Mariners deal Vargas to Angels for Morales

Now healthy, first baseman/DH brings needed power to middle of Seattle’s order

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.comDecember 20, 2012 

Jack Zduriencik didn’t sulk. When the news broke that he’d lost out on his bid to sign free agent Josh Hamilton, the Seattle general manager didn’t have time to throw a tantrum or wonder how it all went wrong.

There were calls to make, players to find, and other “irons in the fire,” as he often says.

Zduriencik went to the team that crushed his Hamilton hopes – the Los Angeles Angels – to make a deal to help the Mariners’ offense.

On Wednesday, Zduriencik and the Mariners acquired designated hitter/first baseman Kendrys Morales for starting pitcher Jason Vargas.

“We have been focused on adding offense this offseason and feel that Kendrys will be a middle-of-the-order bat for us,” Zduriencik said. “He’s a switch-hitter with power who has played, and hit, in the American League West.”

Zduriencik texted Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto after the Hamilton news broke to congratulate him and say he was still in the market for offense.

“A couple days ago, I sent him another text saying to keep me in mind; I’m still interested in pursuing discussion,” Zduriencik said. “(Tuesday) morning, he called me and said, ‘I’d like to talk to you about Kendrys Morales.’ ”

The talks extended into Wednesday morning; the deal was completed in the afternoon.

Morales, 29, hit .273 (132-for-484) with a .320 on-base percentage, 26 doubles, 22 home runs and 73 RBI in 134 games last season. It was his first season since suffering a gruesome broken leg May 29, 2010, while celebrating a walk-off grand slam against the Mariners. He was hitting .290 with 11 homers and 39 RBI in 51 games in 2010.

He missed all of the 2011 season recovering from surgery after the injury.

He had monster season in 2009, hitting .306 with 34 home runs and 108 RBI. He had a combined on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) of .924, and finished fifth in the Americna League Most Valuable Player voting.

The injury was still an issue for Morales last season. He had a noticeable limp in his gait and was limited to 28 games at first base, spending the rest of the time at DH.

“Last year, I didn’t feel 100 percent, but as the year wore on I was able to build strength,” Morales said through translator Luis Garcia in a conference call.

It won’t be a problem this season, he said.

“I would put it at 100 percent,” Morales said of his health. “It’s allowed me to continue to work out this offseason for the first time since about two years back. Following workouts, I feel no pain or inflammation.”

Morales thinks he can be an everyday first baseman if needed.

That creates a minor logjam at first base and designated hitter. The Mariners often used catchers John Jaso (44 starts) and Jesus Montero (77) at DH last season, and first baseman Justin Smoak showed signs of living up to his potential late in the 2012 season. There also is Mike Carp, who is out of Triple-A options.

Zduriencik said he and manager Eric Wedge thought they could make it work.

“I think we are both very confident that there will be enough at-bats to go around to be able to work well with everyone,” Zduriencik said.

Adding Morales came with a price. Vargas grew into an established big league starter in his four seasons with Seattle, going 36-42 with a 4.09 earned-run average in 131 starts and 19 relief appearances. Last season, he led the Mariners in wins with a 14-11 record and a 3.85 ERA with 22 quality starts (three earned runs or fewer allowed in six innings).

“It’s tough to give up Jason Vargas, the innings he pitches for you and the dependability he shows for you,” Zduriencik said. “He’s been a great teammate. But at the end, in order to acquire talent you have give up talent.”

With the fences coming in at Safeco Field, there was some thought that Vargas’ value would decline. He was far less effective in 2012 away from Safeco, where long fly balls die in the cold air and massive outfield.

While Vargas, a fly-ball pitcher, was 5-5 in 14 home starts, he posted a 2.74 ERA and allowed nine home runs. Opponenent batted .219 against him in Seattle. On the road, Vargas was 9-6 with a 4.78 ERA and a .266 batting average against. He allowed 26 road home runs.

That didn’t matter to the Angels.

“Jason was what we were looking for on the market this year, just a steady, reliable left-hander who can go out there,” Dipoto said in a statement. “He’s got a history of pitching a high volume of innings and clearly I think we make ourselves a little bit better just in that we don’t have to face him because he’s given us fits. We’re thrilled to make the deal.”

The Mariners have an extra hole in their starting rotation, with only Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Erasmo Ramirez slotted in. Blake Beavan, Hector Noesi and youngsters James Paxton, Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and Brandon Maurer are in-house candidates.

Zduriencik said he’s looking to add at least one more starting pitcher to the competition via trade or free agency.

The trade addressed dire needs for both teams.

The Angels were desperate for an established big league starter with the losses of Dan Haren and Ervin Santana in the offseason. The Mariners needed a middle-of-the-order hitter.

The contracts also match up. Both players are in their final year of arbitration eligibility and will be free agents after the 2013 season. The Mariners could save nearly $3 million based on arbitration projections. Vargas, who made $4.85 million in 2012, could be awarded as much a $7.4 million for 2013, while Morales made $2.975 million and likely would make about $4.8 million next season.

WHO IS KENDRYS MORALES?

Positions: First base/designated hitter

Height: 6-1Weight: 225

Bats: SwitchThrows: Right

Born: June 20, 1983, Fomento, Cuba

Age: 29

Family: Wife, Yarley Pereira; children, Andrea, Hanely

Transactions: Defected from Cuba in 2004 and established residence in the Dominican Republic; signed six-year, $4.5 million contract as a free agent with the Angels.

Did you know: Morales joined the Cuban national team at age 19. He was the first teenager to make the team in almost 20 years.

Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish ryan.divish.@thenewstribune.com

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