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Mariners Acquire Pretty Good Hitter For Ok Pitcher

December 20, 2012

The Mariners have traded left-handed starting pitcher Jason Vargas to the Anaheim* Angels for first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales. Vargas is coming off of a 14-11 record with a 3.85 ERA, 4.69 FIP, and 0.8 WAR. Morales, in his first full season since 2010 when he broke his ankle celebrating  a walk-off grand slam against the Mariners, hit .273/.320/.467 with 22 home runs and 1.8 WAR in 134 games. With the signing of Josh Hamilton, Morales was the odd man out on the Angels’ roster, so they dealt from their offensive depth to acquire Vargas from the Mariners, whose depth was pitching. This move benefits both teams, but I disagree that it’s an even move for both teams. I think Seattle got the better player in this deal.

Kendrys Morales probably homering against the Mariners, something he will not be doing for a little while, at least.

Kendrys Morales probably homering against the Mariners, something he will not be doing for a little while, at least.

Morales, 29, certainly is no bet to be a superstar hitter, but has a track record of being a well above average bat. His best season came in 2009 when he hit .306/.355/.569 with 34 home runs and 3.4 WAR. Over his career, the switch-hitter has a line of .281/.331/.481, which gives him the best track record of any hitter on the Mariners. A slow-healing ankle derailed his career, forcing him to miss the 2011 season, but his 2012 numbers showed that he still had hitting ability. There were some reasons to believe that he was continuing to regain his past form in his recent performance.

Morales’ best months in 2012 were August and September, in which he put up OPS marks of .900 and .829, with 11 home runs, driven largely by slugging percentages of .570 and .506. Recovering from a broken bone doesn’t have a standard time table. Some athletes recover faster than others, and unfortunately for Morales, he recovered slowly. But the further removed he is from his injury, the better he has performed. This is a good indicator that he’s shaking the rust of his injury.

Morales has also shown that he is more than capable of playing first base, even after his injury. Morales posted a UZR score of +2.2 in just 28 games at first in 2012, and has been worth as much as +7.5 in a single season before. Though he is slow on the basepaths, he seems to have above-average defensive skills. Broken bones are generally freak injuries, so the Mariners shouldn’t worry about re-injury from having to handle first base every day.

This could allow the Mariners to start the season with Justin Smoak in Tacoma. If Smoak hits, great, find a spot for him. If Morales doesn’t hit, you have Smoak as insurance. And if Morales dominates? You can trade him at the deadline, or attempt to sign him to an extension in the off-season. Even if he defects for greener pastures, the Mariners would receive a draft pick from the signing team. There’s really just no downside to giving Morales a chance to prove he’s a middle-of-the-order bat this season.

Essentially, the Mariners traded an average-ish pitcher for an above-average hitter. Vargas has a decent chance to continue to succeed in Anaheim, a ballpark that also suppresses home runs, but Morales certainly has more upside. Even if Morales simply repeats his 2012, he would be one of the Mariners’ best hitters and improve the team’s run scoring ability greatly when combined with progression from the kids. This trade made sense for both teams, and definitely has a chance to end up being very lopsided in the Mariners’ favor if Morales can play up to his potential.

*They will always be the Anaheim Angels to me until they actually play in Los Angeles. Fuck you, the Angels.

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