For Royals fans, the proper proper response to that news appears to be: Uhhh, why?
Sure, Morales can hit.
But, so can Billy Butler -- and the Royals don't have to give up a first-round draft choice to keep him.
Morales declined a qualifying offer from the Mariners in November, turning down the one-year $14.1 million deal and tethering himself to draft pick compensation in the process. His confidence in himself as a commodity appears to have led him to that decision, but his expectations might have been a little on the lofty side.
This winter could have been much different for Morales if the Mariners hadn't made the offer, but as things stand now, teams appear hesitant to forfeit a pick for the right to sign him to lucrative, multi-year deal.
So, if the Royals are a "sleeper" for Morales, then who, exactly, is lucidly considering him?
The Mariners used Justin Smoak almost exclusively at first last season, and they've already added Corey Hart and Logan Morrison this offseason. Both of those guys are marginal defenders at best, leading to speculation that they will split time at DH and corner outfield positions. If the team ends up signing Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka -- they are currently considered the frontrunners to win the bidding -- they would almost certainly be approaching some kind of payroll ceiling. A return to Seattle seems like a stretch for Morales.
The Orioles have also considered the 30-year-old switch-hitter, but their interest is reportedly "waning." The O's could be willing to forfeit their pick for the right free agent, but Morales doesn't appear to fit the O's definition of "right."
So, why would the Royals sign Morales -- even if they are a little groggy most of the time?
Well, Butler and Morales are somewhat similar in terms of overall offensive production -- which would lend itself to the notion that Kansas City could make the transition rather easily.
Other than Butler's serendipitous HR/FB spike that led to a homer-heavy 2012, these two guys pretty much look like the same player -- at least in the batter's box. However, nearly every other comparison leans in Billy Butler's favor.
Morales is likely to cost much more than Butler, who is set to make about $20 million over the next two seasons. He's also three years older, and while Butler has played in about 160 games per season since 2009, Morales has averaged less than 100 games a year over that span, intensified by -- but not exclusively the result of -- a 21-month absence from the game after he broke his leg celebrating a walk-off homer in Anaheim.
While the drop off from Butler to Morales might not cost the Royals a significant number of runs in 2014, signing him would cost them a draft pick -- which is pretty much the exact opposite result the qualifying offer was designed to produce.
Kansas City is a small market. They were 22nd in payroll last season, and Nielsen ranked their television market 31st in the country in their 2013 estimations. Qualifying offers were designed to compensate teams in lesser markets that could no longer afford their best players. The system might not be working perfectly, but at the very least it has kept some small-market GMs from considering players attached to draft compensation.
If Ervin Santana signs elsewhere, the Royals will receive a pick at the end of the first round in the 2014 draft. Like Morales, he declined the qualifying offer in favor of the open market. However, signing Morales and letting go of Santana wouldn't be a wash for Kansas City. The team is currently slotted into the first round at 19th overall. They would surrender that pick by signing Morales, and land a pick somewhere in the mid- to late-30s in compensation for the presumed departure of Santana.
In other words: If they avoid both players, they'll get both picks -- which equates to two in the top 40. That kind of opportunity to bring in cheap, topflight talent was intended to be an asset for teams like the Royals, not an afterthought.
Kansas City could probably land a pretty good starting pitcher for Butler on the trade market, but the moves they would have to make to get to that point don't seem to be in the club's best interest. Why, for example, would they choose to sign Morales to an expensive new deal -- that will cost them a high draft pick -- and trade Butler for a starter, rather than simply re-signing Ervin Santana or another free agent that wouldn't come with the added loss of more than six years of control over one of the top amateur players in the country?
Bringing back Santana would effectively cost them a draft pick as well, and he's supposedly looking for a 5-year deal worth more than $100 million, but re-signing him would seem to be preferable to the convoluted dream sequence of signing Morales.
Several options without draft repercussions -- like Matt Garza, A.J. Burnett, and the highly coveted Tanaka -- remain available. General manager Dayton Moore could also attempt to trade some of his team's minor league talent for an impact starter, but his track record in that arena isn't exactly something Royals fans boast about -- which is another good reason for the team to hang on to Butler.
The Royals don't need to pull off a Machiavellian series of improvisational transactions to get better for 2014.
They can improve just as easily by wiping away the crusties and taking a more focused approach.
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