Kendrys Morales is apparently unimpressed with $13.8 million. Perhaps he has a well hidden aversion for the Seattle Mariners, or maybe he would prefer more years, but either way the first baseman/designated hitter has his own agenda and one that could possibly result in him landing somewhere other than Seattle.
It would be a shame to see Morales go, but roughly $14 million is a hefty price tag to pay for an immobile player batting .277 in the prime of his career. Morales is a useful bat in the middle of the order, but offering him that kind of money— or offering him several years— has a significant amount of risk attached to it.
On a brighter note, if the M’s do in fact lose Morales after making him a qualifying offer, they will receive a compensatory first round draft pick from whichever team overpays him.
But, in the more adjacent future, if Morales suits up in a different uniform next season the M’s need to find another bat. While Morales wasn’t a superstar at the plate, he represented a solid presence in the lineup, and beyond him the M’s don’t have a lot going for them in the first base/DH department.
Justin Smoak’s play improved this year, but he is not equipped to be the M’s sole source of power in the middle of the lineup; the same can be said for Raul Ibanez if he is resigned: if Ibanez is an everyday player next season the M’s will be in dire straits.
This leaves the M’s two realistic courses of action: trade for a bat, or sign one via free agency.
Pushing aside the possibility of a trade for now, the Mariners control enough capital (at least $13.8 million) that signing a hitter shouldn’t be an issue of money.
The first base/DH field isn’t overflowing with future hall-of-famers this offseason, but there are several decent options out there.
It should also be noted that since the field isn’t terribly deep, this means that many teams have firmly entrenched first basemen and aren’t looking for anyone, and the M’s shouldn’t have too much competition in their search (this also has implications for Morales and his future but that cookie has yet to crumble).
Let’s a take a look at a couple free agent first base/DH type guys the M’s could conceivably pursue. Here’s a list (though many options exist):
Mike Napoli — Coming off a season in which he slugged 23 homeruns, had 91 RBIs, and boasted an OPS of .838 while playing for the Redsox, Napoli is arguably the cream of this year’s DH crop. Unfortunately, Napoli also produces strikeouts at an impressive rate, is 32 years old, has a history of injuries, and made $13 million last season. Napoli is bound to have determined suitors this offseason, and he won’t be cheap.
James Loney — One of 2013’s subtle surprises, Loney hit for a high average and played above average defense for the Rays this year. Unfortunately he doesn’t possess much power, but with a modest price tag (he only made $2 million this season) Loney is an intriguing player and at age 29 is still in the prime of his career.
Jose Abreu — This right handed masher from Cuba —who some project to be an immediate star — is on many teams radars and presumably won’t come cheap. But after watching other Cuban players like Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig take the league by force the Mariners might want to take a long look at this incoming commodity.
Justin Morneau — After two season in which he posted essentially identical numbers for the Twins and (briefly) for the Pirates, Morneau is now a free agent, but one who should be approached warily. Morneau made $14 million dollars last season, which is more than he was worth, and he also has a history of injuries. The last two seasons Morneau has produced like a slightly less successful Kendrys Morales; if the M’s wanted to throw money at Morneau, they can probably obtain him and his .260 batting average and 17 homeruns.
Beyond these names (which are some of the bigger ones on the market) other potential bodies that could end up in an M’s jersey are: Corey Hart, Paul Konerko, Mike Morse (dangerous territory), or Mark Reynolds.
Or the M’s could just make Edgar Martinez come out of retirement.