BY Art Thiel 05:32PM 05/31/2013

Thiel: Mariners need to lock up Morales soon

Another HR for Kendrys Morales makes him Mariners’ early MVP. But he’s on a one-year deal, and his agent is Scott Boras. Anything to worry about here, Mariners fans?

With the flameouts of Jesus Montero (above), Dustin Ackley and maybe Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales is playing himself into a lucrative contract. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Amused as I was over Eric Wedge’s outing of seamheads as the scalawags behind the fall of Dustin Ackley, and surprised as I was over rookie Nick Franklin’s impression of Ken Griffey Jr.,  what I would be more impressed with regarding the Mariners is an extension of the contract of Kendrys Morales before they force themselves to get rid of him at the trade deadline.

As longtime fan(s) of the Mariners know, the July 31 deadline for non-waiver deals traditionally marks the official concession by the front office, which has known since Memorial Day that the season was over, but waits until then to part out the roster in exchange for prospects, all of whom turn out to be, more or less, Casper Wells.

I realize the deadline is two months away. But really, is it ever too early to begin waving arms, sending up flares and stamping out the word “HELP” in the snow to make sure the front office looks up?

Morales, 30 in June, is on a one-year contract paying him $5.25 million. For perspective, Chone Figgins is being paid $8 million to choose between a bag of golf clubs or a fishing pole.

Morales is batting .413 with runners in scoring position, or about 400 points higher than the next-best Mariner. Entering Friday night’s game in Minneapolis,  he led the team in RBIs with 31 and was batting .298, which, excluding Ichiro and his 80-foot worm-burners, is as close to a .300 hitter the Mariners have had since since most of the 2001 lineup that won 116 games. And he has proven that he returned to health after his leg was broken in a home-plate celebration of a walk-off grand slam that beat the Mariners in 2010 when he was with the Angels.

He’s primarily a DH but serviceable as a first baseman, which makes him two positions better than Jesus Montero, the fallen hope now in AAA Tacoma where, after failing at catcher, he is learning to bend over at first base. The regular first baseman, injured Justin Smoak, is hitting .240 with 8 RBI, or one more RBI than journeyman pickup Endy Chavez.

Besides the obvious embarrassment over the career spirals of Montero, Ackley and probably Smoak, their declines make the Mariners more vulnerable offensively, and ratchets up Morales’s value this summer. Naturally, Morales is represented by Scott Boras.

You may remember him as the agent who pump-faked the Mariners bosses into letting Alex Rodriguez go for free to Texas, where he was for a time there, as well as New York, the best player in the game. Boras also shook down a nice contract from the Mariners for Adrian Beltre, the last good free agent hitter to volunteer to come to Seattle.

Boras always seems to be there when the Mariners are desperate. Then again, after 2001, is hard to remember times when the Mariners weren’t desperate.

Attendance through 22 games is down 1.2 percent (259 a game) from a year ago at this time, which at one low level isn’t so bad given the hike in ticket prices. At another level, last year was a Safeco-record low, so it’s getting worse. Unless the Mariners have plans to jack the gate with bobblehead apocalypse, the only hope of averting another record is to resemble a competitive team, which Morales makes the Mariners more than any individual on the roster.

GM Jack Zduriencik gave no indication in a radio interview this week that extension discussions have taken place. When they do, Boras is likely to seek to a minimum five-year deal. Last winter, a fifth year was supposedly a stopping point in the Seattle negotiations with free-agent slugger Josh Hamilton. For a player of Hamilton’s personal history, five years was foolish — hell, one year was foolish — but the Angels were takers, and are regretting it already.

If Morales keeps up his pace — he had a two-run, 420-foot homer Friday night — through June, he is going to be a hot property for a contending team willing to pay a high price. The temptation will be great for the Mariners again to be sellers, because if he stays for the season, he will be a free agent likely to go elsewhere.

And if they sell, the same guy who made the midseason trades of Cliff Lee and Doug Fister will be in charge again –  Zduriencik. Chillrun, avert your eyes.

