Scott Boras represents Shin-Soo Choo, the top free-agent position player left on the open market. Choo has been one of baseball’s most talked-about players in the last days of the calendar year, even more so following Jeff Passan’s report on Yahoo! Sports that he turned down a $140 million offer from the New York Yankees in between the Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran signings this month.
Yet industry insiders seem equally intrigued by a less-prominent Boras client who’s likely to earn far less than Choo’s nine-figure asking price. Meet Kendrys Morales, newly reestablished as a middle-of-the-order hitter after a career-threatening leg injury. Now he’s at the center of widespread second-guessing.
The Seattle Mariners tendered Morales a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer after he clubbed 23 home runs with a .785 OPS this past year. Morales turned it down in November. The implication from Boras was clear: The open market would be more lucrative.
In fact, that should be the case. Morales, a switch-hitter, logged a career-high 156 games and 657 plate appearances in 2013. The 30-year-old answered questions about his durability after missing most of 2010 and all of 2011 because of an infamous leg fracture sustained while celebrating a walk-off home run. He’s serviceable at first base, despite playing only 31 games there in 2013. (The other 121 starts came at designated hitter.)
But now team executives around the majors are wondering if Morales should have accepted the $14.1 million tender, suggesting he may not top that number on an annual basis if he signs a multiyear deal. Morales has three major factors working against him:
1. There’s an excess of first basemen and designated hitters on the market, via free agency and trades, thus preventing the demand from focusing on Morales.
2. Interested general managers know they don’t need to outbid Morales’ current team. The Mariners have too many potential first basemen as it is, after adding Corey Hart and Logan Morrison at the winter meetings. If anything, Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik needs to trade an incumbent, Justin Smoak or Jesus Montero.
3. Most important, teams will need to surrender a draft pick — and money in the signing-bonus pool — in order to acquire Morales. The new cap on draft spending has made GMs especially reluctant to part with picks, as evidenced by the protracted wait for Boras clients Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse to sign last winter.
Major League Baseball could bail out Boras by permitting Morales to work out a sign-and-trade, but the notion of MLB helping Boras, its famous nemesis, is fanciful indeed.
The idea would be that the Mariners — for whom the draft pick penalty would not apply — could re-sign Morales and trade him to a team that actually needed a first baseman or DH. But MLB didn’t allow that with Bourn and Lohse last year — one source said multiple teams tried and failed to get permission — and it seems unlikely MLB would change course in the second offseason of a collective-bargaining agreement.
Boras’ best hope might be to steer Morales toward a team holding one of the top 10 picks in next June’s draft; those picks are protected, meaning the clubs would give up their second-round pick and signing allotment. Among that group, Morales would be an upgrade at DH for the Twins and Astros. Or the Blue Jays could look at him as a modified sign-and-trade, acquiring him while flipping first baseman/DH Adam Lind for a starting pitcher.
Morales appears to be a good fit for the Rangers (DH), Athletics (DH/first base), Pirates (first base), or even Brewers (first base), but each of those teams would need to give up a first-round draft pick. And those clubs seem to have other priorities at the moment.
Boras did tell me this week that he has interest from American League and National League teams, which suggests that some GMs are confident in Morales’ ability to play first base. Now it’s just a matter of finding one to put the appropriate dollar value on that sentiment.
Boras tends to prove his doubters wrong, often in grand fashion. With Morales, he needs to do it again.