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On Wednesday, the Angels traded Kendrys Morales to the Mariners for Justin Vargas. It was a good deal for both teams.
The Mariners scored 619 runs last season, 48 fewer than the AL’s second-worst offensive team. They fell short in the Josh Hamilton sweepstakes, and their search for a impact bat led them to a hitter who finished fifth in AL MVP voting just three years ago. There’s a dirty secret about Angel Stadium in Anaheim: the last few years, it’s been almost as much of a pitcher’s park as Safeco Field. Morales still put up impressive power numbers as an Angel with 34 home runs in 2009 and, after sitting out all of 2011, 22 homers in 134 games last season. Morales has a chance to be a 25-home run hitter next season (remember, they’re moving in the fences at Safeco), something the Mariners haven’t had since 2009. There’s a very good chance that GM Jack Zduriencik just landed the guy who will be his best hitter in 2013.
Zduriencik wasn’t going to find a power hitter of Morales’ caliber on the free-agent market, so this was a move he had to make. Trader Jack might not be done. He clearly has money to spend (the M's offered Hamilton $25 million a year, after all) and the addition of a free agent like Michael Bourn to the lineup would make Seattle one of the clear winners of the winter.
But what happens now to Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak? Morales will probably spend most of his time at DH, which means that Montero will (gulp) play regularly at catcher or have to learn first base. Morales can also play first --- but where would that leave Smoak?
Vargas, who was teammates with Angels ace Jered Weaver at Long Beach State, was an effective pitcher for Seattle, but it’s worth noting that he posted a 2.74 ERA at Safeco and a 4.78 ERA on the road last season. His ERA and home run totals were sure to go up had he remained in Seattle, but he should do well at Angel Stadium, where they aren’t moving in the fences and where he’ll have the circus duo of Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos making plays in the outfield. The Angels add a durable left-hander (with at least 190 innings the past three seasons) and clear up the logjam in the outfield: Bourjos is now locked into center, between Hamilton and Trout.
On the surface it was an odd deal: how often do you see division rivals swapping two useful players in their prime? But it was a deal that made sense for both teams. The Mariners and Angels can both feel a little bit better about their chances in 2013. -- Albert Chen