Looking to bolster their offense for a playoff push over the final nine weeks of the season, the Mariners added a familiar bat on Thursday as the club acquired first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales from the Twins in exchange for relief pitcher Stephen Pryor.
Morales led the Mariners with a .277 average and 80 RBIs and hit 23 home runs in 2013, but signed with the Twins on June 8 this season after turning down Seattle’s $14.1 million qualifying offer last winter when he became a free agent for the first time.
Morales is expected to join the Mariners on Friday. After sitting out the first three months of the season, he got off to a slow start with Minnesota, hitting .234 with 11 doubles, one home run and 18 RBIs in 39 games. But the 31-year-old has heated up of late and hit .292 during a 12-game hitting streak that was snapped Wednesday with an 0-for-4 outing against the Indians.
Morales signed a pro-rated $12 million deal with Minnesota that will pay him about $7.4 million for the season, based on his late start. He’s owed about $4.7 million now for the remaining 63 games of the season.
Morales offers options both at first base and DH for Seattle, which is currently a half-game ahead of the pack in the race for the second Wild Card spot in the American League.
Corey Hart is hitting .212 with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 51 games as the club’s primary DH, while Logan Morrison has batted .211 with five homers and 18 RBIs in 43 games while handling most of the first base duties.
The Mariners pitching has been outstanding this year with the lowest ERA in the Majors at 3.11 while posting a 53-48 record, but Seattle is 14th out of 15 American League teams in runs per game and batting average and last in on-base and slugging percentage.
The Twins signed Morales when they were 29-31 and 2 1/2 games back in the Wild Card standings, but they’ve since fallen to last in the AL Central at 46-54 and are 6 1/2 games behind Seattle in the Wild Card race.
Pryor, 25, made one appearance for Seattle this season after opening the year on the disabled list while recovering from surgery to repair a torn right latissimus dorsi muscle. He pitched in 34 games for Seattle from 2012-14 with a 2.81 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 32 innings and was regarded as one of the Mariners’ promising young relievers before injuring his lat muscle early last season after throwing 7 1/3 scoreless innings in his first seven appearances.
Taijuan Walker, the Mariners top pitching prospect, has been mentioned frequently in trade rumors the past few weeks as Seattle has been connected in pursuits of offensive help as well as Rays ace David Price.
The 21-year-old will be recalled by the Mariners on Wednesday to start against the Mets after making his past two starts with Triple-A Tacoma. He said he’s trying not to get caught up in the trade rumors.
“It’s kind of hard not to,” he said. “Especially when you’ve got family and friends always calling and asking, ‘Hey, where are you going?’ You going here? You going here?’ It’s tough, but you try to block it out as much as possible.”
Some of the information is coming from a close source.
“My mom’s the worst,” he said with a grin. “I have to calm her down. ‘Mom, calm down, I can’t do anything about it.’”
While the A’s made a big move to improve a team already leading the American League West on Friday night with the acquisition of pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said his club needs to continue on its own path in what quickly has turned into one of the toughest divisions in baseball.
“Obviously those are two fine young pitchers and they did a nice job of pulling that one off,” McClendon said prior to Saturday’s game with the White Sox. “They’re a good team. Their record indicates that and they’ve gotten better. I don’t think that really changes anything as far as we’re concerned. We just have to continue going about our business and doing what we do.”
The Mariners have been one of baseball’s biggest surprises with their 47-39 start and they headed into Saturday’s game six games back of the A’s in third place in the AL West. The Angels (49-36) and Mariners currently are in position as the two Wild Card teams with nearly half a season to go.
“We’re playing good baseball and we’ve got a chance to do something and we’ll see how it works out,” said McClendon.
With the trade deadline looming on July 31, there will be plenty of speculation and some actual deals that take place in the coming weeks. The Mariners certainly would be interested in acquiring a right-handed bat to help their lineup, with White Sox left fielder Dayan Viciedo one possibility being mentioned already in the rumor mill.
