Kendrys Morales was a 26-year-old first baseman who hit 34 home runs, batted .306, and finished fifth in the MVP voting.
That's a sentence filled with verifiable facts, right there. And it hints at the kind of player who would get a bazillion-dollar payday when he got the chance. Through the first half of 2010, Morales was on his way. He was consistent and productive, and then he jumped.
That's Morales's biggest crime in this whole thing. He jumped. Ryan Howard didn't jump, and he got a ludicrous contract. Mark Teixeira didn't jump, and he got a ludicrous contract. Morales jumped on home plate after a walk-off homer, and it cost him scores of millions of dollars. That's the first thing Morales did wrong. He was a professional athlete who jumped.
The second thing Morales did wrong was get traded to Seattle. Sure, sure, it wasn't his decision, technically. But after slogging his way through grueling rehab and returning to the majors, where he had a very nice season, he had the temerity to get traded to a team that played in one of the most extreme pitcher's parks in baseball. Right before he was a free agent, too. Tsk tsk.
The third thing Morales did wrong was play in a league that had a weird draft-pick compensation system that was surreptitiously designed to lower the salaries for free agents.
Look at all of those mistakes. Jumping, get traded without having a choice, and playing in a system with unfavorable rules … the dude was just asking for it, taking chances at every turn, thumbing his nose at the baseball gods. That's why he didn't get his $90 million contract.
Still, even though he made all of those indefensible choices, this is pretty brutal:
GM:"Just cannot see Kendry Morales signing until after the draft"— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) December 11, 2013
That would be the Rule 4 Draft, the one that's held in June. After missing nearly two years because of a horrific injury, this GM thinks Kendrys Morales has to sit out two months of the season if he wants a multi-year deal. Morales is one of the only power hitters on the market in a pitching-dominated league. He's a switch-hitter, and he's proven he can still put up decent counting numbers in a pitcher's park in a pitcher's league. Take a gander at his park-adjusted numbers for the last four healthy years.
Solid. Predictable. Worth having in a lineup. But he'll cost a draft pick for 20 of his potential employers. As such, he might have to wait until the summer, unless there's a change in the market.
All of the teams after pick #10 would need to give up a first-rounder for him. Here's the current draft order. Pick the team that would take the chance. It's tough. It isn't exactly easy to find a team with a protected pick that would make sense, either. The Rockies, maybe, but then they signed Justin Morneau. The Mets, possibly, if they trade Ike Davis. The Marlins? I guess the Marlins could work, but they just signed Garrett Jones.
None of them. None of it make sense.
One team has already given up its first- and second-round picks. They are in full win-now mode. They don't really have room for Morales, but they could probably make some.
The Yankees are going to steal a valuable lineup cog in an offseason where Rajai Davis gets two years and $10 million.
To get Morales, the Yankees would give up a fourth-round pick and money. The fourth-round pick isn't exactly useless, but it's pretty close. And while they'll get close to the luxury-tax threshold, they might work Morales in without going over.
The lineup as currently constructed:
Jacoby Ellsbury - CF
Derek Jeter - SS
Carlos Beltran - RF
Mark Teixeira - 1B
Brian McCann - C
Alfonso Soriano - DH
Brett Gardner - LF
Kelly Johnson - 3B
Eduardo Nunez - 2B
Eventually, they'll get someone to play second or third. It's not a bad lineup. It's not as bad as it should be, at least. That's what a quarter-billion dollars will do, I guess. Even with the old, crumbly guys in the lineup, there's still potential. Morales would make it better. Soriano will be 38 and Teixeira is fragile, so Morales would be a great way to hedge bets. Or maybe the Yankees deal Gardner for something substantial, shift Soriano to the outfield, and let Morales be a full-time DH. Heck, they'll figure it out.
So Morales has at least one option if the Yankees are interested. And, unfortunately for him, it's with a team that has all the leverage. They don't need Morales. They can play it cool. But the slugger kind of fell into their laps, and he has an option: Wait until June to play baseball, or take a team-friendly deal in a hitter's paradise, trying to rebuild his value for next year.
I gave the Yankees about a six-percent chance of being good next year. They do this every time, every damned time. Even when they should be awful, like last year, they aren't. And they're going to get four of the best hitters on the market this offseason and kick the can again. When Beltran's a husk and Ellsbury is getting 300 plate appearances per year, they'll do it again. But with different names.