Morales’s departure will also signal to a dissipating fan base the apparent impossibility — save for the inexplicable loyalty shown by Felix Hernandez — of the organization to identify and/or keep quality baseball players once the players get to have choices.

A reasonable question for the Mariners is whether Morales can keep up what’s he’s done in May. A more urgent question for the Mariners is whether they can keep up what they’ve been doing for a decade.


YourThoughts

  • art thiel

    Premature publication. Hate when that happens. All fixed now.

  • Trygvesture

    (Premature publication… HA! Not bad.)

    I am looking forward with a train wreck sensibility to the next load of obsucative language from right-on-track Jack. His MLB GM-ing looks pretty ragged, the results look just plain awful. He has managed to do exactly what he is good at– building minor league talent. Wrong job, however. And surely Lincoln and Ed mcArmstrong have to emerge from their cheney-cave soon to say something. Or… don’t they? What can it be this time? Armstrong wants to sign Ichi, Olerud and Griff again? (They SO retired from Seattle when he had contract offers ready! ). Lincoln’s only possible script must include “decided to go a different direction….interim manager…blah blah blah.” Lincoln is 73. The other guy is 71. Retirement announcements still pending, but delayed due to fiddle lessons at the Nero Leadership School.

    This from 2008– 5 years ago!:

    “Chuck, with his intimate knowledge of baseball, and the experience I’ve gained in this job … we learned from our mistakes to get this (general manager) decision right. I think our ownership group is quite comfortable with Chuck and me making the decision.

    Q: Before the 2007 season, you made your now-infamous statement that Mike Hargrove and Bill Bavasi were on hot seats. I asked you then if you were on the hot seat as well, and you said yes. Hargrove and Bavasi are gone. Why not you?

    A: I remain on the hot seat, and I don’t plan to get off it until I get this thing turned around.”

    • Trygvesture

      Going back further– October 3, 2006– the emerging saga of obsfucation and faux accountability:

      “Howard Lincoln told reporters his controversial decision to continue with general manager Bill Bavasi and manager Mike Hargrove, despite the club’s three consecutive last-place finishes, meant that they were on his “hot seat.”

      That might have been the earliest hot-seat designation in MLB history. Normally such declarations are the province of sportswriters, who usually hold off until the first three-game losing streak of the new season.

      But the unusual comment raised a question:

      What about you, Howard?

      He answered it Tuesday: His backside is toasty too.

      “The entire organization, and especially me, is on the hot seat,” he said in an interview at his stadium office. “I thought long and hard about continuing with Bill and Mike. I’m putting my neck out on the line because I believe in them.

      “I’ve made it clear to the ownership group that, having made the decision, I’m fully responsible for it.”

      So what happens to him if the Mariners start off the 2007 season, say, 15-30?

      “That’s up to the board,” he said.

      While he didn’t elaborate, it was clear that for the first time in his CEO tenure that began in September 1999, Lincoln was linking his baseball fate to a seasonal outcome.”

      If only it were true, if only he was good for his word…

      Morales? yeah, but talk about grasping a straws. Signing Morales is hardly the thing to make this clownship relevant to the world of MLB. Felix, Iwakuma and Morales aren’t a baseball team. Hot Seat Howard isn’t a competent CEO and his OJT is probably a regimen that has long since run its fruitless course.
      At least he keeps Beane and Ryan smiling– they’ve got be amazed and amused by their Gomer Pyle competition.

      • art thiel

        More good research.

        Morales isn’t THE answer. No one player is. But so few quality offensive players ever arrive in their prime in Seattle that the opportunity to keep him here is worth taking.

    • art thiel

      Nice research. The conversation seems to ring a bell.

      The seat is hot only if the boss says it is hot. And he’s in Kyoto. I don’t expect any change and the Howard/Chuck level.

