According to a report from MLB Network’s Jim Duquette, the Royals have shown some interest in free agent Kendrys Morales. Morales is coming off a season in which he hit .277/.336/.449 with the Mariners, after spending the previous 7 years in the Angels’ organization and being traded to Seattle in exchange for none other than new Royal Jason Vargas. His breakout season came in 2009, when Morales put up a line of .306/.355/.569, with 34 home runs. Since that year, Morales has played in just 341 games, missing most of 2010 and all of 2011 with injury. Signing Morales would almost certainly force the team to trade Billy Butler, which could, in theory, add a pitcher who would improve the team in 2014.
Unfortunately, that theory has some rather large holes in it.
First of all, signing Morales would probably cost more money than what Butler will be making. MLB Trade Rumors projected Morales to receive a 2 year, $28 million contract this winter, while Butler will make $20.5 million over the next two seasons, if the team picks up his option. For a team with an already record-high payroll, adding more salary is only acceptable if his production exceeds the player he’s replacing, which leads me to my next point:
Butler is a better hitter than Morales.
Last season, Morales’ 116 wRC+ was identical to Butler’s, and we all remember how much criticism Butler faced for his “disappointing” season. In fact, Butler has been a more productive hitter than Morales in each of the last 3 seasons in which Morales played. You have to go back to Morales’ 2009 season to find one in which Morales did more at the plate than Butler. Even including that season, though, Butler’s combined performance has been superior. From 2009 through 2013, Butler posted a wRC+ of 126, while Morales posted a 124. The gap isn’t enormous, but it’s there, and Butler’s also three years younger, so Morales is farther along the aging curve. I don’t want this to sound like I’m saying Morales is a bad hitter, because he’s not. Unlike another slugger on the market, Nelson Cruz, Morales isn’t a product of his home park and isn’t an out machine. But he’s not Butler.
In addition to the hitting, Butler was actually a better baserunner and defender than Morales. Read that sentence again, then remember all of the times Butler’s gotten called out for being too slow or for having a terrible glove. Morales was worse than that. If you’re into projections, Steamer projects Morales to be worth 1.6 WAR next year, with a 119 wRC+. Butler’s projected to be worth 2.4 WAR, with a 129 wRC+. I also think it’s interesting that the team would consider pursuing Morales after a Royals official said the team “has to” be moving toward rotating the DH spot between multiple players in the future. Acquiring a player who offers even less positional flexibility than Butler would seem to make the team’s plans more difficult.
Another problem with signing Morales comes from the fact that the Mariners extending him a qualifying offer, and he declined, which means any team that signs him will forfeit their first round draft pick. There are some players for whom it is worth surrendering that pick, but Morales is not one of them.
So right away, the Royals would be downgrading at one spot in the lineup, while also spending more money and losing out on a potentially top 10-level prospect. It is possible that they could bring back a useful player when Butler is traded in this hypothetical scenario, but I’m guessing the Royals would need to give up a prospect in addition to Butler to bring back a pitcher who could have a significant impact on 2014. If you’re keeping score, the Royals have now given up one of their best hitters, a prospect (or more), and a 1st round draft pick in exchange for an older, less durable, poor-man’s version of Butler who also costs more money, and potentially a solid starting pitcher.
This may be a crazy idea, but why not keep Butler, keep the draft pick, and use the money that would go to Morales – plus a little more – to sign (or trade for) a starting pitcher instead? I won’t belabor the point, but if the end result is adding a pitcher, wouldn’t it be more effective to go that route instead of signing Morales to set off that chain of dominoes?
Getting rid of Butler for Morales in isolation, is, at very best, a lateral move. Once you factor in the cost to acquire him – the money, the draft pick, and the opportunity cost – it would just make no sense.