More on Morales and what’s next for the Mariners

Dec 19, 2012, 6:54 PM | Updated: Dec 20, 2012, 8:58 am

The opportunity to add a middle-of-the-order bat like Kendrys Morales was too good for the M’s to pass up. (AP)

By Shannon Drayer

My last post was rushed as I only had a few minutes to post before there were interviews to be taped and an hour of the afternoon show to join, so I want to revisit some of my first-blush thoughts of the deal and add some things we have since learned.

I like the trade for the simple reason that it brings to the Mariners something they have been desperately searching for, for some time now. It is tough to fully analyze the deal now because we don’t know what other additions the Mariners will make. Right now they have added offense while subtracting from the starting pitching. That pitching needs to be replaced but I think Jason Vargas most likely is replaceable. Finding something close to Vargas should be easier than finding something close to Kendrys Morales.

There are options still on the free-agent market and there could be help via trade.

The math was simple, Jack Zduriencik told 710 ESPN Seattle shortly after the deal was announced.

“When you can put a guy in the 3 or 4 hole in your lineup, that outweighed where we were at and where we wanted to go,” he said. “As much as we love Jason Vargas we thought the offense was important to us, so that is why we made the trade.”

The move was a bit surprising in that it was between two teams in the same division, but Zduriencik said that was not as much of a concern on a one-year deal. It came together somewhat quickly, with Zduriencik touching base with Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto shortly after the Josh Hamilton signing was announced.

“When he got Josh I sent him a message and said, ‘Congratulations on the deal. I’m still interested in acquiring some offense and do you have some pieces that would interest us?'” Zduriencik said on a conference call with the media Wednesday afternoon.

The ball was rolling. The two talked Tuesday about Morales and the deal was consummated Wednesday morning.

As I wrote in my previous post, I was curious to find out how healthy Morales was and how much first base he could possibly play. In the conference call Zduriencik talked about the work put into learning about Morales, how the Mariners’ doctors and trainers spoke with the doctors and trainers that had worked on Morales and how MRIs, X-rays and other reports were consulted. I asked Zduriencik if any of his people had actually laid eyes on him, let alone given him a physical, and he said no. This was somewhat of a surprise but Zduriencik explained that it was not uncommon to not have a player in for a physical in a situation like this.

“It’s somewhat complicated,” he said. “You tell the player they have been traded pending physical. Gets real tacky. It’s tough. If for some reason it doesn’t go through then you have a player that has been told he was traded and that can have some lingering effects. In a lot of these cases the information you have from doctors, trainers, X-rays, the latest information is enough to go with.”

While the Mariners do not employ an advance scout they do have numerous area pro scouts and there are always a good number of eyes on the Angels. Zduriencik was particularly encouraged by the progress that he saw in Morales in his first full year back from the catastrophic leg injury suffer end in 2010. He was most encouraged by what he saw in August and September and believed Morales performing late in the season most likely indicated he was “over the hump and ready to play.”

The numbers were his strongest of the season as he hit .290/.330/.570/.900 in August and .258/.323/.506/.829 in September. He hit as many home runs in the final two months as he did the first four of the season.

Unlike many hitters, I wouldn’t expect a significant falloff in his numbers moving to Safeco Field. Angels Stadium is right behind Safeco in terms of being the toughest hitters’ parks. On the flip side, this should be good for Vargas, too, as he is most likely going to a park that will be more pitcher-friendly than the newly reconfigured Safeco Field.

Of course Morales will be inserted into a lineup much different from the lineup he was a part of in Anaheim. Nearly all of his at-bats in his career have come from the cleanup or fifth spot in the lineup. He told me on his conference call that he has no problem being “the man.”

“Obviously I have had that opportunity and responsibility,” he said. “I have more experience there now and look forward to spring training to see how the lineup develops and what happens there.”

Safe bet to say he will be in the middle of the order.

Morales says he’s fully recovered from the severe leg injury he sustained while celebrating a walkoff home run during a 2010 game against the Mariners. (AP)

Morales also said that he was confident that he was 100 percent healthy. The evidence, in his eyes, was that he has been able to do all of his offseason workouts for the first time since the injury. This is significant. His first full offseason of working out could lead to better offensive numbers next year. He also said that he felt confident he could play as much first base as needed. We shall see what happens there.

I asked Zduriencik if it might be to his benefit to perhaps only play him at first only three or four times as week, maybe even less.

“I think you are accurate there,” he answered. “I do think because of his injury, and we will see in spring training.”

Zduriencik then digressed into the Justin Smoak topic.

“In the fact that we still have a very good defensive first baseman in Smoak, we are still anxious to see what he becomes offensively for us,” he said. “What we hope is there is a maturation there that has taken over after a couple of years and that he takes the bull by the horns. If he comes in and takes the job then great, and if he doesn’t, Kendry’s is there. It is another place to put that bat in the lineup.”

Morales goes into the first base/catcher/DH mix and Zduriencik said there is plenty of room for all. He also somewhat curiously said he hoped that either Jesus Montero or John Jaso would step up and take the starting catcher job. There is little question Mike Zunino is the catcher of the future, but both Zduriencik and Eric Wedge have been clear that they do not want to rush him. I wasn’t expecting him to break camp with the Mariners but this makes me wonder if they would like to get him a full year in the minors before bringing him up. He could certainly force the issue, but it is clear he will not be rushed.

As for other additions, Zduriencik said he was not done. He will look to improve the starting pitching.

“We have a lot of irons in the fire,” he said. “We would entertain anything that we would think would help this club get better and if there is a veteran pitcher out there that we can acquire and the cost is right then we would do that. I think it would be helpful to have one.”

As for what else could be done, I asked if he currently had any offers on the table and he said he did. More specifically, Jim Moore asked if the Morales trade could lessen his interest in a guy like Nick Swisher.

“No,” Zduriencik answered. “I think if you are looking at what you think can help your club then you still have to have all of your options on the table. That particular player is a very talented player. There are some other players out there that are very talented as well. We will continue to look at the options and see where it ends up at.”

I wrote earlier Wednesday before the trade that I had good reason to believe the Mariners were not completely out on Swisher despite the fact that he was reportedly not making a trip to Seattle on his current recruiting tour. You can read more about that here.

Zduriencik also confirmed that with Wednesday’s move he could have more more money available in his payroll as Morales earned $2.97 million in 2012 and Vargas was on the books for $4.85 million. Both players are arbitration-eligible but Morales could come in at $2-3 million less than Vargas.

Throughout both interviews, Zduriencik’s phone could be heard ringing in the background. Is this a sign that we could see another move soon?

Stay tuned.

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