SEATTLE – In the midst of a firestorm over losing out on free-agent Josh Hamilton last week, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik sent a congratulatory text message to the counterpart who’d nabbed the slugger from under his nose.
That text to Los Angeles Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto, whom Zduriencik had spoken to often about hitting needs the past year, paved the way to a trade Wednesday that sent first baseman Kendrys Morales to Seattle for pitcher Jason Vargas. Morales, 29, became expendable only after the Hamilton signing and the trade brings Seattle a needed switch-hitting bat in the middle of the order.
The move also leaves financial and trade flexibility to the Mariners.
“When he got Josh, I sent him a message and said, ‘Congratulations on the deal, I’m still interested in acquiring some offense and do you have some pieces there that would interest us?’ ” Zduriencik said. “He texted me back and said, ‘I will keep you in mind. We’re just letting the dust settle and just trying to figure out all of our options with adding Josh to the club.’ ”
After another text from Zduriencik over the weekend, DiPoto got back to him late Tuesday morning and the deal was finalized roughly 24 hours later. It brings to Seattle a first baseman and designated hitter who was becoming an elite bat before breaking his leg in a home-plate celebration against Seattle in May 2010 at Angel Stadium.
Morales had season-ending surgery, then missed the entire 2011 season as well.
He finally returned last year and hit .273 with 22 home runs and 73 runs batted in, with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) of .787. All of those numbers are better than any full-time Seattle regular produced last year.
“Last year, in terms of my start and finish, it’s obviously part of my recovery,” Morales said, through interpreter Luis Garcia. “I didn’t feel 100 percent, but as the year wore on, I was able to build some more strength to have a stronger base – especially in my left foot – and toward the end of the year, I ran much better. And now, I’m at a point where I can work during the offseason and continue the improvement from the latter part of last season and be ready for the upcoming campaign.”
The arrival of Morales seems to spell less playing time for either first baseman Justin Smoak, DH Jesus Montero, or both.
Morales had already hit an impressive .292 with a .909 OPS at Safeco Field and looks forward to the fence changes making the park even more welcoming.
“For the batters, I think previously it was a little difficult probably to center field,” Morales said. “At the end of the day, it should be a benefit to all of our hitters.”