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  • The Rundown: Morales and Contending in 2014 (and 2015)

    On Sunday, the Twins announced the signing of free agent DH/1B Kendrys Morales to a prorated $12M deal that will pay him roughly $7.5M over the rest of this season. With Morales no longer tied to draft pick compensation following last week’s first-year player draft, the timing of the deal was not a surprise.

    The fact that he signed with the Twins, however, certainly qualifies as one. For one thing, it was widely assumed that Morales would sign with a contender, with the Yankees, Brewers, and Mariners all thought to be bidding for his services. Then there’s the fact that the Twins have seldom been one to make the flashy in-season move, with low-profile trades for Shannon Stewart and Matt Capps the rare recent exceptions.

    On the field, the addition of Morales represents a considerable upgrade at the DH position. Per Dan Szymborski, ZiPS projects Morales to hit .274/.327/.446 with 13 home runs and 50 RBIs the rest of the season, for an OPS+ of 113 and 1.2 WAR. His arrival means the end of the road for OF Jason Kubel, who was DFA’d to make room for Morales on the 40-man roster. Kubel had struggled mightily this season in his return to Minnesota, slashing .224/.313/.295 with just a single homerun in 176 plate appearances. Morales will likely garner the majority of at-bats at DH once he is ready, and his bat is a welcome addition for a team that ranks in the bottom third in baseball in Isolated Power.

    Regardless of Morales’ on-field impact, though, his signing is perhaps more significant in terms of the message it sends fans via the front office – namely, that the team has every intention of competing in 2014. While that is certainly admirable, is it realistic?

    After losing two of three at home to the Astros this weekend, the Twins (29-32) find themselves three games under .500 and in last place in the Central Division. That said, they are just five games behind the struggling first-place Tigers, and just 3.5 games back in the wild card race.

    As good as that sounds coming off three consecutive 90-loss seasons, it’s still just one win better than last year’s dumpster fire through as many games. Entering Sunday, their PECOTA for the remainder of the season record was 48-54, with just a 9.3% chance of making the playoffs – both numbers factoring in the addition of Morales. This year’s squad is certainly improved, but even with Morales the prospect of competing into September seems unlikely.

    Does this make signing Morales a bad move? Certainly not. The Twins took advantage of a chance to improve the team, and as noted by Szymborski, did so without hindering their rebuilding process. Ideally Josmil Pinto would have gotten some of those DH at-bats moving forward, but that seems unlikely given manager Ron Gardenhire’s insane proclivity against starting both Pinto and Kurt Suzuki together without a third catcher on the roster. Further, if the team falters over the next two months, they should be able to flip Morales to a contender at the deadline.

    As for the notion of contending in 2014? If that is really management’s belief, then it needs to be pursued with an unwavering eye on the organization’s future. That means promoting Alex Meyer and/or Trevor May in mid-June, cutting bait with the awful Kevin Correia in the process. It means recalling Sam Fuld as soon as he’s deemed healthy and sending Aaron Hicks to Rochester, where he can actually play every day and start adjusting to life as a full-time right-handed hitter. It means platooning Danny Santana at shortstop, since he has zero future in center and at least a chance at solidifying the former position until the anticipated arrival of Nick Gordon in 2017. And it means giving Pinto a majority of starts at catcher over the season’s second half, as Kurt Suzuki steadily falls back to earth.

    There is more than one way to execute a rebuild. The team in the visitor’s dugout this past weekend went with the burn-it-to-the-ground approach, but there’s nothing wrong with trying to contend in the midst of an overhaul. That said, there are certain players on this year’s Twins' teams who will likely be key contributors on the next legitimate contender, and their development must remain paramount as the season progresses. #p2c

    Originally published at pitching2contact
    Comments 8 Comments
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      As long as they COMMIT to their strategy, and don't go half way.....
    1. MileHighTwinsFan's Avatar
      MileHighTwinsFan -
      Love the move - hope they can get him in the lineup during this road trip - my fear is that they will be out of the running by the end of it.

