Report: Twins sign first baseman Kendrys Morales
The wait is finally over for Kendrys Morales. The Cuban first baseman and designated hitter, who has been unsigned since the start of the season, is headed to Minnesota to join the Twins, according to a report from CBS Sports' Jon Heyman. Morales, who spent last season with the Mariners, had been languishing in the purgatory of free agency since the start of the offseason thanks to the qualifying offer that Seattle made him last year.
Unsurprisingly, Morales' time as a free agent came to an end right as the MLB Draft winds to a close. Because Morales rejected the Mariners' qualifying offer, any team that signed Morales would have had to fork over a compensatory first-round draft pick in exchange. As such, interest in Morales was virtually non-existent throughout the offseason despite his 2013 production (.277/.336/.449, 23 homers, 80 RBI). With the draft now over, though, that compensation was no longer a factor, and as such, Morales found a new home with relative speed and ease.
Terms have yet to be disclosed, but Morales' deal with the Twins will likely be similar to, if not exactly the same as, the deal that fellow qualifying-offer recipient Stephen Drew signed with the Red Sox. Drew, who also lost all his suitors because of draft pick compensation, finally re-signed with Boston last month on a one-year deal that will pay him roughly $10 million over the rest of the season; it's the pro-rated portion of the $14.1 million Drew would have made this year had he accepted the Red Sox's qualifying offer. Like Drew, it's highly unlikely Morales took anything longer than a rest-of-the-season deal from Minnesota, as he's now exempt from receiving a qualifying offer this offseason and will thus again be an attractive option to a variety of teams.
With the Twins, it's unlikely that Morales will see much of any time at first base, as that position now belongs to Joe Mauer, who switched there from catcher in the offseason. Instead, Morales will try to beef up what's been an uninspiring rotation for Minnesota at designated hitter. Though the Twins have a perfectly good DH option in the bat-first form of Josh Willingham, the team's lack of productive outfielders has forced Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to play Willingham in left field since he came back from injury late last month, leaving the DH spot up for grabs.
So far, none of the Twins' DH options have done anything but flail given the chance at a starting spot. Already, nine players have seen time at DH, led by backup catcher Josmil Pinto, who had a sterling month of April (.246/.410/.492 with five homers and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 17/17) before cratering in May (.208/.241/.358 with two homers and three walks against 15 strikeouts). Likewise, April sensation Chris Colabello, who hit .295/.343/.484 in April and also saw time at DH, fell apart in May, and has since been sent down to Triple-A. Other choices, including veteran Jason Kubel (.224/.313/.295 in 176 plate appearances) and Eduardo Nunez (.621 OPS in limited time), have proven equally unpalatable.
What's interesting is that the Twins would choose to upgrade DH instead of trying to find a better outfielder than Willingham and letting him occupy the DH slot. In 11 seasons as an outfielder, Willingham has posted a frightful Defensive Runs Saved figure of -11, though he has posted a positive mark in this season's small sample size. Then again, the Twins likely figured that the simple money cost of acquiring Morales beat the potential prospect cost of acquiring a player who could provide offense on the level of Willingham or Morales while also being an above-average fielder. Signing Morales also keeps him out of the hands of other teams who had reportedly been interested in him, including the Yankees, Rangers, and Mariners, all of whom are ahead of Minnesota in the wild-card race. Though it will likely be at least two weeks before Morales is ready to join the team, he'll be inserted into a lineup that has suddenly awoken after posting a .639 OPS in May, the second-worst mark in the American League. A big part of that is the returns of Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia from the disabled list; the former has hit .316/.490/.658 since May 26, and the latter has slashed .348/.348/.696 in that same timeframe. Add in Morales, who posted a 123 OPS+ last season, and the Twins' middle of the order should now possess some increased pop. Whether his signing will be enough to pick up a team currently three games under .500 and five back in the AL Central, however, remains to be seen.