Two foes in the AL West found a way to work together Wednesday when the Angels traded switch-hitting slugger Kendrys Morales to the Seattle Mariners for left-hander Jason Vargas, filling needs for both teams.
The 29-year-old Morales became expendable after the Angels agreed to a deal last week with free agent slugger Josh Hamilton. The Angels had been looking for a pitcher after losing Zack Greinke and Dan Haren to free agency and trading Ervin Santana.
The Angels added a left-hander to their rotation, while Seattle got a hitter that can instantly take a spot in the middle of its order.
"We were going to try and come up with some type of offense and I think this worked out in a positive way," Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "Both players are at the end of their contracts."
Getting Vargas reunites the lefty with his former Long Beach State teammate Jered Weaver at the top of the Angels' rotation. The duo played college ball together in 2004 and now will be counted on in helping make the big money the Angels spent on Hamilton and Albert Pujols last season pay off.
"I'm back home in California now," Vargas said. "It's perfect."
Vargas grew up in Southern California where his father coached high school baseball. He used to watch his second cousin, infielder Randy Velarde, play for the Angels in the late 1990s.
Vargas led Seattle in wins last season, going 14-11 with a 3.85 ERA and pitched a career-high 217 1-3 innings. The 29-year-old is 36-42 with a 4.09 ERA in four years with the Mariners.
"Jason was what we were looking for on the market this year: just a steady reliable left-hander who can go out there. 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," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "So we're thrilled to make the deal. We feel like this makes us a better, more complete and balanced team."
In his career, Vargas is 5-4 with a 2.65 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 85 innings pitched against the Angels.
A flyball pitcher, Vargas is excited to have an outfield that includes Rookie of the Year Mike Trout and Hamilton.
"Those guys out there behind me is outstanding," he said.
Morales hit .273 with 22 home runs and 73 RBIs last season after missing the entire 2011 season after breaking his leg early in 2010 while celebrating a game-ending grand slam against the Mariners. Morales was at his best later in 2012, hitting .275 with 11 homers, 28 RBIs and an OPS of .827 over the final two months. Among its regular starters, no Seattle hitter had an OPS higher than .738 for the 2012 season.
Morales said his leg got progressively stronger through last season and has felt 100 percent during offseason workouts.
"It's allowing me to work this offseason for the first time since about two years back," Morales said through an interpreter. "Following workouts and what I'm doing, I'm feeling no pain, no inflammation. So at this point I would say I feel 100 percent."
Morales could quickly become the most productive hitter in the Mariners lineup. He would have led Seattle in home runs and been second in RBIs last season and could be even more potent with the Mariners bringing the fences closer in the outfield.
In 34 career games at Safeco Field, Morales is a .292 hitter with a .904 OPS, seven home runs and 23 RBIs.
"I thought it was a situation where we could acquire a middle of the lineup bat, and a switch hitter. And here is a guy who played in this division, here is a guy who knows the American League. I thought that was really good," Zduriencik said.
Zduriencik said the conversations with Dipoto became serious on Tuesday morning and the deal was wrapped up by midday on Wednesday.
The acquisition of Morales will instantly boost Seattle's offense but also creates a log-jam of with catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero and first baseman Justin Smoak. Morales started just 28 games at first base last season, but Zduriencik said they are confident he could play in the field. He's also hopeful that Montero comes to spring training ready to be the everyday catcher.
"As long as we create competition and as long as we have these pieces in spring training we'll see what happens," Zduriencik said. "I don't have the exact answer. We've certainly talked about a lot of scenarios and feel very comfortable that there will be enough at-bats to go around for all these guys but at the end if you've added a piece that you think makes your club better, that's just better."
Morales and Vargas each are eligible for salary arbitration and can become free agents after next season. Morales made $2,975,000 and Vargas $4.85 million last year.