It took until June, but the final big free agent has come off the market as the Twins have signed Kendrys Morales for $8M, more than he has ever made in his career, but less than the qualifying offer made by the Mariners last Fall. The Twins will also have to give Seattle their first round pick for 2015, the real cost that kept him on the market for so long. With many injuries around the league and more play-off contending teams than ever before, there were a lot of rumors about were Morales would land, but none had him going to Minnesota.
The first surprise was that no one else grabbed him up first. The Rangers seemed a perfect fit with Prince Fielder going on the disabled list, expected to miss the rest of the season after neck surgery. Adding Morales at first would allow Mitch Moreland to move back to DH with Michael Choice and his .215/.289/.356 line to the bench. The Royals were another possible fit as they put together a play-off run that could use some extra pop at the corners. Mike Moustakas was recently sent back to AAA due to lack of production while their combination at first base/DH has hit a total of three home runs and batted under .260. All this speculation is a little late, but at a minimum, the Yankees, Indians, Rays, Red Sox and even the Mariners could all have used the services of Morales.
One things all the teams listed above have in common is that they all have legitimate play-off dreams this year, either based off the current standings or recent performances, something of which the Twins have no claim. With 25 of 30 teams within five games of the Wild Card and all 30 within nine, no team can truly be considered out of the race, but the Twins are about as out of it as anyone. In addition to playing in a division that is more competitive than expected all around, the Twins have the bad combination of being one of the worst pitching and worst hitting teams in the American League. To this point in the year, only the Texas Rangers have an inferior ERA to the Twins while Minnesota has only been able to out-hit Seattle and Houston.
Morales is a good hitter, but he is not so great that he can turn a last place team with many flaws into a play-off contender. His perfect fit would have been on a team already built to win, like the Red Sox, Rangers or Indians, where he would be a major upgrade at first or DH. With the Twins, he will be taking at bats away from a group including Joe Mauer, Josmil Pinto, Josh Willingham and Chris Parmelee. Pinto and Parmelee deserve replacing, but one player who will be very affected by this signing and isn’t deserving of being dropped on the depth chart is Chris Colabello. Colabello was strangely sent to AAA awhile ago after destroying baseballs all April. He still is second on the Twins in RBI, behind just Trevor Plouffe. While he was never a real prospect, Colabello has been one of those surprise gems and is under team control through his age 35 season due to his independent league start. If Pinto and Parmelee aren’t cutting it, Colabello would have been a free option as he is already under contract and one that would be learning for the future instead of just playing for his next contract somewhere else.
From the late 1990′s on, the Twins had one of the greatest organizational plans in baseball, spending among the lowest in the league and still producing talents like Torii Hunter and Johan Santana in the early years with Mauer and Justin Morneau coming through later on. More recently, they have gone away from that strategy, giving monstrous contracts to Mauer and Morneau and depending on free agency to fill their roster rather than self promotion. While the Central Division rival White Sox spent the off-season trading away players that weren’t part of their future and adding important pieces for the future like Jose Abreu, the Twins signed multiple big name free agents including Ricky Nolasco, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and Phil Hughes. These have almost all backfired as the Twins top pitchers are Kyle Gibson and Sam Deduno, two home grown players, while the three worst have been Pelfrey, Nolasco and Correia. The Morales signing should have a similar effect, pushing back Twins up-and-comers for the benefit of a few more home runs for a last place team.
Morales may be worth a couple of wins before the season is over for the Twins, but probably not more than that. He can give Mauer some time off as injuries have made it difficult for him to man first, but Colabello could have provided the same service. From the perspective of the other Central Division teams, this is a great move as it will keep a talented player who could be great for the next few years in the minors, where he has nothing left to gain and it will cost the small market Twins quite a bit in salary. Kendrys Morales may bring some excitement to Target Field, but he won’t turn the Twins into a contender and Minnesota will almost certainly regret this deal in the near future.