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AL West Swap: Angels trade Kendrys Morales to Mariners for Jason Vargas in wake of Hamilton Signing

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In the past week, the Angels shocked the baseball world by signing Josh Hamilton to a 5-year, $125 MM deal to play in the outfield and hit behind Albert Pujols. This left a major logjam in their batting order and still some holes in their starting rotation. Sure, their front two starters were excellent, in Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson, but after losing out in the Zack Greinke sweepstakes, they had to settle for signing Joe Blanton and trading for Tommy Hanson. Enter the Seattle Mariners, who have been involved in almost every offseason pursuit of a major signing, especially on the offensive side of the ball. After bringing in the fences at Safeco Field, the Mariners believe that this is their year to restock the offense with talent, especially with the emerging bats of Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, and Kyle Seager. Seattle has a plethora of arms in the minor league system who can contribute to the big league club in the coming year or two, which made some of their Major League talent expendable.

In late October, I posted a rebuilding plan for the Red Sox that involved trading for some key players to fill major holes in their roster. I proposed some potential trades for Anaheim’s 1B Kendrys Morales (to fill the hole vacated by Adrian Gonzalez) and Seattle’s LHP Jason Vargas (an innings eater who could replace Josh Beckett in the rotation). These players will now be swapping places on the west coast, as they have been traded for each other between two teams with major needs on their side of the ball. Each player has one year of team control left before hitting free agency, and the money was close enough (and the need high enough) for this inter-division trade to make sense.

This takes even more potential options off the board for the Red Sox, who have stuck to their guns, signing free agents who are not linked to a draft pick to lucrative short term deals in order to preserve the farm system while still being remotely competitive in the near future.

Let’s do a little Player A/Player B exercise

Player A:

BA OBP SLG OPS HR RBI
2009 0.306 0.355 0.569 0.924 34 108
2010 0.290 0.346 0.487 0.833 11 39
2012 0.273 0.320 0.467 0.787 22 73

Player B:

BA OBP SLG OPS HR RBI
2009 0.272 0.350 0.492 0.842 20 56
2010 0.238 0.316 0.468 0.784 26 68
2012 0.227 0.343 0.469 0.812 24 56

If you guess correctly, congratulations. Player A is Kendrys Morales. 2011 has been removed from the statistics due to the fact that Morales missed 2011 (and most of 2010) after breaking his ankle celebrating a walk-off grand slam (he played in only 51 games that season). Over those three seasons outlined above, Morales totaled 67 home runs, or one more than Mike Napoli, who happens to be Player B. He also recorded 220 RBI, or 40 more than Napoli over that span. He is also a year younger and plays a much better first base than Napoli, who has spent most of his career as a catcher. For people who would argue that Napoli has spent time injured as well, over the three years displayed above, Napoli played in 362 games (versus Morales’ 337). While their slugging, OPS, and OBP numbers remain similar, the real upside to Morales is his ability to hit for average as well as power. The benefit to the Red Sox signing Napoli (pending his contract status after some red flags in his physical) is that the Sox did not have to give up a player to get him.

Now let’s try that game again

Player A:

Year W L ERA CG SHO SV IP BB SO WHIP SO/BB
2010 15 12 3.85 1 0 0 215.1 86 208 1.319 2.42
2011 10 14 4.80 0 0 0 202.1 82 191 1.448 2.33
2012 12 8 3.38 0 0 0 173 52 153 1.197 2.94

Player B:

Year W L ERA CG SHO SV IP BB SO WHIP SO/BB
2010 9 12 3.78 0 0 0 192.2 54 116 1.251 2.15
2011 10 13 4.25 4 3 0 201 59 131 1.313 2.22
2012 14 11 3.85 2 0 0 217.1 55 141 1.178 2.56

If you guessed it again, you know your baseball stats. Player B is the second player in the AL West deal, Jason Vargas, whereas Player A is the most recent signing from the Boston Red Sox, Ryan Dempster. Looking a little deeper, here is what I see: one player who is consistently seeing his innings count diminish as he climbs into his mid-thirties, and a player who has seen his innings count increase as he gets into his prime in his late twenties. Which one of those players would have been more valuable for the Red Sox? You could argue that Dempster has had significantly higher strikeout totals, and in a hitter’s park that would be ideal, but the number that stands out to me is the SO/BB ratio. Both players have had very similar tracks in that respect, and when you dig deeper, it would be better to induce outs without giving hitters a free pass, which is something Vargas is better than Dempster at. This is evidenced by the fact that in every season, Vargas had a lower WHIP than Dempster.

How could the Sox have pulled this off?

Looking at the deal that went down, Seattle was looking for a year’s worth of a veteran hitting presence in their lineup and Anaheim was looking for a year’s worth of a left handed pitcher who could eat up a bunch of innings. Seattle would have been the perfect candidate to receive Jacoby Ellsbury in exchange for Jason Vargas, and the team would have received a younger, developing starter with American League success under his belt in the process. Meanwhile, this would leave the door open to resign Cody Ross in the outfield, something fans have been clamoring for since his 2012 campaign in a Boston uniform.

On the other hand, with Anaheim looking for left handed pitching depth, the acquisition of Vargas could have opened the door to trade Felix Doubront, a young player who would have had increased value to the Angels due to his arbitration eligibility and years of team control. This could have netted the team Kendrys Morales to fill their first base needs, and quite admirably at that. His ability as a switch hitter would have also come in handy for lineup making when the season started.

