Sometimes a sequence of events seems to fall perfectly into place. After the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim signed Josh Hamilton, suddenly they have surplus of players in the outfield adding Hamilton to Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, and Peter Bourjos (and Vernon Wells, but the Angels would rather pretend he doesn’t exist). Not even included in that discussion is Kendrys Morales, who was the Angels’ regular designated hitter in 2012 and had a nice season, hitting to a .273/.320/.467 line (121 OPS+) with 26 doubles, 22 homers, and 73 RBI in 134 games and 522 plate appearances. Morales is a good player, but if he was not in the picture, the Angles could move Trumbo to designated hitter to guarantee regular at-bats to both him and Bourjos so it makes sense for the Angels to trade him at the right price. The Rays need a designated hitter so Morales is a definite trade option for them, and he’s also a player they have been interested in before. What would the Angels want in return for Morales? Starting pitching, coincidentally something the Rays have been renowned throughout baseball for. The Angels’ offseason has played out perfectly for the Rays’ tastes as they look to acquire a DH. But does it really make sense for the Rays and Angels to put together a trade involving Morales.
Morales, 29, is in his final year as an arbitration-eligible player after making 2.75 million dollars in 2012, and he’s certainly due for a raise on that, likely into the 4-5 million dollar range. For a player with injury concerns, that can’t be a salary that the Rays would love to pay. However, Morales has been almost completely healthy other than the tibia injury and has flat-out hit over the past four years when healthy, managing a .290/.340/.516 line in 1355 plate appearances with 24.7 homers per 500 plate appearances. He doesn’t have great patience and pitch recognition, striking out 264 times versus just 89 walks as he expanded his zone too often- according to Fangraphs, Morales swung at 35.9% of pitches out of the strike zone in 2012 compared to the 30.8% average. Plate discipline is a clear flaw in Morales’ game, but he compensates with good bat speed that allows him to make quality contact and hit for a solid average along with good power. Though Morales is far from a perfect player, he has the ability to be a strong presence in the middle of the Rays lineup and is definitely a player for the Rays to look into acquiring.
Morales could be a nice player for the Rays, but they would only have him for one year. And while they have been well known for starting pitching, they lost two starters when they dealt James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard. Who would the Rays trade for Morales? Your first thought has to be Jeff Niemann. Niemann is in a very similar contract situation as Morales being a player about to turn 30 who has dealt with manifold injuries the past few years and is arbitration-eligible for the final time this offseason. The primary difference between Morales and Niemann: he’s not nearly as good of a player. In 544.1 major league innings, Niemann is a nice 40-26 but with just a 4.08 ERA, a 99 ERA+ that was basically average, and a 6.8 K/9, a 2.9 BB/9, and a 1.1 HR/9 that amounts to a 4.31 FIP. Even if Niemann could stay healthy, something he hasn’t done since 2009, he’s basically a number four starter, and while he could potentially provide an improvement over the pitchers currently lined up to be the Angels’ 5th starters, Jerome Williams and Garrett Richards, the difference would be marginal. Maybe Niemann could be part of a package for Morales, but a straight-up trade of the two doesn’t make sense for the Angels. Would the Rays instead be willing to trade Alex Cobb or Chris Archer to the Angels for say Morales and catching prospect Hank Conger? That seems unlikely as well because both are under team control for years and the Rays are counting on both of those pitchers to be major pieces of their team moving forward.
What about a trade of a pitching prospect for Morales? The Angels have a need for pitching at the major league level, but a trend just as concerning is that they lack pitching prospects anywhere near the big leagues, with Nick Maronde being a possible exception but even he may fit better as a reliever. While the Angels would love to acquire a good big league starter in a deal for Morales, they might be content acquiring a good pitching prospect. Would the Angels accept a trade of Morales for say Alex Colome or Enny Romero, boh of whom are talented but come with plenty of risk? Even if they would, are the Rays willing to part with a prospect as promising as them for just one year of Morales?
When you look at the Angels’ depth chart, they have no pressing need to trade Morales. He could be their DH and Trumbo could be their right fielder, and the only player really stuck is Bourjos, who didn’t hit at all in 2012 anyway. Unless the Angels find a team willing to deal them a solid big league starting pitcher, they may elect to just hold onto him. For the Rays, they might be interested in Morales, but unless the Angels are content to settle for a pitching prospect in exchange for Morales and the Rays are willing to give such a prospect up, a deal is not going to happen. Maybe a trade is something to revisit if Niemann proves himself healthy and pitches well in spring training, but don’t expect the Rays to acquire Kendrys Morales from the Angels anytime soon.