer Marc Carig recently tied Valverde and Rodriguez to the Mets, but Sandy Alderson could end his late-winter shopping spree as soon as the Lyon pact is finalized. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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