Kendrys Morales, Jason Vargas and a trade of context

Jeff Gross

The Seattle Mariners trade Jason Vargas to the Los Angeles Angels for Kendrys Morales. Who got the better end of the deal?

A tried and true baseball canard that will never go away is the idea that Willie Mays would have hit 800 home runs if he didn't play in windy Candlestick park. Because back then, park factors were just things you knew. Wrigley with the wind blowing out was like a proto-Coors Field. Wrigley with the wind blowing in was like Petco. Candlestick was a tough park in which to hit. Most of the other parks? Didn't think about them much. They were just regular old ballparks.

So if the Kendrys Morales/Jason Vargas trade went down in '65, here are the numbers we would have been working with:

Jason Vargas, 14-11, 3.85 ERA, 217 IP
Kendrys Morales, .273 BA, 22 HR, 73 RBI

Every one of those numbers is something that screams, "Okay. That's good enough, alright." A .273 batting average isn't that exciting, and neither are 22 home runs in the grand scheme of things. But they're perfectly fine. The same could be said for Vargas's record and his ERA. If we were evaluating this in yesteryear, we would have known to ding those numbers just a bit for pitching in a pitcher's park, but it wouldn't have been a big deal. Morales' numbers wouldn't have required an adjustment because Anaheim would have been one of those regular old ballparks that you wouldn't have paid attention to.

It would have seemed like a perfectly even trade.

Except, we're enlightened and empirically better than those TV-dinner-eating savages of yore. We have staaaats, and those gorgeous creatures tell a different story about these two players.

Jason Vargas, 97 ERA+
Kendrys Morales, 121 OPS+

It's not like those are anomalous numbers for either of them, either -- both correlate pretty well with what they've done over the last few seasons. The thing about Angel Stadium of Anaheim is that it most certainly isn't just one of those regular old ballparks. For the last three years, it's been almost as much of a pitcher's park as any in baseball. Its three-year park factor of 92 is comparable to the Astrodome in its heyday. For whatever reason, the park has played like the Grand Canyon in recent seasons. Combined with the downturn in league scoring, the season Morales had last year really wasn't too far off from his breakout season of 2009, when he finished fifth in the MVP voting.

And that makes this a pretty fantastic deal from the Mariners' perspective. Their team OPS+ last year was just a 173-character grawlix on a loop. Morales put up some pretty good numbers in a park that's almost as tough on hitters as Safeco, so he's almost guaranteed to help the Mariners' offense.

To get him, the Mariners gave up a generic-if-valuable starting pitcher, which is something they can seemingly develop at will. Felix Hernandez is going to lead the rotation, of course, and Hisashi Iwakuma will return to do mostly good things. Erasmo Ramirez did quite well in his cup of coffee, and Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi can keep the fire warm for whichever of the big three (James Paxton, Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker) can get ready first.

The Mariners have trouble finding hitters. This is probably the way to go about procuring them, at least for the near future. The team can still hope for good things from Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, and Kyle Seager, and they can add the reasonable expectations for Kendrys Morales onto the pile.

Does that mean this is a bad deal for the Angels? Not at all. They were never going to get Stephen Strasburg for Morales, as they were dealing from a position of weakness. Everyone knew they needed a starting pitcher, and everyone knew they had to trade one of Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos, or Morales, lest the odd man out be a bench player who picks up 200 at-bats in 2013. They were looking for an innings-eater of some quality, and Vargas is one of the best innings-eaters in the business.

There you go. The first trade of the week, and it's a boring win-win deal. But it takes knowing the Anaheim park factors to really get excited about this from a Mariners perspective. Morales is pretty underrated at this point, especially considering he didn't hit against live pitching for almost two years before he came back strong. It's the extra context for this deal that makes me appreciate what the Mariners are trying to do.

The Mariners dealt from an organizational strength to cover for an organizational weakness, and the Angels patched up their organizational weakness by dealing from an organizational strength. That's how it's supposed to work. Welcome to the simplest trade of the year.

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