By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Did Kendrys Morales’ return to the Mariners make you go, “What?”
If so, you know how Morales felt.
“It caught me by surprise,” Morales said prior to batting cleanup Friday as the Mariners’ designated hitter against the Baltimore Orioles at Safeco Field. “But I feel good to be back here and be with the teammates I had a year ago. … It sort of came together quickly. It’s just a surprise, but I’m glad to be here.”
The Mariners reacquired Morales, 31, in a Thursday trade from Minnesota for minor- league reliever Stephen Pryor. The move came after numerous failed attempts last year to prevent Morales from becoming a free agent. Those efforts included the Mariners extending a qualifying offer of $14.1 million after the season, which meant any club that signed Morales would be required to surrender a high draft choice as compensation.
That qualifying offer hampered Morales’ effort to get what he considered an acceptable deal on the free-agent market. That compensation provision no longer applied after the June draft.
Not coincidentally, Morales reached an agreement shortly thereafter with the Twins for roughly $7.4 million through the end of the season. The trade puts the Mariners on the hook for about $4.33 million.
Morales will be an unencumbered free agent after the season because the rules prohibit the Mariners from making a qualifying offer under his current circumstances.
For his part, Morales has no regrets about how his situation unfolded.
“I made the decision last year to be a 100-percent free agent,” he said. “I don’t feel bad about the decision.”
For now, though, Morales says his goal is “to focus on what’s ahead and helping this new team win and qualify for the playoffs.”
Morales batted .234 in 39 games with the Twins with 11 doubles, one homer and 18 RBIs. His on-base percentage was just .259, while his slugging percentage was .325.
The Mariners are hoping Morales’ six-plus weeks in Minnesota effectively served as a spring training, and that his production will approach his career norms over the season’s final 10 weeks.
“I just want him to be a stabilizer, drive in runs and have good at-bats,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Productive at-bats. He’s certainly capable of doing that.
“I can tell you this, he’s not going to be overwhelmed by any situation. He’ll be a nice piece to add to our lineup.”
Morales said he he’s ready to break out.
“It definitely feels that way,” he said. “I’m getting a lot of at-bats under my belt, and I’ve been playing better lately and swinging the bat with a little more authority.”