Mariners make their move: Vargas for Morales
Both players are entering their final year of arbitration eligibility and will become free agents after the coming season.
Morales, 29, hit .273 with 22 home runs and 73 RBIs last year in 134 games in his first season back after missing all of 2011 with a broken left leg. That injury occurred when he landed awkwardly while jumping into a group of teammates at home plate after hitting a walkoff grand slam off Mariners closer Brandon League in Anaheim on May 29, 2010.
Before his injury, Morales was one of the emerging standouts in the American League after hitting .306 with 34 home runs and 108 RBIs for the Angels in 2009. He returned to the clean-up role for the Angels for much of last season and hit 14 of his home runs and 45 RBIs in the final three months.
The addition of Josh Hamilton last week made Morales expendable for the Angels, but he figures to give Seattle the veteran power hitter that general manager Jack Zduriencik has been pursuing all offseason.
The price wasn’t cheap, however. Vargas, 29, went 14-11 with a 3.85 ERA in 217 1/3 innings last season and was the Mariners’ No. 2 starter behind Felix Hernandez.
“We have been focused on adding offense this off-season, and feel that Kendrys will be a middle-of-the-order bat for us,” Zduriencik said. “He’s a switch-hitter with power who has played, and hit, in the AL West. He’s familiar with the teams and parks and is a proven run-producer.
“We hate to part with Jason, and really appreciate everything he’s done for us, but we are in a situation where we had to give up talent to acquire talent.”
Morales played mostly first base with the Angels prior to his injury, but started at DH for 92 games and at first base 28 times last year. He figures to compete with Justin Smoak at first base or give Seattle a quality DH, with Jesus Montero and John Jaso splitting duties at catcher and DH as well.
Morales earned $2.97 million last year in his second season of arbitration eligibility, while Vargas made $4.85 million in the same situation. Both were tendered contracts by their teams this offseason and figure to get significant raises this year before hitting free agency in 2014.
So the move leaves Zduriencik still with some financial flexibility, while providing a proven threat in the middle of the team’s young lineup. Losing Vargas hurts, but the club still has all its prize prospects and the ability to add more pitching in free agency.
Given it seems easier to attract quality free-agent pitchers than hitters to Seattle, even with the fences coming in, it’s clear why Zduriencik made this move. He’ll be talking to reporters later this afternoon, so we’ll get more thoughts then.