      Worst case is that Morales could be a trade chip at the deadline.
    1. gil4's Avatar
      gil4 -
      It's always best to have as many weapons as possible, just in case things fall into place. Arcia could put everything together and be a star. Willingham could revert to 2012 form (or something close to it.) Giving up switch-hitting could turn Hicks into an OBP king. Dozier has been this good long enough now that he might really be this good. Mauer could turn back into Mauer. Plouffe's improvements could be real. The rotation should be better than it has been. Correia could go on the 60-day with a left pinky strain. (I don't want him really hurt; I just want him to stop hurting the team.) The catchers could continue to be good (although it's unlikely Suzuki will be as good as he has been so far.) Escobar could really be at least a league-average SS. (He's 25 - he might end up even better than that.)

      All that's needed to contend is for a couple of slots to take realistic steps forward (1B, DH, CF, starting rotation) and the rest to continue as they have been (C, 2B, SS, 3B, bullpen) and the guys who just returned from injuries to play well (LF, RF). I'd say all of those things are at least 50-50, and some are pretty likely. I could see this team getting hot and possibly contending for a division title.
    1. WillFears17's Avatar
      WillFears17 -
      I love the Morales signing, the Twins needed another bat to help with the dismal offensive showing that has been on display so far this year.

      What I hope comes out of the signing is that Morales holds down the DH spot and forces Gardy to play our guys where they belong on the field and not play musical positions night in and night out. INF playing in the OF and OF playing in the INF gets old, real fast.

      I think the boys play in the best division in baseball for us to try to rebuild during the year and still hang in there and at least shoot for a Wild Card birth.

      I am not saying that one signing is going to change everything around and we are going to take off, but the fact that they are making moves, definitely gives off hope that they are in for a fight this year.
    1. Highabove's Avatar
      Highabove -
      Can somebody please find a Jersey that fits Mr. Morales. You could clearly hear the Toronto Fans chanting "Tuck in your shirt, Tuck in your shirt" No Joke.
    1. JeffReboulet's Avatar
      JeffReboulet -
      Quote Originally Posted by Highabove View Post
      Can somebody please find a Jersey that fits Mr. Morales. You could clearly hear the Toronto Fans chanting "Tuck in your shirt, Tuck in your shirt" No Joke.
      Based on what we've seen so far from him, he can wear his oversized jersey however he wants. Who really cares, other than the opposing team's fans?

      Not every MLB player can have a well-fitting uniform and an impeccable studly mustache.
    1. Highabove's Avatar
      Highabove -
      Quote Originally Posted by Highabove View Post
      Can somebody please find a Jersey that fits Mr. Morales. You could clearly hear the Toronto Fans chanting "Tuck in your shirt, Tuck in your shirt" No Joke.
      I find it humorous, not serious.
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      Quote Originally Posted by gil4 View Post
      It's always best to have as many weapons as possible, just in case things fall into place. Arcia could put everything together and be a star. Willingham could revert to 2012 form (or something close to it.) Giving up switch-hitting could turn Hicks into an OBP king. Dozier has been this good long enough now that he might really be this good. Mauer could turn back into Mauer. Plouffe's improvements could be real. The rotation should be better than it has been. Correia could go on the 60-day with a left pinky strain. (I don't want him really hurt; I just want him to stop hurting the team.) The catchers could continue to be good (although it's unlikely Suzuki will be as good as he has been so far.) Escobar could really be at least a league-average SS. (He's 25 - he might end up even better than that.)

      All that's needed to contend is for a couple of slots to take realistic steps forward (1B, DH, CF, starting rotation) and the rest to continue as they have been (C, 2B, SS, 3B, bullpen) and the guys who just returned from injuries to play well (LF, RF). I'd say all of those things are at least 50-50, and some are pretty likely. I could see this team getting hot and possibly contending for a division title.
      This. Not 100%, but this.

      You don't have to burn down the barn to rebuild.

      Willingham and Arcia make our offense much better and more dangerous.

      Morales solidifies our DH spot and gives a solid backup to Mauer on occasion.

      Re-signing Morales wouldn't be a bad thing as he keeps the DH spot warm for Vargas sometime over the next half season plus.

      Second half of the season, Correia gone, a reliever or two gone, a couple truly talented pitchers getting their shot, plus more in September, wwe're building for 2015 without sacrificing 2014.

      Mauer turning back in to Mauer is a big cog. Not only this season but next.

      We're not that far away. And after the last 3 seasons, I am about winning, being competitive, while still looking to tomorrow.
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