      I don’t expect any change at GM during the season — what would be the point? — and unless the Mariners have another 17-game losing streak in them (not with King and Kuma), I don’t expect a change with Wedge. There is enough going on here that could get them 80 wins. Wedge has received permission to deep six Montero, Ackley and probably Smoak, so now he has to deliver.

  • Leon Russell

    Thiel’s best column in a long time. “Bobblehead apocalypse” lol.

    However, five years for Morales is probably a bad risk for the M’s. The 7-year $175 million contract they signed Felix to was really stupid, unless the M’s plan to double their player payroll in the next few years. Because of Felix’s $25 million per year, the M’s can’t really afford to pay Morales, or any other top hitter. So, if Morales is going to be a free agent after this season, then the M’s probably should trade him this year. Not for baseball reasons, of course — Morales seems to be the real deal. But, for payroll reasons.

    How much is Iwakuma going to get when he becomes a free agent? He’s been about as good as Felix so far this season.

    • art thiel

      Well, Leon, good to glimpse your charitable side.

      No doubt five years is a big risk, but he’ll be 35 at the end, not 42 like Pujols with Anaheim. They have to risk because “the plan” is leaking. In negotiating with Felix, the Mariners knew they were closing the deal to own their RSN, Root. They claim it’s big money, and so paid Felix market for his age and talent (see Verlander deal).

      They’ve always had the ownership wealth to do whatever they wanted; they just chose not to. But with the RSN money, they can, within operational cash, overpay Morales.

      Iwakuma has this yr and next at $7M each, Plus a club option for a 3rd at $7M.

      • Leon Russell

        I am always charitable.

  • Tian Biao

    yep, Art was on a roll with this one. I liked ‘sending out flares and stamping help in the snow.’ and how all of our trades turn into Casper Wells. But yeah, Morales: a pleasant surprise. For sure, we should try to sign a guy who can actually hit at Safeco, whatever the price. Players like that are pretty rare in these parts. plus there is the looming worry that we’ll trade him for four more casper wellses.

    • art thiel

      I’d rather see the club spend money for a proven mid-career vet than trade him for more magic beans.

  • Al

    How many people honestly think that Morales wants to stay here? We acquired him in a trade and like nearly every other contract (excepting Felix), it’s a short arrangement (because the team is for sale, but shhhh about that). See Morse. See Ibanez. I’m hard pressed to imagine Morales wanting to stay. I understand the Mariners would want him to (wow, someone that can HIT in the lineup). But does not and will not stay. The only thing the Mariners should be considering is what they can get for him before the trade deadline with them sitting below .500.

    • Al

      Whoops, a few missing words in that one sentence, my apologies!

    • art thiel

      Al, I understand the skepticism, which makes my point: The Mariners NEED to bust a move on this guy to establish cred not only among fans, but within baseball. They do that by paying him more than any other team. Morse and Ibanez, for different reasons, aren’t worth the risk. As to what Morales wants, I don’t speak Spanish, I’m guessing you don’t, and he doesn’t give interviews in English.

      What I do know is that he’s the first guy in the clubhouse every game, and he can hit like no one else in the organization.

    • art thiel

      We all can see the reasons he wouldn’t want to stay, but everyone has a price. Adrian Beltre had a price, and the Mariners met it. Granted, it was a long time ago. But Wedge and Z are in their contract years, and they may have to stand on their heads to get ownership to see Morales value. But it beats being kicked in the butt again by an inability to keep quality players.

  • Bobscrat

    Great article, but the one wrinkle here is his agent Scott Boras. If they approach him now about an extension, boras will ask for the moon, because that’s his job. It’s hard to see ownership being willing to pay that, or even think progressively about keeping him, especially if they think Z is out the door in October. Boras obviously wants to let the market decide his value because he can work his magic and drive up the price. So, as a fan, I’m thinking they will do the usual and trade him next month for some AAAA talent that they will end up DFAing next year.

    • art thiel

      That is the conventional wisdom, Bob. Which is why I posed the notion that the Mariners have to break from their past habits and overpay to met Boras’s demands. Who else are they going to spend their new TV money on?