DRB Mailbag: Should The Rays Trade For Kendrys Morales?

Stephen Dunn

A Jeff Niemann for Kendrys Morales swap between the Rays and Angels makes sense for both clubs.

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My question is do you think its possible the Rays could make a trade with the LA Angels involving Jeff Niemann and Kendrys Morales?

The first step in reviewing a trade proposal is to determine, on a basic level, if the trade makes sense and fills needs for both sides. The Rays, with a glut of starting pitching, can afford to move a pitcher for prospects or a bat. The Angels are in need of a pitcher given Haren's and Grienke's free agency and the trading of Santana. With Pujols and Trumbo both able and under contract, the Angels have players filling first base and designated hitter. So on the most basic levels, the trade makes sense for both sides.

I believe the real question here for the Rays is if they feel that Kendrys Morales is good enough to play either first base or designated hitter on a daily basis. After a great 2009 season and a solid start to 2010, Morales suffered an injury during a home run celebration. The injury costed him significant time and left his future in doubt. Prior to the 2012 season, the Angels tendered him a contract through arbitration, a risky but not unprecedented move given his injury status. He responded with a solid overall year for the Angels, putting up a .273/.320/.467 line, good for a 118 wRC+ and 1.8 fWAR. Compared with the dismal performances of Luke Scott and Carlos Pena, Morales' season is acceptable.

Even though his overall line is encouraging, there are some warning signs from Morales' season. His K%, which hovered in the middle teens prior to his injury, rose to 22.2%. His walk rate did not increase with the strikeout rate, sitting at 5.9%.

Looking back at Morales' career, it appears as though his 2009 season was either a fluke or a career year. He won't likely ever repeat his 136 wRC+, 3.4 WAR, or 34 home runs.

With all this said, at a 4.8 million dollar salary (as estimated by mlbtraderumors.com), Morales should be a bargain if he can replicate what he did in 2007, 2010, and 2012. This 2013 season is the last year that Morales is under team control through arbitration, so the Rays would essentially be trading for a one year rental. Through acquiring him, the Rays will fill either the designated hitter or first base spot with a player who should have around a 120 wRC+ and 1-2 WAR.

As for the Angels, they will be acquiring Jeff Niemann, who has slowly developed into a good pitcher. Unfortunately, Jeff also cannot stay healthy, as evidenced by his 173.1 combined innings over the last two years. During those innings, Niemann pitched to a 3.59 ERA, 3.90 FIP, and 3.71 xFIP, which was good for 2.4 WAR and 2.3 RA9-Wins. With Jeff Niemann expected to make 3.1 million in 2013 (per MLBTR again), he is a good value considering a win is priced around 5 million.

Currently, the Angels have three real starting pitching options (as in guys who should be starting) in Weaver, Wilson, and Richards (even if only because of his prospect status). Niemann would slot behind Wilson, reducing the Angels starting pitcher needs to only one.

To sum up the trade, the Angels and Rays are both exchanging areas of surplus for areas of need. Both players should be good for 1-2 WAR and are paid below that price in terms of free agent value. I like the trade slightly more from the Angels' standpoint, because there is more potential in their return. If (and it is a big if) Niemann is healthy even if only for 170 innings, he should far exceed his cost. Morales, on the other hand, probably won't exceed the 125 wRC+ mark barring another career year, due to his position. All in all, the trade makes a decent amount of sense for both sides.

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