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Kendrys Morales Heads to Seattle

When the Angels opted to sign Josh Hamilton, we all knew it was just a matter of time before they hit the trade market and dealt one of their surplus outfielder/designated hitters. There were just too many players for not enough positions and it really came down to moving Kendrys Morales, Mark Trumbo or Peter Bourjos. With only a year left on his contract and the inability to play the outfield, Morales seemed the most likely to go. When the Angels were presented with the opportunity to deal him for left-handed starter Jason Vargas, they took it with what seemed to be very little hesitation. So the big question now is: What does this trade do for Morales’ fantasy value?

Well, right off the bat, the deal improves Morales’ fantasy value in 2013. While you’d rather see him go to a park deemed more hitter-friendly, the fact remains that he is going to a team that will play him regularly, which is more than you could say had he stayed with the Angels. He went from almost no playing time to at least 500 plate appearances between first base and the designated hitter slot, likely replacing the always-struggling Justin Smoak. Barring injury or an Adam Dunn-like meltdown, he should still be worth drafting in both AL-only and mixed leagues.

The concern that always accompanies a players’ arrival in Seattle is the ability to hit at Safeco Field. With it’s cavernous-like dimensions in the outfield it has become one of the more difficult parks in which to hit for power. But considering Morales already comes from a pitcher-friendly home park, has a career .292/.346/.558 slash line in 34 career games at Safeco and will now see the fences moved in to give it a look closer to that of Angel Stadium, the concern is lessened to a degree. But as a switch-hitter whose power comes predominately from the left-handed side, the fences in right-center, where hit the majority of his home runs last season, might be a little more difficult to reach, especially when you consider that almost a third of his home runs in 2012 were deemed “just enough.” He did hit more home runs on the road last year but it was much closer to an even split than it was a large disparity, so a slight drop in ISO looks like a possibility unless those balls that don’t clear the fence fall in for doubles.

There is also a potential concern with Morales’ aggressive style at the plate. His walk rate has always been well below-average and last season saw his strikeout rate climb to a career-worst 22.2-percent. He was swinging at too many pitches outside the zone which resulted in both a 12.1-percent swinging strike rate and a lack of clean contact which ultimately pushed his GB/FB to 1.81, a terrible mark for a power hitter. Perhaps he was just trying to do too much, attempting to prove his health and his overall worth to the team, but the pressure he’ll likely put on himself now that he is batting cleanup and expected to be the team’s top run-producer certainly won’t help his patience.

Then there’s the question of run production. The Mariners ranked 27th in the league in runs scored while the Angels ranked fourth. While you can immediately point to the meat of the order, the primary run-producers for each team, you must also look at the table-setters. No Mariner batting in the top three spots in the order, save for John Jaso, had an OBP higher than .316 while for the Angels, the lowest OBP for anyone hitting in the top third of the order was .324. If the Mariners hitters atop the order don’t improve their on-base skills, then Morales is unlikely to see any sort of RBI boost moving from the six-hole for the Angels to the cleanup spot for Seattle.

On the whole, this move might just prove to be lateral more than anything else. Morales has a few areas in which he can improve to make himself a worthwhile fantasy commodity and if he does, he is probably capable of reaching (and maybe even slightly surpassing) the Bill James projections done prior to any of the Angels’ wheeling and dealing. If he stays the course and his plate discipline remains as is, you’re probably looking at similar production to his 2012 totals with the possibility of a slight drop. Either way, the numbers he will provide you with in 2013 as a Mariner will still be better than the ones he would have provided had he stayed with the Angels this year.