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February 27, 2014

Overthinking It

Why Every Team Needs Kendrys Morales

by Ben Lindbergh

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On Sunday, Scott Boras negged the Blue Jays for not spending enough this offseason, calling the team “a car with a huge engine that is impeded by a big corporate stop sign.” Reeling from the public attack, Alex Anthopoulos choked out a single sentence in response, saying, “Our ownership has been outstanding and given us all the resources we need.” Both sides took Monday to celebrate wounds inflicted or lick wounds received, and it seemed like the war of words was over.

But on Tuesday, the full scope of the super-agent’s plan became clear: Calling the Blue Jays a car was just the opening gambit of a two-part attack. Having softened up Anthopoulos and team president Paul Beeston with the Bad Boras routine, he took pity and proposed a way for Toronto to banish that big corporate stop sign once and for all: Sign Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales. “Those players are available to this franchise,” Boras told Toronto radio host Jeff Blair, explaining the way free agency works as one would to a small child.

You can see how Drew would make the Blue Jays better; Ryan Goins may have revamped his swing, but he still hasn’t hit outside of new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer’s dream diary. Morales, though? The Blue Jays already have Adam Lind, who outhit Morales last season and was worth half a win more in 136 fewer plate appearances. They also have Edwin Encarnacion, who’s projected for the same TAv as Morales (.293), and who’s topped that figure by 21 points over the past two seasons. “They don’t need another DH,” you’re thinking. Think again.

Still thinking? For those of you on the slow side, Boras laid out the logic:

They need a right-handed bat particularly in their DH area to answer a deficiency they have with Lind where he hits right-handed pitching well, but not left-handed pitching. There are teams looking for a player like Lind who has contract control and is someone who would probably bring back a good pitcher.

Being a switch-hitter where you hit .280 from both sides of the plate, that player is of great value to a team that has a hole and has a need for a right-handed bat and also would gain a left-handed bat as well.

Game, set, signed. Boras didn’t even have to bring up the most pressing reason to replace Lind.

There’s a lesson here. The only things standing in the way of Morales, for most teams, are the players who are perfectly fine alternatives to him. Remove those impediments, and suddenly signing him makes sense. Your ownership is outstanding? It’s given you all the resources you need? Baby, don’t talk that way. Morales is so money, and you haven’t known it until now.

At press time, the Blue Jays still hadn’t signed Morales despite the obvious upgrade he would represent if they didn’t have a DH. In this case, though, one team’s mistake is another team’s opportunity. Every other team’s opportunity, actually, since there isn’t a single team that Morales wouldn’t improve, pending one or two other moves they might have to make first.

Boras is a busy man, and he has only a month left to criticize every team's spending and find Morales a home before the season starts without him. To save him some time, I’ve worked out foolproof pro-Morales pitches for the 29 other teams. All Boras has to do is copy and paste each paragraph to the local columnist with the largest circulation, then sit back and watch the bidding war begin.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Morales’ positional options are more limited in the non-DH league, and Arizona has 2013 MVP runner-up Paul Goldschmidt at first base. Goldschmidt, admittedly, is one of the majors’ most valuable assets, thanks to his team-friendly contract. Here’s the catch: The contract is so team friendly that it’s actually a ticking time bomb. Either out of guilt over having gotten too good a deal or in an effort to keep Goldschmidt happy, Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall recently said, “We could tear it up and start over.”

Better idea: 1) Trade Goldschmidt now, while he’s locked in at a low price; 2) Jump onto the pile of players you got for Goldschmidt, Scrooge McDuck-style; 3) sign Kendrys Morales.

Atlanta Braves
For three blissful games in 2005, a 22-year-old Kendrys Morales played third base for High-A Rancho Cucamonga. He made only one error. Playing third base is like riding a bicycle: If you’re not very athletic, you’ll look bad doing both. But if Miguel Cabrera can do it, Kendrys Morales can—and will, when the Braves sign him to be the platoon partner for Chris Johnson that Juan Francisco was supposed to be last season.

Baltimore Orioles: You may have heard something about a draft pick cost associated with signing Morales. It’s true: It takes more than money to get someone this good. Don’t look at it as losing a pick. Look at it as adding prestige. If all teams had to do was hand over a check, I wouldn’t be talking to you now, because I’d be too busy fielding offers for Kendrys.

The good news for the Orioles is that the price of prestige is lower for them than it is for every other team: the 88th pick. The best player ever drafted 88th overall is Kirk McCaskill. You’re going to pass up Morales for a one-in-49 chance at Kirk McCaskill? When your current DH has already served a 50-game suspension and would miss most of the season if he sips the wrong supplement? It’s time to start acting like you’re in the AL East.

Boston Red Sox: David Ortiz has hit some big postseason homers, sure, but to hit postseason homers, you have to get to the postseason. In late and close situations during the regular season last year, Ortiz hit .228/.344/.354—a .699 OPS. Morales hit .352/.424/.545—a .970 OPS. Who’s more clutch: The guy who turns it on for a month when everyone’s watching, or the guy who does it over the long haul for a team that has nothing to play for?

Chicago White Sox: Kendrys Morales: mentor. Like the sound of that? Morales once helped start a mentoring program with Torii Hunter, the ultimate mentor. On a list from last season of reasons why Morales might be a good fit for the Orioles, The Baltimore Sun said, “A Cuban native, he could be a built-in mentor for rookie Henry Urrutia.” Substitute “Jose Abreu” for “Henry Urrutia,” and that sentence now explains why Morales makes so much sense for Chicago.

Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo is coming off a season in which his defense was worth eight, 11, or 16 runs, depending on the defensive stat (UZR, FRAA, DRS). A glove of that caliber is clearly wasted at first base. Slide him over to second to make room for Morales, and the Cubs won’t have to bank on a bounceback by Darwin Barney.

Cincinnati Reds: This one is easy:

Kendrys Morales vs. Joey Votto, RBI and OBI% from 2012-13













Dump Votto on some sabermetric team with a walk fetish and bring in a real run producer.

Cleveland Indians: Ain’t no advantage like the platoon advantage, as far as Terry Francona is concerned. Which makes Morales Francona’s favorite kind of player: the kind who never faces a same-handed pitcher. Add Morales to a mix that already includes Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana, and Asdrubal Cabrera, and Cleveland will be one lineup slot closer to its ultimate goal: 100 percent platoon advantage (cc: Max Marchi).

Colorado Rockies: Despite Nolan Arenado’s best efforts, the Rockies had the worst defense in baseball last season, even after adjusting for Coors. So what the heck, right? Just put Morales out there wherever Cuddyer would have been.

Detroit Tigers: No team has won a World Series with a rookie primary third baseman since 1995. Before that, it hadn’t been done since 1969. If there’s one thing the last 18 World Champions—and 42 of the last 43—have had in common, it’s that they all had experienced players at third. The Tigers are a win-now team, and Nick Castellanos is not a win-now player.

Houston Astros: As Boras explained to the Blue Jays, signing Morales is really like adding two good hitters: one who bats right and another who hits lefty. No team needs offense more than the Astros, so signing someone who counts twice should be at the top of their to-do list.

Kansas City Royals: Morales and Billy Butler are basically the same player: Both are projected for a .293 TAv and a WARP just under 3.0. But only Butler can be traded for pitching, something Kansas City was reportedly considering as recently as last month. And with Morales around, Butler’s bat wouldn’t be missed.

Los Angeles Angels: It made tons of sense for the Angels to sign Morales in December, but they went ahead and signed Raul Ibanez anyway. It’s not too late to correct that mistake. Only two teams have ever given 300 plate appearances to a 42-year-old dedicated DH. One of them went 66-95. The only other time it happened, they canceled the World Series.

Los Angeles Dodgers: If being born in the same country as someone else means automatic mentoring, then Morales was born to be on the Dodgers, who have three Cubans (Yasiel Puig, Alexander Guerrero, and Erisbel Arruebarruena) in need of his help.

Miami Marlins: This one sells itself, even without playing up the Cuban player/Cuban population angle. You probably thought at least two of the five players on Miami’s first-base depth chart were retired, but there they are:

Milwaukee Brewers: The current competitors for the Brewers’ first-base job: two players who were released last year (Lyle Overbay, Mark Reynolds) and one who was traded for Thomas Keeling, a soon-to-be-26-year-old lefty with a career 6.17 ERA in the minors (Juan Francisco). That barely clears the Betancourt bar.

Minnesota Twins: All that the Diamondbacks—who had just designated Jason Kubel for assignment—asked when Cleveland expressed interest in adding him last August was cash plus Matt Langwell, a 27-year-old right-handed reliever whom Arizona removed from the 40-man shortly after the season. All that Kubel asked when the Twins expressed interest in a reunion last December was a minor-league deal. And all that Twins fans ask is a productive DH.

New York Mets: Ike Davis hid an oblique injury from the Mets last season. Who knows what else he might be hiding?

New York Yankees: Two words: youth movement. Whether Morales is at first or DH, he’ll be taking plate appearances from a much older player who needs the rest in order to avoid a second straight season of injury stacks. And let’s not pretend that the Yankees were going to do something worthwhile with that 47th pick. That would go against their image.

Oakland Athletics: Bob Melvin loves the platoon advantage in a way that only Terry Francona can truly understand. Like the Indians, the A’s have three switch-hitters in their starting lineup, and another in Nick Punto on the bench. Morales would make five. And in Oakland, unlike Cleveland, Kendrys comes with the added bonus of being able to mentor Yoenis Cespedes through those difficult years when you’re about to turn 30 and you realize that the man you see in the mirror isn’t the sky-is-the-limit young Cuban exile who once was there.

Philadelphia Phillies: If you thought Adam Lind’s line against lefties last season was bad, go look at Ryan Howard’s. (Spoiler: It was worse.)

Pittsburgh Pirates: Another case where the depth chart tells the tale.

San Diego Padres: Petco Park excuses only some of Yonder Alonso’s .395 career slugging percentage.

San Francisco Giants: Morales to first, Belt to left, Morse to McCovey Cove. Instant defensive upgrade.

Seattle Mariners: The one team that can get the prestige player without the draft-pick price. After his competent 2013—a rarity at DH for the M's in the post-Edgar era—there’s a Morales-sized hole in Seattle fans’ hearts that only Kendrys can fill.

St. Louis Cardinals: Say it with me: dedicated DH for interleague play.

Tampa Bay Rays: I’d tell you why the Rays need Morales, but the real reason involves some serious mum’s-the-word, extra-two-percent inefficiency stuff. Just take my word for it.

Fine, one hint: First-base framing.

Texas Rangers: The definition of insanity is starting Mitch Moreland at first and expecting anything other than more of the same subpar production from the past few seasons.

Washington Nationals: If Washington wants 1.4 WARP out of its first baseman, it doesn’t need to make a move. But if the Nats want to take 2014 seriously, Mike Rizzo knows the number.

Every roster has a role for Morales, so it’s a miracle that he’s still in stock. It’s only a matter of time until some team comes to its senses, so don’t delay—call Boras Corp today.

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

Related Content:  Scott Boras,  Kendrys Morales

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