Mariners Replace* Rusty Corey Hart with Rusty Kendrys Morales

* Update: kind of. Though Morales will surely take opportunities from Hart, they may coexist on the active roster. It’s complicated, but it shouldn’t change too much about the analysis.

There was never any question that the Mariners liked Kendrys Morales. They traded for him in the first place, and he hit. They offered him a three-year contract. They kept in touch with him during the offseason. If the Mariners had had their druthers, they would’ve locked Morales up to return as the team’s DH. But Morales, see, didn’t really want to go back to Seattle:

“He knew it was going to be tough to look for another offer, or another job, but in his heart he just didn’t really want to come back here and be in the same spot … he was taking his chances to see if something was better.”

When a player is a free agent, he gets to decide where he ends up. When a player belongs to a team, however, he can’t control where he gets traded, barring a full or partial no-trade clause. The Mariners couldn’t sign Morales, so he waited and waited and signed with the Twins. The Twins fell quickly out of the race, and now they’ve traded Morales to the Mariners, for Stephen Pryor and salary relief. The Mariners got Morales the only way they knew how to, and now he’ll serve as the rusty DH, in replacement of a rusty DH.

The idea is a simple one. The Mariners are in contention and they need to get better. They haven’t had very good hitting, especially out of their designated hitters, and Morales cost them almost nothing but money. They’ve seen him perform well with Seattle, recently. It’s not a trade landscape that lends itself to many easy, meaningful additions, so Morales was something the Mariners could do today. It’s an attempted fix for what’s been something of a black hole.

The disappointment in Seattle has been Corey Hart, who owns a 78 wRC+. That’s the guy Morales will presumably replace. While Hart was a very good hitter the last time he was healthy, he missed all of 2013 due to surgery, and this year his timing’s been a bit off. He’s hit for neither average nor power, which is how he’s generated a WAR of -0.6. Increasingly, Hart has been a source of frustration on a team lacking much in the way of right-handed punch.

Hence Morales. Morales was a very good hitter the last time he was normal, but then he’s got his own thing: he didn’t play for a team until June. So his timing’s been a bit off, and he’s hit for neither average nor power, combining to yield a WAR of -0.9. Morales recently had a 12-game hitting streak, but during that streak he didn’t even bat .300, and his one dinger came a month ago.

It makes sense that Morales would have some rust. He joined the Twins immediately and never really had a spring training, so in a sense he used part of the regular season as his spring training, trying to catch up to pitchers well ahead of him. The Mariners aren’t thinking about what Morales has been the last two months; they’re thinking about what he will be for the following two months, and he’s been a consistent producer before. His career wRC+ is 114. In the Mariners’ estimation, Morales is just about back to regular speed, so then he should be helpful.

But it makes sense that Hart would also have some rust. Maybe more, since he didn’t play in 2013 at all. And not long ago he was activated after spending a month and a half on the DL, and he’s been a consistent producer before, to the tune of a career wRC+ of 115. Overall, Hart and Morales have been basically identical hitters. During this regular season, Hart’s actually been better, and over the past month, they’ve been identical again. The Mariners are replacing a struggling hitter with a struggling hitter. Their belief must therefore be that Morales is closer to normal than Hart is. In their defense, they’ve had the closest view of Hart possible. But the counter to that is they haven’t had so close a view of Morales.

Going forward, ZiPS projects Morales to be a few runs better. Steamer projects them to be the same. Hart’s lost season doesn’t do his projections any favors. The Mariners must disagree slightly — they must think Morales projects considerably better than Hart, in order to take on more than $4 million in salary. That’s not a light investment for a team that’s been said to be limited, and that’s the real cost here. There’s a player going to Minnesota, but the cost of this potentially lateral move is money, which is why it’s not exactly a harmless attempt. This will presumably affect what else the Mariners might be able to do.

From the Twins’ side, this all could’ve gone better. It was obvious that one of the upsides of the signing was that the team could turn around and flip Morales for longer-term talent. They were never likely to hang around in the race and, sure enough, they’ve dropped out. But what they’ve done is pay Morales a few millions of dollars, and now all they have left to show for him is Stephen Pryor. Pryor used to be a reliever prospect with a big fastball, but then he underwent unusual surgery to repair a torn lat, and his fastball hasn’t yet returned. So far in the minors he has 21 walks and 30 strikeouts. He never had a dominant secondary pitch. Relief prospects have limited value even when they aren’t missing the thing that made them relief prospects. Maybe down the road Pryor gets back up to 95-96, but more than anything else, the Twins dealt Kendrys Morales to save on the rest of his contract. They lost, because Morales used Minnesota as spring training, and he didn’t perform. Morales didn’t have much of a market when he was thought of as dependable.

The Mariners have decided there’s not much left in Corey Hart’s tank. For the cost of some money, they’re rolling the dice on an also-underperforming Kendrys Morales. It’s a low-downside move, but it’s also a low-upside move, if the numbers are to be at all believed. And this serves to step a little bit on Jesus Montero, who owns a .392 wOBA in Triple-A Tacoma. There shouldn’t be much concern that Morales will be unhappy back in Seattle; he’ll be motivated by playing for a new contract. But he’s been motivated by that since he signed with the Twins. He’s been worth a win below replacement. Just about everything you could say about replacing Corey Hart with Kendrys Morales, you could say about replacing Kendrys Morales with Corey Hart. That’s what makes this an interesting gamble.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

26 Responses to “Mariners Replace* Rusty Corey Hart with Rusty Kendrys Morales”

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  1. Rusty Kuntz says:

    Replacing a replaceable replacement-level player with a replacement replacement-level player can’t replace the need to get some real offense in Seattle.


