Kendrys Morales free agency: Orioles' interest increasing

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The slugger may be open to a short-term contract now that spring training is already underway.

The Baltimore Orioles are actively pursuing free agent hitter Kendrys Morales, according to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun.

Baltimore's interest in the slugger increased once the team signed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez. One of the drawbacks to landing Morales would be the loss of a top draft pick, since he rejected a qualifying offer from Seattle at the beginning of the offseason. However, the Orioles already surrendered their top pick by inking Jimenez, so Morales would now only cost them a second-round pick.

With spring training already underway, Morales may be more amenable to a short-term contract than he was earlier in the winter, reports Connolly. Morales was believed to be looking for a long-term deal for as many as four or five years, but he may now be available to a team willing to give him two years with an opt-out clause after the first. Armed with such a contract, Morales would be able to cash in on a big 2014 by putting himself on the open market again or play out 2015 in Baltimore if he doesn't think his numbers will earn him a raise elsewhere.

The Orioles' payroll is currently around $96 million, says Connolly. Earlier reports suggested that the team expected to exceed $100 million in 2014, so there appears to be room for another free agent in the budget. Baltimore has also been linked to outfielder Nelson Cruz and starting pitcher Ervin Santana, but it is unclear how many more eight-figure salaries the club can afford.

Connolly notes that Morales may be a better option than Cruz based on several factors. Morales (30) is three years younger than Cruz (33), he is a switch-hitter (Cruz bats strictly right-handed) and he doesn't have the cloud of a PED suspension hanging over his head (Cruz was banned for 50 games last year as part of the Biogenesis scandal). The fact that Morales is a switch-hitter also means that he can take advantage of the short right-field porch at Camden Yards when he bats from the left side. Picking up Morales may also be better for the team than a long-term contract to Santana considering that the Orioles' top prospects, including Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Hunter Harvey, and Eduardo Rodriguez, are all pitchers.

Last year, Morales batted .277/.336/.449 (123 OPS+) with 23 home runs for the Seattle Mariners. His 156 games played were a career high, and marked only the second time that he's appeared in more than 140 contests in a single season. His lack of defensive ability means that he profiles best as a designated hitter. The Orioles don't have a full-time DH right now after rotating several players through that spot last year, so there is space in the starting lineup for Morales.

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