McClendon said he and general manager Jack Zduriencik are always discussing possibilities, but he knows it’s not an easy process.
“Jack and I talk every day about ways to improve our club,” he said. “But you have to understand, it takes two to tango. It has to make sense. This organization has a bright future. We have a tremendous Minor League organization with a lot of good prospects. And I don’t think Jack or upper management is ready to sell the farm, so to speak, for rental players. And I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t do that either.
“It has to be the type of trades that make sense for this organization and continue to move us in the right direction. Do we have challenges? Yeah. Are we trying to fix them? Yeah. But we’ll just see.”
McClendon said the number of teams still feeling they’re in contention makes for a tight trade market.
“The problem we have now is the second Wild Card. There are so many teams still involved and nobody is willing to make those trades,” he said. “So it makes it very difficult because teams consider themselves still in it and probably rightfully so. We have to be very intelligent about what we do and how we go about our business.”
Free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano flew from New York to Seattle to meet with Mariners officials on Thursday, according to an ESPN Deportes report, as negotiating tactics for the five-time Yankees All-Star kicked up a notch.
ESPN Desportes quoted a source as saying the Mariners would be willing to go up to 10 years and $230-$240 million for Cano, who reportedly has been offered seven years at about $170 million by the Yankees.
FOXSports.com is reporting that Cano asked for $240 million, but the Mariners have not offered more than $200 million. Only Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez have signed Major League contracts larger than $225 million.
MLB.com has not confirmed that the Mariners have talked any specific figures with Cano and the Mariners declined to comment on the ESPN Deportes report, as is their policy with all free-agent negotiations.
What the report doesn’t say is whether Cano and his agents are truly interested in signing with Seattle or are leaking news of his dalliance with the Mariners as negotiating leverage to drive up the Yankees’ offer.
Here’s the full story on MLB.com.
As the clock ticks toward today’s 4 p.m. ET trade deadline, the Mariners are beginning to emerge as a team looking to make a move or two.
Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun is reporting that the Orioles are actively pursuing both outfielder Michael Morse and lefty reliever Oliver Perez in a possible package deal.
Several media outlets, including Jon Heyman of CBSSports.Com, are saying the Oroles are interested in getting southpaw starter Joe Saunders back. Heyman also says the Mariners are talking to the Rays about Morse, who just came off the disabled list yesterday after missing five weeks with a strained quad.
But Connolly says the Orioles aren’t interested in Saunders, who pitched last night for Seattle in its 8-2 loss to the Red Sox and talked afterward about the looming trade deadline.
Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com says the Mariners are talking to teams about Perez and closer Tom Wilhelmsen.
In other words, the rumor mill is buzzing and clearly Jack Zduriencik is at least shopping to see what he can get for some of his players as the deadline approaches and the Mariners sit at 50-56 and 8 1/2 games out of a Wild-Card berth on July 31.
With his team riding a five-game winning streak going into Sunday’s series finale with the Astros and a young nucleus of players beginning to produce offensively, Mariners manager Eric Wedge said he’s not anticipating or pushing for any deals before the July 31 trade deadline.
The Mariners are 45-52 and have several veterans on one-year deals who could be valued on the market, including lefty reliever Oliver Perez, outfielder Raul Ibanez, first baseman Kendrys Morales, shortstop Brendan Ryan and lefty starter Joe Saunders, but general manager Jack Zduriencik has said he’s not aggressively seeking trades and Wedge is in agreement.
“Jack and I have already talked about this,” Wedge said. “Unless it’s something that raises the bar, I don’t think we’re going to do anything. We’re not going to move somebody just to move somebody.
“Unless it’s something we feel like, again, it raises the bar – which depending on the team and their situation, it can happen; you don’t ever count on that happening. If not, we stand pat. We’ve got a good group of guys out there. It’s fun to watch them come to the ballpark every day right now.”
