You asked for action. The Royals listened.
Kansas City made their first free agent splash of the winter, signing Kendrys Morales to a two-year deal worth $17 million. The contract contains up to $750,000 in incentives for each season, so the total deal could reach $18.5 million.
I don’t get it.
The Royals let Billy Butler walk in part because they desired “flexibility” at the designated hitter position. Ned Yost mentioned Sal Perez as a guy whose bat “is difficult to get out of the lineup.” (Which is a questionable statement in itself, but that’s a topic for another day.) The idea is the Royals have been locked in with Butler at DH, so they’d like to use the position to give some guys – like Perez – a partial day off. In theory, it’s a half-decent idea. Certainly understandable. Butler signs in Oakland for three years at $10 million per and the Royals decide they need Morales at roughly $9 million per year over the next two seasons.
See what I mean?
Morales famously turned down a qualifying offer following the 2013 season and was left adrift when the ’14 season got underway before finally signing with the Twins. His time in Minnesota could only be described as horrific. After posting a .234/.259/.325 line in 162 plate appearances, they returned him to Seattle in a trade. He was a little better, but a .207/.285/.347 isn’t going to get the job done. It could be fair to speculate that his poor 2014 was due to not getting reps in spring training and sitting out until June. But look at those slash lines again. His power didn’t come around until he moved to the Mariners (and that’s relatively speaking.) Seven of his eight home runs hit in 2014 were with Seattle.
A couple of other quick points about Morales. First, his line drive rate – which is an indication of how well he barrels the ball – has dropped each year since returning from his leg injury. Last year, it bottomed out at 17.8 percent, which can be used as a clue to explain why his batting average on balls in play was .244 last summer. The line drive rate isn’t the only cause – they don’t go hand in hand – but I thought it was worth pointing out. I would expect his BABIP to rebound as he’s usually around .300. Also, his HR/FB rate last year was a career worst 7.9 percent. That’s well off his career rate of 15.2 percent. Like his BABIP, I would bet on his home run totals to improve in 2015. And I’m thinking that’s what the Royals are betting on, too.
So the question is, was 2014 the harbinger of decline for Morales, or was it an aberration?
Personally, I’ll split the difference. Morales won’t be as bad as he was in 2014. Nor will he recapture his best years. Steamer has him at .259/.316/.421 with 14 home runs and a 0.3 fWAR. Better than 2014, but not enough to justify the contract. And certainly not enough to justify him as a full-time DH. This is my fear.
Throw out last season and if you go off his 2013 numbers (1.4 fWAR), you could perhaps talk yourself into giving Morales a $15 million contract over two seasons. But the 2014 season did happen. Even if you want to put an asterisk next to it. So even if Morales betters his Steamer projection, it won’t be enough, so this contract represents a serious overpay.
The Royals and Dayton Moore will get (and should get) a good will bounce following the AL pennant. The post-championship glow hangs around for a little bit. However, that can be squandered with a handful of bad moves. Tread lightly.