Today, the Mariners made a move that everyone had been waiting for them to make. They added a middle of the order bat that fills a position of need. Joining the Mariners is Kendrys Morales, first baseman. Leaving the Mariners and heading to the Los Angeles Angels is Jason Vargas, starting pitcher. My initial reaction is that this trade will end up being valuable but not immediately. This move answers some questions but also brings up new ones.
Lets take a look at Kendrys Morales first. He is 29 years old, plays first base, and he played his first full season last year since breaking his ankle in 2010 (on a walk-off grand slam against the Mariners). Last year he spent most of the year DH’ing for the Angels after they acquired Albert Pujols. His statistical history and the scouting report says he can play an average first base, nothing spectacular but not a liability. On the offensive side of things, lets take a look at Morales when compared to Justin Smoak and Mike Carp, the two incumbents at first base for the Mariners:
Kendrys Morales (1B)
Justin Smoak (1B)
Mike Carp (1B/OF)
A quick look at the numbers will show us that all three players are similar hitters. High strikeouts and above average walk rates with power. In fact, Justin Smoak and Mike Carp have exactly the same Isolated Slugging Percentage (.156). Kendrys Morales is a significantly better hitter than both Smoak and Carp. He does have a lower walk rate but his contact skills and power output are much more developed than them. In his only other full season, 2009, Morales hit .306/.355/.509 with 34 HRs. Now I don’t think we can just pencil him in for another season like 2009, that was 4 years ago. I do think that a year further away from his ankle injury will help him outperform his projection and I expect him to be an excellent hitter who fills our need at first base.
The Mariners did give up major value for Morales. Jason Vargas had been penciled in as our #2 pitcher behind Felix. Vargas gained a ton of his value from playing in Safeco and the deep left field power alley that killed right handed hitters. With the walls moving in, there were a lot of questions about how much Vargas would suffer from the change. Those questions won’t need to be answered anymore but we now have a pretty sizable hole in our rotation. As it stands we have 1. King Felix, 2. Hisashi Iwakuma, 3. Erasmo Ramirez, 4. Blake Beavan, 5. Hector Noesi as our opening day rotation. Danny Hultzen could push for one of those spots if he has an amazing Spring Training but I don’t think he’ll be ready until the second half of the season. James Paxton and Taijuan Walker are both a year or more away. If the Mariners are able to add another strong arm to the rotation to keep a spot warm for one or more of Hultzen, Paxton or Walker, then I think this trade could provide a ton of value for us.
That’s the thing, all of these moves are hard to evaluate on their own because they don’t occur in a vacuum. They are all part of a larger plan that will end up with a roster that is hopefully optimized and competitive.