Here at the Safeco Field Home for Declining DH/First Basemen, the place is overbooked. Large men with worried looks are milling about. They are told to relax, things will sort themselves out. But already, Justin Smoak has been lodged in Tacoma.
Hard to say who else will stay or go, but Kendrys Morales figures to get a bed and a meal. He was the Mariners’ best hitter last season. At least three times, they tried to retain his services. Finally, they are thrilled to pay him $4.3 million to play the final 60 games of the regular season starting Friday.
Maybe more games. At least, that’s the idea.
Sounds pretty good for Morales, until it’s considered that, the past winter, he could have had $14.1 million for a year from the Mariners. Near the end of spring training, the Mariners offered $30 million over three years. Still no. But agent Scott Boras guessed wrong on the market for his client’s services, and here he is.
In June, the Twins signed him to a pro-rated deal of $12 million (meaning $7.4 million to him). He had a nice spring training in Minnesota, where he hit .234 with one home run, 18 RBIs and a .584 OPS in his last 39 games.
While that production seems breathtakingly meager, the Mariners’ collective DH numbers over 94 games are .196 average and .569 OPS, with eight homers and 32 RBIs. Comparatively, Morales is almost Paul Bunyan.
Since Morales’ acquisition cost them only oft-injured relief pitcher Stephen Pryor, it amounted to a no-brainer.
At this point, after a dreary 4-0 defeat Thursday at Safeco that left them losers of 11 of their past 17, the Morales acquisition should be it, in terms in of major personnel moves.
I wrote several weeks ago that the Mariners had played well enough to be taken seriously. That was true then, and now. But to take them seriously includes planning for a future beyond 2014.
The future no longer includes this season. The future includes keeping their best prospects.
Scoring three runs in the past three games, the Mariners may have done themselves a backward favor by falling out of playoff position so that the risk in giving up prospects is too great for the slim chance of getting a truly difference-making hitter, or another top starter.
Morales plugs a hole at DH for minimal cost and no burden into 2015. When Michael Saunders returns to health, he can be adequate in right field. Perhaps the best thing to happen in the flurry of moves Thursday was the arrival of Chris Taylor, 23, as a potential solution at shortstop.
I saw him play Wednesday night in Tacoma and Thursday in Seattle. He looked like a natural major league shortstop, fluid and instinctive, without the clunkiness of Brad Miller, whom Taylor has the opportunity to succeed — quickly.
Miller is not yet hopeless, but his .205 average with an OPS under .600 is no help, and like Nick Franklin, has hit his way out of the majors for now. Taylor was AAA Tacoma’s best hitter at .328 with an OPS of .902. Yes, the numbers are subject to the Pacific Coast League’s hallucinogenic atmospheres, but for comparison, the OPS for slugger Jesus Montero, for whom some have clamored, was .903. And Taylor is 6-1, 190 pounds.
Montero was called up with Taylor Thursday to face Baltimore lefty Wei-Yin Chen, and even with his new, stand-up stance, went 0-for-3 and again looked over-matched. The trip to Seattle was likely for one futile game, because the Mariners have to clear roster space for Morales.
In his major league debut, Young had one of Seattle’s five singles and received a rousing ovation from the modest throng of 19,621.
Hard to know how much was sarcastic, but the Mariners bosses are likely sincere in playing Taylor regularly.
“Any time a guy is swinging well and you have an opportunity to bring ’em, you want them in the lineup,” manager Lloyd McClendon said before the game. “You don’t want him sitting, and hopefully it can continue up here. I would say he’ll get his fair share of playing time.”
General manager Jack Zduriencik said being right-handed gives Taylor an edge.
“The whole infield is left-handed,” Zduriencik said via teleconference. “The fact he’s right-handed was really a factor in this decision. He’s a Triple-A all-star. What he did last year was terrific. We’ll see. Let the best man play.”
While you’re at it, Jack, keep the best men here. The market this summer for difference-making talent is so thin, and the bidders for it so many, that the price is too high.
If the Mariners had come out of the All-Star break hitting better, the urgency for outside help would have been almost irresistible. But they didn’t, and the opportunity fades.
With Morales in hand, and Taylor with real upside, it’s worth it to let events play out. If the Mariners have a hot August, then there’s the waiver trade deadline.
Even with the overloaded home for Declining DH/First Basemen, the Mariners are worth taking seriously, particularly if they fight off the temptation to self-destruct.