What’s behind the Kendrys Morales signing?

Kendrys Morales

Kendrys Morales

The Twins announced yesterday morning that they have signed free agent DH/first baseman Kendrys Morales to a one year, prorated, $12 million deal. The prorated dollars come out to about $7.5 million. Since Morales who is represented by Scott Boras will not spend the full season with the Twins, they will not be able to extend him a qualifying offer next off-season. Rumors were rampant as early as Saturday that the Twins and Morales had agreed on a deal but it was not announced until after a physical was completed. Morales will wear uniform number 17 as a Minnesota Twin.

The Cuban born Morales who will be 31 in a few days has played in 620 career games, hitting .280 with 130 doubles, 102 home runs, 345 RBI, 280 runs scored and 165 walks. He was originally signed by the Los Angeles Angels as an amateur free agent in 2005. The Angels traded Morales to the Seattle Mariners in 2012 for pitcher Jason Vargas. Morales became a free agent after the 2013 season.

Morales was one of several players this offseason who struggled in the free agent market after declining a $14.5 million qualifying offer. Stephen Drew only recently signed his prorated one-year deal with the Red Sox, and outfielder Nelson Cruz ultimately took a one-year deal with the Orioles. All three players ended up with significantly less than they would have gotten if they had accepted their qualifying offers.

The Twins immediately placed the switch-hitting Kendrys Morales on their 25 man roster and to clear a roster spot the team designated outfielder Jason Kubel for assignment. Kubel was the Twins 12th round pick in 2000 and made his big league debut with the club in August 2004. Kubel left Minnesota as a free agent after the 2011 season and signed with Arizona where he played in 2012 and part of 2013 before the D-backs traded him to Cleveland for cash and a PTBNL. Kubel again tried free agency after the 2013 season and ended up resigning with his original team, the Minnesota Twins.  Kubel had a strong April but fell on difficult times in May. Kubel appeared in 45 games for the Twins this season, hitting .224 (35-for-156) with one home run, six doubles and 13 RBI.

The Morales signing was kind of surreptitious as Minnesota was not linked to being in the hunt for Morales. According to the so-called experts teams like the Orioles, Rangers, and the Yankees were the front-runners to sign Morales. The timing of Terry Ryan and the Twins however; was impeccable as the Rangers just lost Mitch Moreland for at least 3 months for ankle reconstruction and they might have made a serious run at Morales and priced the Twins out of the market. Just a week or so earlier the Rangers lost their starting first baseman Prince Fielder for the season due to neck surgery.

Most Twins fans were shocked or at the very least pleasantly surprised with the Morales signing which seems to go against the grain of how the club has operated and looked at free agents in the past. With the club in last place in the AL Central, adding a player of this caliber in early June with no guarantee of signing him for the future does not seem to make a lot of sense from a baseball perspective. The Twins are 29-32 and last in the division but they are only 5 games out of the first place and a case can be made that they are in the playoff hunt but realistically you have to say that the odds are slim at best. Jumping over four teams in your division is not an easy task when each team in the division has to play each other 18 times. The wild card is a better possibility but that too is a long shot this year.

There is no doubt that the 2014 Twins are hitting challenged. The Twins have scored 266 runs this season which averages out to 4.36 runs per game, at the current pace the team will score about 706 runs. The Twins best runs per game average was 5.41 in 1996 and their worst was 3.44 in 1981. Last year the Twins scored runs at a pace of 3.79 per game, third worst in team history. This years team is hitting for a .245 batting average, sixth worst in their 54 year team history. Their RISP average this season is .228 which is the second worst RISP in team history and the only Twins team that had a lower RISP (at .225) was you guessed it, the 2013 Twins. How long has Tom Brunansky been the hitting coach? Oh yeah, two years. Maybe the Twins front office should look to make some changes there also. I know you need to have good players but maybe the hitting strategy of the hitting coach is just not a good match here.

So why else would the Twins invest $7.5 million in a player for about 100 games with the team in last place? The Twins business side has to be screaming “help me!”. Fan attendance at Target Field has been dropping like a rock since 2011 and even the fact that Minnesota is hosting the 2014 All-Star game can’t stop the attendance slide. Since 2010 when Target Field opened with a season ticket base of 25,000, the season ticket holder base has dropped to 23,000 in 2012, 19,000 in 2013, and 17,000 this season and would have dropped a lot lower had the lure of tickets to the 2014 All-Star game not caused some fans to hold on for just one more season.

The Twins appear to have bottomed out in 2013 and are on the way back towards respectability with some nice free agents signings, some trades and a strong farm system bolstered by high draft choices due to the teams poor play since 2010. The Twins may be playing better baseball but attendance is down about 4,574 fans per game this season and the Twins need to turn that around as soon as possible and the best way to do that is to put a good product on the field. You can’t make the Twins a playoff contender over night but an investment of about $7.5 million in Morales sends a message to the team and its loyal fans that it is willing to spend money to make money. There is not a business in existence today that will not tell you that it is much less expensive to retain a loyal customer then it is to try to attract a new loyal customer. That is one of the reasons that the Twins signed Kendrys Morales to play at Target Field. The Twins are not stupid, they are being proactive for a change instead of being strictly reactive and doing what they can to generate fan interest while this team is rebuilding.

I understand why the Twins need a player like Kendrys Morales from a baseball perspective and why they need him from a business perspective but I can’t help thinking that there is more here then meets the eye. I believe in my gut feelings, don’t believe in coincidences and I have said many times before that my “glass is half empty and is leaking” philosophy has served me well during my years. I have followed the Twins since 1961 and I have found that the Twins front office has on occasion been less than forthright over the years. I don’t hold that against them as most professional teams keep their information close to the vest. An injury perhaps? Maybe there is reason they don’t want to divulge on why Joe Mauer is playing so badly other than bad luck? Maybe a big trade is in the works?

I personally like the move but I don’t see it making a huge difference in the standings, I see it more as a symbolic move to the fans that says “see, we will spend money to put a winner on the field; hang with us as we get better”. So what is the real reason the Twins are willing to fork over $7.5 million dollars to Kendrys Morales for 100 games and will there gamble pay off?  I guess we will just have to wait and see, time will tell.

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