The surprising part wasn’t that Kendrys Morales signed immediately after he was no longer tied to compensation. The surprising part was that Kendrys Morales signed with the Minnesota Twins, instead of any of the more obvious possibilities. When Morales signed, the Twins were 29-31, and they fancy themselves a surprising potential contender, which tells you something about where the expectations were set a few months ago. The Twins got Morales for about $7.6 million and four months, and the organizational quotes you hear are full of optimism and positivity.
A rundown, courtesy of Rhett Bollinger:
“We’re certainly in the mix,” [Terry] Ryan said. “We’ve played pretty decent up to this point and have surprised some people. So why not us? We’re at the point in the season where there’s a lot of baseball left. So why not the Twins?”
“I think it’s good for all us to know,” [Brian] Dozier said. “We want to win now. We’ve been beat up for three years. We don’t want to rebuild. We want to win. And I think we brought in a guy who can help us do that. So it’s pretty cool for us to see that.”
“I think it tells you how close this division is,” [Joe] Mauer said. “Us adding him is definitely a great thing. I’m excited for that.”
The players, as always, are confident, and encouraged by the front office making a splash. Morales will fit right in to get regular at-bats at DH. Ryan’s words might betray the real truth of things — it’s not so much that the Twins being successful is a good possibility, but it’s not an impossibility. Their odds at this point aren’t 0%, so why not try to get better if an opportunity to get better presents itself at no real long-term cost?
Morales definitely makes the Twins better on paper. He got a roster spot at the expense of Jason Kubel, and since 2009 Morales’ lowest wRC+ is 116. Though it might take him a little bit to get up to speed, there’s little reason to think he’s not a good hitter anymore, and he’s good enough to contribute some positive value even as a positionless switch-hitting plodder. There’s no question that Morales is an improvement; there’s no question that the Twins are within striking distance of a playoff spot. They’re five games back in the AL Central, and they’re 3.5 games back of a Wild Card slot.
But then, the Twins are in last in the AL Central. Only three teams are further out of a Wild Card slot. Morales is an improvement but not a huge one, maybe a win or two over the rest of the year. And there’s the matter of what the Twins are. Using the Steamer/ZiPS blended projections, the Twins are among the worst teams in the league. Using season-to-date statistics, the Twins still don’t project to play over .500 from here on out. According to these odds, the Twins should finish around 78 wins. According to these, they should finish around 74. The Twins, so far, haven’t been as bad as some feared, but they haven’t been good, and Morales doesn’t make them good.
Their rotation ranks second-worst in baseball in K%-BB%. Their bullpen is third-worst. The position players are in the bottom-third in WAR. Obviously, the Twins have money, and there’s nothing wrong with taking a short-term shot, just in case. All they lose here is a few million dollars, and if it doesn’t work out, they’ve done nothing to harm their long-term standing. No one, now, is blocked, and Morales ought to be good for PR and clubhouse morale and whatnot. The Twins will be somewhat competitive.
But I think where this gets really interesting is if the Twins play like the Twins are expected to play. So far, they haven’t been bad, but they haven’t been good, and in the coming weeks they could end up with increased distance between themselves and the real contenders. If July rolls around and the Twins are several games out, behind several other teams, they could take on the appearance of a seller, and then there’s Kendrys Morales, possibly available and hopefully hitting.
Morales didn’t have a small pool of suitors, especially lately. A number of teams were interested, but they didn’t want to pay all the money, and a number of those teams were worried that Morales might be rusty, at least at the beginning. He’s not going on a rehab assignment to get up to speed, so in a way his rehab is going to come at the big-league level, in a Twins uniform. Some weeks from now, Morales should be at or around 100%. By that point, the Twins will have a greater understanding of what they really are.
And Morales will have less salary remaining. In a month, he’ll have $5.4 million remaining on his contract. A couple weeks later, that’ll be down to $4.6 million. Morales will be cheaper, and teams wouldn’t have to worry anymore about rust, since he should hit himself out of that. With the added Wild Card, more and more teams fancy themselves in the race, so there’s a lesser number of sellers and therefore available improvements. With Morales, the Twins could have available one of the only proven steady bats, and a good number of teams would have interest in that.
So then Morales could be sold, and sold for a prospect. If the Twins traded Morales toward the end of July, they could add a prospect for the cost of about $3 million. And if they chipped in greater cost considerations, they could add an even better prospect or two. Even now, the Twins know they need to be thinking more long-term than short-term. They signed Morales this past weekend instead of sooner because they didn’t want to throw away a draft pick. If the Twins play really well now, great, but they won’t hesitate to cash in a short-term asset, so you can think of this as two things: it’s a shot on Kendrys Morales and the 2014 Twins, but it’s also a shot at purchasing a young player for a fraction of the cost of Morales’ one-year deal.
No matter what Morales does, the Twins won’t be able to lure a premium blue-chipper. At the end of the day, he’s a non-elite DH, available to another team for several weeks. But if he hits like he’s hit before, the Twins will be able to get a toolsy project or maybe a lower-ceiling type who’s close to the majors, and there’s value in those players, future value that doesn’t disappear come the end of this season. This is kind of like an investment in a young player mystery box, assuming the Twins don’t turn into legitimate contenders all of a sudden.
So, it’s weird to see Morales go to the Twins. The Twins aren’t good. But the Twins don’t have to be good for this to make sense. All they need is for Morales to hit pretty well. Then, one way or another, they should be able to get what they want. There’s always a market for proven power-hitting bats, and by the time Morales might be back on the market, the rust ought to be long gone.
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