While the front office has made moves to solidify their present while not sacrificing their future, both of these moves could have been made to solidify the present AND build for the future, as Vargas could have been a steady rock in the rotation for years to come. No prospect in the minors is ever a lock to succeed at the major league level, and banking on the farm system to all emerge as cornerstones is a mistake this team can ill afford to make. The Red Sox need to acquire some Major League level talent that can contribute over the next four or five years, as opposed to just the next two; that would be the best way to handle a transition.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com

About DMac - @dmac4226

I grew up on Boston Sports during the championship era. Nothing has supported my love for Boston sports more than seeing three Lombardi Trophies, two World Series Championships, a Stanley Cup, and an NBA Championship all before turning 21. That will never stop me complaining when one of my teams falls on its face, and there will always be game film to go over, which is why I will always have something to write about.

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Discussion

9 comments for “AL West Swap: Angels trade Kendrys Morales to Mariners for Jason Vargas in wake of Hamilton Signing”

  1. You wouldn’t have wanted to see Vargas in Fenway. He’s a flyballer who benefitted greatly from the difficulty of hitting the ball out to left in Safeco. Replace that with the Monster and you’d have been sad.

    Posted by Transient Gadfly | December 21, 2012, 1:42 pm
  2. [...] Sports of Boston wonders why the Red Sox weren’t in on Kendrys Morales or Jason Vargas. [...]

    Posted by Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Dickey, Felix, Cano, Pena - Unofficial Network | December 21, 2012, 2:11 pm
  3. Jacoby Ellsbury would not have been an option. Seattle was looking for power.

    Reply – DMac – If you could sell them on 30/30 Ellsbury it could have worked. But that would be a tough sell.

    Posted by Todd Smitty | December 21, 2012, 2:25 pm
  4. Doubront for Morales would be an awful move. Trust me, be glad it didn’t happen. I’d be open to trading for Morales but not for Doubront.

    Reply – DMac – who would you suggest on their team that would fit with what the angels would have wanted to acquire Morales?

    Posted by Paul Pierce | December 21, 2012, 2:32 pm
  5. So you’re gonna compare Morales to Napoli yet leave out Napoli’s Career year in 2011. How does that make any sense?

    And…

    Why in the world would the Angels a GFIN team want a project like Doubront over a proven vet like Vargas?

    Reply – DMac – I left out the career year for the sole purpose of not giving away the Player A/B answer. I understand that Napoli had a career year in 2011, but it was so drastically different than his performances over the other three seasons that it could be considered the anomaly of the group. Ellsbury has had one monster season in his career, but people really only judge him for the two years he spent on the shelf, otherwise the Sox would be fielding a lot more calls for his services. If Napoli could be projected to match his career year numbers for another team, he could have easily gotten 4+ years out of a team that needed him, but he can’t be truly trusted to post those numbers. Even with the career year, his career average line is .259/.356/.507/.863 versus Morales’ .281/.331/.491/.823. Those are pretty equivalent numbers. Granted, the power numbers haven’t been there Morales’ whole career, but their 162 game averages have Morales posting only 5 HR less than Napoli and 8 more RBI.

    In regards to the Angels, I understand your gripe. My point was that the number of years under their control is higher, and he has had a year’s worth of professional service time under his belt. It would have been a sell job, but another project player could have gotten the job done.

    Posted by Mike Retred | December 21, 2012, 2:43 pm
  6. Jason Vargas because he would be awful at Fenway. Take a look at his homerun splits. The Red Sox do not have a low paid power hitting firstbaseman to give the Mariners.

    Reply – DMac – Mariners needed help all over the field. I’m not sure Ellsbury would have absolutely done it, but my point is, why isn’t the front office at least kicking the tires on guys who aren’t on their last legs and getting paid $13 million

    Posted by David Cohen | December 21, 2012, 2:51 pm
  7. You did a good job of looking into the two players you favored, and they would have been solid fits, but your defense of them (in comparison to the other two players mentioned) is very colored.

    With Napoli, you cut out his best season (a season in which he was viewed to have a breakout…he’s supposed to be more the player of the last two seasons than that of previous ones), and ignore that he will offer that bat at catcher on a number of days. You also overlook that Morales is still a major health question mark.

    As for Vargas/Dempster, if you want to delve even deeper you can see that Dempster comes out looking just fine here. His bad 2011 is now almost certainly a product of bad luck with the batted ball, and he has otherwise been a very steady performer. He also has spent years at Wrigley, which offers many of the same issues to a pitcher than Fenway does, so he shouldn’t see a major hit there (the switch to the AL may be another story). Vargas meanwhile has played in a major pitcher’s park, and has often had the benefit of a strong defense behind him. That doesn’t mean that he couldn’t succeed for Boston, but he would have been a HUGE question mark. I think Dempster is more reliable, and given the form of investment (short term money) was the much safer option.

    Posted by redsoxu571 | December 21, 2012, 5:21 pm
  8. The question isnt would you prefer Vargas and Morales over Dempster and Napoli, its Vargas and Morales over Dempster, Napoli, Ellsbury and Doubront. Even assuming the former are slightly better than the latter, you’re opening two holes to fill two holes. Im all for trading Ells and Doubront in the right deals, but if you can fill holes by only spending money rather than personnel assets than thats the way to go. You only trade in the offseason for assets that arent on the open market such as young talent or superstar.

    Posted by Brian | December 22, 2012, 9:59 am
  9. D Mac As a Toronto fan, we are happy that your braintrust fired Epstien and Francona. They now waste money creating a .500 team and hoping Ferell can create miracles. While he was in Toronto, he created no pitching miracles. All miracles came from Jose Batista. A ball phenoms do not allways enter Hall of Fame. Today you are trading for a closer, who had a great era but is showing signs of fatigue and aging. With your first base position in question, realistically only your second bsseman and centre fielder could make the Jays. The next few seasons will be long.

    Posted by David Cohen | December 22, 2012, 2:07 pm

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