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  2. Seems possible Morales won’t be a direct replacement of Hart. Could end up taking time from Morrison/Smoak instead or as well. At the moment it’s complicated and weird but it shouldn’t change all that much about the analysis presented. It’s a roll of the dice on a player who hasn’t hit yet, made necessary because a player (players, really) on the Mariners roster hasn’t hit yet.

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    • Shut up, bat sixth and get your arse in left says:

      Never ever count out the three headed monster of Morrison in left, Hart at first and Morales at DH. And no worry you have “magic Smoak” should someone’s knee hurt a little bit. In all seriousness you never know; this team is in contention and could use a potential bat.

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  3. Jeff says:

    What an awful trade. Smart organizations don’t give up talent, even mediocre talent, for half a year of Kendrys Morales.

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    • bookbook says:

      As a general rule, I take your point. Certainly, no one has accused the M’s of being a smart team in several years.

      On the other hand: A player who may someday recover to reach his upside of a setup guy, but right now is outclassed by AAA hitters? He’ll be pushed off the Mariners 40-man this offseason anyway, and be available in the rule 5 draft. If the money doesn’t preclude the M’s from making better moves (it’s as much as Zobrist is making. It’s half of the extra money that’s been holding up a trade for Marlon Byrd), a flyer on Morales is more than worth Pryor.

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      • Jeff says:

        Pryor would be a great throw-in to a trade, and the last thing that the Mariners needed was yet another old 1B/DH type.

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        • Bookbook says:

          The first thing the M’s need is any one who can hit. 1B and DH are the positions where that ought to be easiest to accomplish. The 2b and 3b can’t carry the offense alone.

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  4. david says:

    Morales is clearly more highly regarded by the Mariners than most any other team, but I think rather than replacing anyone they are just throwing as much excrement as they can to see what sticks. They arn’t going to find another Robbie Cano before the deadline yet they have a great chance to make the playoffs due to their rotation, so they have little choice but to add marginal bats who have hit at the major league level before and could feasibly run into a hot streak.

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  5. Jon L. says:

    Morales has a career wRC+ of 121 vs. righties, while Hart has a 108, so I think there’s some advantage to be gained by acquiring the switch-hitter. That’s in addition to the better chance that 1 or 2 of 2 players comes around, as opposed to 1 or 2 of 1 player(s).

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    • Jon L. says:

      Just noticed the reverse side of that career split is 132 for Hart vs. 95 for Morales, so they really do appear to be complementary hitters.

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  6. tz says:

    Is it just me, or are the M’s on a relentless quest to snag the next Aubrey Huff?

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  7. Bryan says:

    Yep, and they had him last year: Michael Morse.

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  8. #KeepNotGraphs says:

    #KeepNotGraphs #HotGifAction

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  9. bigredlives says:

    So from Z’s comments this afternoon, it looks like Smoak isn’t coming back anytime soon, Hart/LoMo platoon at 1B from here on out, and Morales DH’s everyday. Although if Hart continues to struggle, Montero probably replaces Hart soon.

    Really it’s sort of a three way roster adjustment with Smoak getting thrown overboard. I think the M’s will be getting better production from 1B and DH positions.

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  10. Gyre says:

    If only Seattle wasn’t so far away from everything ‘flashy’, players might want to go there. But anyone that checks out the mileage for the Mariners will know they are aptly named.

    So indeed, it’s throw it all around and see if something sticks long enough to make the Wild Card. Other teams should consider leaving out their highly overpriced talent to see if the M’s will nibble.

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    • bookbook says:

      Seattle is one of the nicest places to live in the U.S. (I don’t live there.) It has amenities and such for the fabulously wealthy, thanks to decades of Microsoft millionaires. The team and the FO suck, but the city really isn’t to blame.

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      • Jason B says:

        Agreed…do players going to Dallas think of it as “flashier” than Seattle? Or is, say, Houston “flashier”? Or Detroit? Or Atlanta? Or Minnesota? Or DC? Or…or…

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      • joser says:

        One lingering issue with Seattle is the travel. The Mariners consistently rack up more roadtrip miles than any other team, on top of the time-zone disadvantage shared with the other west coast teams. It’s not that much more in reality, but the perception is there and that’s what matters.

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  11. Frank says:

    This trade is interesting for the Phillies in terms of assessing Ryan Howard’s trade value. Morales and Howard have been almost identical per wOBA and wRC+ this season and last. Howard strikes out more and walks less but hits for more power, fielding becomes irrelevant were Howard to DH.

    You can bet the Phillies will be looking to get a Pryor type prospect while paying all but $15 mil of the $60 mil remaining on Howard’s contract, equivalent to $4.5 mil remaining on Morales’s contract this year and $11.5 mil which Morales got as a free agent depressed by the qualifying offer.

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    • Dag Gummit says:

      I’d strongly say they shouldn’t, though, since the commitment in years to Howard is significantly higher than it is for Morales. It’s one thing to pay a small chunk (relative to team salary) for a guy who is guaranteed to be gone next year. It’s completely different to pay that small chunk for several years.

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  12. Miles says:

    I do see one difference between the two: Morales has experience against AL/AL West pitchers whereas Hart had almost none before this year.

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  13. Fardbart says:

    The Ms need to give a job to Montero or trade him. He is probably the best RHB in their system, flaws and all

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  14. maqman says:

    The last time he was with the Mariners he slow roasted a whole pig, Cuban style, his team-mates loved it. Maybe this time he can roast Montero who has fattened himself up nicely.

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