By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Kendrys Morales is returning to the Seattle Mariners after all, after a series of failed attempts during the past year by the two sides to reach agreement on a contract extension, and following Morales’ six weeks in Minnesota.
He is back now — at least through the end of the season.
The Mariners reacquired Morales, a switch-hitting first baseman/designated hitter, on Thursday morning from the Twins in a trade for right-handed relief pitcher Stephen Pryor.
“We had a lot of dialogue over the winter,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “It just didn’t work out. We were in a position now where we obviously wanted to add a bat. It’s not a secret.
“This was an opportunity that presented itself.”
Morales, 31, is expected to arrive in time for Friday’s game against Baltimore at Safeco Field. Manager Lloyd McClendon said Morales will bat cleanup and serve primarily as the designated hitter.
“He’s a professional hitter,” McClendon said, “who gives us an opportunity to stretch out our lineup. He’s a nice fit. He’ll hit behind Robby. He gives us options with what we want to do with (Kyle) Seager. I like it.”
The Mariners will pick up the remaining value of Morales’ contract — approximately $4.33 million — before he becomes a free agent again after the season.
What a long and winding road.
Pryor, 25, is still seeking to regain his form after missing most of last season because of a torn back muscle. He has spent most of the season at Class AAA Tacoma, where he is 2-1 with a 4.65 ERA in 24 games.
The trade comes roughly six weeks after the Twins signed Morales, who sat out the season’s opening months after failing to land an acceptable free-agent deal once he rejected repeated offers to remain with the Mariners.
“Everybody has to do what they think is best at that moment in time,” Zduriencik said. “I think this is no different. Kendrys and his agent thought it was the best thing for him to do what he did with Minnesota.
“We continued to have discussions (with the Twins) when he got there. And now, hey, here we are. I don’t see anything negative in this at all.”
Morales is batting .234 with 11 doubles, one homer and 18 RBI for the Twins in 39 games. He has been better lately; batting .269 in his past 13 games.
The Mariners believe Morales’ time with the Twins effectively served as his spring training. They believe he’s ready now to produce at his accustomed level.
“When (the Twins) were here (earlier in July),” McClendon said, “I think you saw flickers of him coming out of it. His track record suggests that he’s going to hit.”
Morales was 5-for-15 with three doubles and five RBI in helping the Twins win three of four games from July 7-10 at Safeco Field.
The trade represents a step by the Mariners to bolster an attack that ranks next-to-last in the American League in runs per game. Morales batted .277 last season in 156 games with 23 homers and 80 RBI.
“We know what kind of numbers he put up last year for this team,” Cano said. “If you can hit in this ballpark, you can hit anywhere … There’s not too much you can say about Kendrys. He’s been in the game (for a long time). He knows how to play the game.”
Morales signed with the Twins on June 8 for $7,409,836 — or roughly a pro-rated amount of the $14.1 million qualifying offer he rejected last off-season from the Mariners.
That followed his decision late last season to reject a three-year offer from the Mariners for $30 million in order to become a free agent. Morales’ current deal allows him to become a free agent after the season.
The Mariners’ qualifying offer last year hampered Morales’ leverage on the free-agent market because it meant any club that signed him would also lose a high draft pick as compensation.
That won’t be the case this winter. The Mariners will be prevented, under baseball’s labor agreement, from tendering Morales a qualifying offer.
Even so, the Mariners believe 10 weeks of Morales could be decisive in their postseason push. They began play Thursday with a one-half-game lead in the battle for the American League’s final wild-card spot.
Zduriencik also indicated more moves are possible.
“I do have discussions with other clubs about a lot of different things,:” he said. “I had (discussions) before this (trade). Who knows what’s around the corner? I don’t have that answer right now.”
The Mariners previously acquired Morales from the Los Angeles Angels in a Dec. 19, 2012 trade for left-handed pitcher Jason Vargas.
Morales signed with the Angels in 2005 after defecting from Cuba and reached the majors in 2009. He has 103 homers, 363 RBI and a .277 average in 659 games during his eight-year career.