Amused as I was over Eric Wedge’s outing of seamheads as the scalawags behind the fall of Dustin Ackley, and surprised as I was over rookie Nick Franklin’s impression of Ken Griffey Jr., what I would be more impressed with regarding the Mariners is an extension of the contract of Kendrys Morales before they force themselves to get rid of him at the trade deadline.
As longtime fan(s) of the Mariners know, the July 31 deadline for non-waiver deals traditionally marks the official concession by the front office, which has known since Memorial Day that the season was over, but waits until then to part out the roster in exchange for prospects, all of whom turn out to be, more or less, Casper Wells.
I realize the deadline is two months away. But really, is it ever too early to begin waving arms, sending up flares and stamping out the word “HELP” in the snow to make sure the front office looks up?
Morales, 30 in June, is on a one-year contract paying him $5.25 million. For perspective, Chone Figgins is being paid $8 million to choose between a bag of golf clubs or a fishing pole.
Morales is batting .413 with runners in scoring position, or about 400 points higher than the next-best Mariner. Entering Friday night’s game in Minneapolis, he led the team in RBIs with 31 and was batting .298, which, excluding Ichiro and his 80-foot worm-burners, is as close to a .300 hitter the Mariners have had since since most of the 2001 lineup that won 116 games. And he has proven that he returned to health after his leg was broken in a home-plate celebration of a walk-off grand slam that beat the Mariners in 2010 when he was with the Angels.
He’s primarily a DH but serviceable as a first baseman, which makes him two positions better than Jesus Montero, the fallen hope now in AAA Tacoma where, after failing at catcher, he is learning to bend over at first base. The regular first baseman, injured Justin Smoak, is hitting .240 with 8 RBI, or one more RBI than journeyman pickup Endy Chavez.
Besides the obvious embarrassment over the career spirals of Montero, Ackley and probably Smoak, their declines make the Mariners more vulnerable offensively, and ratchets up Morales’s value this summer. Naturally, Morales is represented by Scott Boras.
You may remember him as the agent who pump-faked the Mariners bosses into letting Alex Rodriguez go for free to Texas, where he was for a time there, as well as New York, the best player in the game. Boras also shook down a nice contract from the Mariners for Adrian Beltre, the last good free agent hitter to volunteer to come to Seattle.
Boras always seems to be there when the Mariners are desperate. Then again, after 2001, is hard to remember times when the Mariners weren’t desperate.
Attendance through 22 games is down 1.2 percent (259 a game) from a year ago at this time, which at one low level isn’t so bad given the hike in ticket prices. At another level, last year was a Safeco-record low, so it’s getting worse. Unless the Mariners have plans to jack the gate with bobblehead apocalypse, the only hope of averting another record is to resemble a competitive team, which Morales makes the Mariners more than any individual on the roster.
GM Jack Zduriencik gave no indication in a radio interview this week that extension discussions have taken place. When they do, Boras is likely to seek to a minimum five-year deal. Last winter, a fifth year was supposedly a stopping point in the Seattle negotiations with free-agent slugger Josh Hamilton. For a player of Hamilton’s personal history, five years was foolish — hell, one year was foolish — but the Angels were takers, and are regretting it already.
If Morales keeps up his pace — he had a two-run, 420-foot homer Friday night — through June, he is going to be a hot property for a contending team willing to pay a high price. The temptation will be great for the Mariners again to be sellers, because if he stays for the season, he will be a free agent likely to go elsewhere.
And if they sell, the same guy who made the midseason trades of Cliff Lee and Doug Fister will be in charge again — Zduriencik. Chillrun, avert your eyes.
Morales’s departure will also signal to a dissipating fan base the apparent impossibility — save for the inexplicable loyalty shown by Felix Hernandez — of the organization to identify and/or keep quality baseball players once the players get to have choices.
A reasonable question for the Mariners is whether Morales can keep up what’s he’s done in May. A more urgent question for the Mariners is whether they can keep up what they’ve been doing for a decade.