Mariners bringing back Kendrys Morales
Looking to bolster their offense for a playoff push over the final nine weeks of the season, the Mariners added a familiar bat on Thursday as the club acquired first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales from the Twins in exchange for relief pitcher Stephen Pryor.
Morales led the Mariners with a .277 average and 80 RBIs and hit 23 home runs in 2013, but signed with the Twins on June 8 this season after turning down Seattle’s $14.1 million qualifying offer last winter when he became a free agent for the first time.
The switch-hitting Morales is expected to join the Mariners on Friday. Seattle had an open spot on its 25-man roster after optioning pitcher Taijuan Walker to Triple-A Tacoma after Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Mets.
After sitting out the first three months of the season, Morales got off to a slow start with Minnesota, where he hit .234 with 11 doubles, one home run and 18 RBIs in 39 games. But the 31-year-old has heated up of late and hit .292 during a 12-game hitting streak that was snapped Wednesday with an 0-for-4 outing against the Indians.
Morales started 26 games at DH for the Twins and 12 games at first base. He signed a pro-rated $12 million deal with Minnesota that will pay him about $7.4 million for the season, based on his late start. He’s owed about $4.7 million now for the remaining 63 games of the season.
It’s the second time the Mariners have traded for Morales, having acquired him from the Angels in exchange for pitcher Jason Vargas prior to the 2013 season.
Morales offers options both at first base and DH for Seattle, which is currently a half-game ahead of the pack in the race for the second Wild Card spot in the American League.
Corey Hart is hitting .212 with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 51 games as the club’s primary DH, while Logan Morrison has batted .211 with five homers and 18 RBIs in 43 games while handling most of the first base duties. Justin Smoak started the year at first base, but is now at Triple-A Tacoma after hitting .208 with seven homers and 30 RBIs in 69 games.
As a switch hitter, Morales offers a needed right-handed option for a very left-handed leaning Mariners lineup. The Cuban native has a career .277 average with 103 home runs and 363 RBIs in 659 games with the Angels (2006-12), Mariners (2013) and Twins (2014). He’s hit .282 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs in 79 games at Safeco Field, where he went 5-for-15 (.333) with three doubles and five RBIs in a four-game series for the Twins two weeks ago.
The Mariners pitching has been outstanding this year with the lowest ERA in the Majors at 3.11 while posting a 53-48 record, but Seattle is 14th out of 15 American League teams in runs per game and batting average and last in on-base and slugging percentage.
The Twins signed Morales when they were 29-31 and 2 1/2 games back in the Wild Card standings, but they’ve since fallen to last in the AL Central at 46-54 and are 6 1/2 games behind Seattle in the Wild Card race.
Pryor, 25, made one appearance for Seattle this season after opening the year on the disabled list while recovering from surgery to repair a torn right latissimus dorsi muscle.
The 6-foot-4, 245-pounder pitched in 34 games for Seattle from 2012-14 with a 2.81 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 32 innings and was regarded as one of the Mariners’ promising young relievers before injuring his lat muscle early last season after throwing 7 1/3 scoreless innings in his first seven appearances.
Pryor threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings against the Twins on July 9 when he was called up to help a short-handed bullpen. After missing most of Spring Training while recovering from his surgery, he’s pitched 28 games for Tacoma this season with a 2-2 record and 5.71 ERA in 34 2/3 innings.