Mariners get Morales back from Twins
Switch-hitter brings a needed right-handed component to lefty-leaning lineup
SEATTLE -- Looking to bolster their offense for a playoff push over the final nine weeks of the season, the Mariners added a familiar bat on Thursday when they acquired first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales from the Twins in exchange for relief pitcher Stephen Pryor.
Morales led the Mariners with a .277 average and 80 RBIs and hit 23 home runs in 2013, but he signed with the Twins on June 8 this season after turning down Seattle's $14.1 million qualifying offer last winter when he became a free agent for the first time.
"We had a lot of dialogue over the winter that just didn't work out," said general manager Jack Zduriencik. "We're in position now where wanted to add a bat. That was no secret. When the opportunity arose, we moved forward with it. He's a player we like and a player who is familiar with us. He'll be welcomed with open arms."
The switch-hitting Morales is expected to join the Mariners on Friday, and manager Lloyd McClendon send he'll pencil him in behind Robinson Cano in the cleanup spot while playing mostly DH.
"He's a professional hitter and this gives us an opportunity to stretch out our lineup," McClendon said. "He's a nice fit. He's a switch-hitter that can hit behind Robbie. It gives us options with what we want to do with [Kyle] Seager and where we want to hit him. I like it."
After sitting out the first three months of the season, Morales got off to a slow start with Minnesota, batting .234 with 11 doubles, one home run and 18 RBIs in 39 games. But the 31-year-old has heated up of late and hit .292 during a 12-game hitting streak that was snapped Wednesday with an 0-for-4 outing against the Indians.
The Mariners expect Morales to continue improving now that he's had six weeks of games in with the Twins.
"I don't think there's any question about that," said Zduriencik. "We all know his career as a hitter and what he can do. He's technically got Spring Training under his belt now. Unfortunately he had to do it at the Major League [level]. We feel he'll hit his stride and be the Kendrys Morales we all know."
Morales signed a prorated $12 million deal with Minnesota that will pay him about $7.4 million for the season, based on his late start. Morales is owed about $4.5 million for the remaining 61 games.
Morales offers options both at first base and DH for Seattle, which enters Thursday night's game tied for the second Wild Card spot in the American League.
Corey Hart, primarily a DH, is hitting .212 with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 51 games, while Logan Morrison has batted .211 with five homers and 18 RBIs in 43 games while handling most of the first-base duties. Justin Smoak started the season at first base, but he is now at Triple-A Tacoma after hitting .208 with seven homers and 30 RBIs in 69 games.
McClendon said Hart and Morrison would primarily platoon at first base, with Morales capable of playing there if needed. As a switch-hitter, Morales offers a needed right-handed option to a very left-handed-leaning Mariners lineup, but McClendon said his addition goes beyond that.
"I hear people talk about us hitting against left-handers," said McClendon. "But heck, we've got a winning record against left-handers. I think it's just to hit, period. I think it's a big piece for us."
The Cuban native has a career .277 average with 103 home runs and 363 RBIs in 659 games with the Angels (2006-12), Mariners and Twins. He's hit .282 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs in 79 games at Safeco Field, where he went 5-for-15 (.333) with three doubles and five RBIs in a four-game series two weeks ago.
That success at Safeco resonates with Cano, who is one of the few free agents who's come to Seattle and hit well in the historically pitcher-friendly park.
"We know he's a guy that hit here last year and is kind of made for this team," Cano said. "I always say, if you can hit in this ballpark, you can hit anywhere. This ballpark is a little weird. There's some places you hit the ball and say, you know what, that has a chance. And then, no, it doesn't even get to the warning track. So you need to have a high mentality especially when the weather changes a lot. If you can hit in the ballpark, you can hit anywhere. Him, Seager, the way he was successful last year. … Hopefully we'll stay healthy and we can go out there every day as a team."
The Mariners' pitching has been outstanding, recording the lowest ERA in the Majors at 3.11 while posting a 53-48 record, but Seattle is 14th out of 15 AL teams in runs per game and batting average and is last in on-base and slugging percentages.
Minnesota signed Morales when it was 29-31 and 2 1/2 games back in the AL Wild Card standings, but the Twins have since fallen to last in the AL Central at 46-54 and are 6 1/2 games behind the Mariners in the Wild Card race.
Pryor, 25, made one appearance for Seattle this season after opening the year on the disabled list while recovering from surgery to repair a torn right latissimus dorsi muscle.
The 6-foot-4, 245-pounder pitched in 34 games for the Mariners from 2012-14 with a 2.81 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 32 innings. He was regarded as one of Seattle's promising young relievers before injuring the lat muscle early last season after throwing 7 1/3 scoreless innings in his first seven appearances.
Pryor threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings against the Twins on July 9 when he was called up to help a shorthanded bullpen. After missing most of Spring Training while recovering from his surgery, he pitched 24 games for Tacoma and had a 2-1 record and 4.65 ERA in 31 innings.