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Morales rejects Mariners' qualifying offer

Slugger becomes free agent; Seattle interested in retaining him on longer deal

SEATTLE -- Designated hitter Kendrys Morales rejected the Mariners' qualifying offer on Monday and is now a free agent.

Morales, 30, was one of 13 players to receive a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer last week. All 13 players had until Monday's 2 p.m. PT deadline to accept, and all 13 declined.

A qualifying offer is the equal of the average salary of the 125 top-paid players in the Majors last season and would bind the player to his current team for one season.

Last year, nine players were extended qualifying offers, and all turned them down, as well. Three of those players -- David Ortiz of the Red Sox, Adam LaRoche of the Nationals and Hiroki Kuroda of the Yankees -- wound up re-signing with their original teams. The other six eventually took longer-term deals with new teams.

Rejecting the qualifying offer didn't necessarily earn those players a higher annual salary on the free-agent market. The qualifying offer in 2013 was $13.3 million and five of the nine players who rejected it wound up accepting a lower average annual salary, but for more years.

Rafael Soriano signed with the Nationals for two years at $28 million, LaRoche re-upped with the Nats for two years, $24 million; Ortiz returned to the Red Sox for two years at $26 million, Kyle Lohse took three years and $33 million from the Brewers and Michael Bourn agreed to a four-year, $48 million deal with the Indians.

Kuroda was the only one of the nine last year who took a one-year deal, as he re-signed with the Yankees for $15 million. The three biggest winners were Josh Hamilton to the Angels for five years at $133 million, Justin Upton to the Braves at five years, $75 million, and Nick Swisher to the Indians for four years at $56 million.

The Mariners are interested in pursuing a longer deal with Morales, who led the club in batting average (.277), hits (167), doubles (34), RBIs (80) and extra-base hits (57) in his first season in Seattle after being obtained in a trade with the Angels for Jason Vargas.

Morales hit 23 home runs and tied for fourth in the American League with 15 game-winning RBIs. He hit .312 (44-for-141) with runners in scoring position, providing a needed clutch bat in the middle of Seattle's young order.

That bat will make Morales attractive to some other teams, as well, but he is limited defensively, as Seattle started him just 31 times at first base and 121 times at designated hitter in 2013. The Cuba native missed all of 2011 after shattering his ankle in a home-plate celebration following a walk-off home run against the Mariners in 2010, but he played 134 games with the Angels in 2012 and 156 with Seattle last season.

By making the qualifying bid, the Mariners are assured of receiving a compensatory pick at the end of the first round of June's First-Year Player Draft should Morales sign with another team.

Seattle currently would receive the 32nd overall pick if Morales signs elsewhere, though they would move up or down if teams ahead of them forfeit their own first-round selections by signing players who have turned down qualifying offers or if they sign one of those players themselves.

The Mariners are free to sign any of the other players who rejected qualifying offers without losing their own first-round pick (sixth overall) because teams with a top-10 Draft pick are protected. Instead, Seattle would lose its next available pick, which currently is the sixth selection in the second round, but would be higher if they receive a compensatory pick for Morales.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
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