The Rundown: Morales and Contending in 2014
by, 06-09-2014 at 12:14 AM (348 Views)
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 homeruns 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 to 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 5 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 projected 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 pretty 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 team that 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