Raul Ibanez’s prodigious first half with the Mariners has resulted in his name coming up as a potential trade-deadline candidate to a contending team, but the 41-year-old outfielder said Friday he’s had no discussions on that topic with general manager Jack Zduriencik and isn’t looking to leave Seattle.
“I like being here,” Ibanez said prior to the Mariners’ series opener against the Astros on Friday. “I like being a part of this team and I’d like to win here.”
With Seattle sitting 11 games out of a Wild-Card playoff berth at the midseason break, would he be interested in getting dealt to a club with a better shot at the postseason?
“I would say it’s July and why can’t we do that here? That would be my response,” Ibanez said. “Why can’t we do that here? Yeah, I want to play in the playoffs right here. I think we’ve been playing good baseball the last couple of weeks, and I’d like to see that continue.”
Ibanez has been in the playoffs five of his 18 years in the Majors: once with Seattle in 2000, three times with the Phillies from 2009-11 – including their World Series team in ’09 — and last year when played a huge role for the Yankees.
But he’s never been traded in his career and didn’t sound eager to change that now after signing a one-year deal with Seattle and becoming the first player in Major League history with 20-plus homers and 50-plus RBIs at the All-Star break.
Ibanez is tied for fourth in the American League in home runs with 24 and also leads the Mariners with 56 RBIs while batting .267 going into Friday’s games.
“It’s never happened and that’s even more confirmation for me as to why I don’t think about it,” he said of a potential trade . “A lot of times you end up worrying and stressing about things that never happen. I try not to worry and stress and think about things like that. I try to do my job.”
Three weeks prior to the July 31 trade deadline, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik says he’s not actively pursuing deals yet despite his team being 10 games under .500 and 10 ½ games back in the American League Wild-Card race.
The Mariners potentially have several interesting trade chips, with left-handed reliever Oliver Perez, veteran outfielders Raul Ibanez, Michael Morse, Jason Bay and Franklin Gutierrez, designated hitter/first baseman Kendrys Morales and shortstop Brendan Ryan all veteran players who’ll be free agents at the end of this season.
Seattle has gotten younger as the season has progressed, with three rookies – second baseman Nick Franklin, shortstop Brad Miller and catcher Mike Zunino – all taking over starting roles in the past month. But Zduriencik doesn’t sound ready to disband a club he thinks has yet to hit full stride after injuries to Gutierrez and Morse and disappointing starts from several others have the team at 40-50 even after a recent uptick with the youthful additions.
“In all fairness, I don’t think I’m going to be an aggressor,” Zduriencik said. “I’m not going to go out there and start shopping our players. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. We have three weeks before the trading deadline. Our goal is to put a healthy club on the field.
“You have to entertain calls when people call. And they are calling. You have to listen to what they have to say and you ultimately have to do what’s best for the organization. But we’ve been through a lot in the early part of this year, between struggles and injuries and setbacks. We’ve liked what’s happened this last week, but who knows?
“I don’t have a crystal ball and I can’t predict one way or the other what is going to happen. But I’ll do my job, as I’m supposed to do. And if something makes sense, then you’re certainly going to listen.”
Ibanez and Morales are having strong seasons offensively and have provided needed middle-of-the-order production. Perez has been outstanding after re-inventing himself as a left-handed relief specialist the past two years, while Bay — another former Mets castoff — has provided some help as well in the outfield.
Morse got off to a hot start and is a legitimate power threat, but has dealt with a broken finger and now a strained quadriceps that has him on the 15-day disabled lists, though he’s expected back shortly. Gutierrez is also on the disabled list with a hamstring issue being the latest in his long list of health problems, while Ryan lost his starting shortstop role to Miller after struggling at the plate for a second straight year.
Felix Hernandez has two years at $40.5 million remaining on his contract with the Mariners, who’d like to lock him up for a longer term at some point this offseason.
Hernandez, 26, is often the subject of trade speculation from teams wondering if Seattle would be willing to move him in exchange for much-needed offense, but general manager Jack Zduriencik continues to steadfastly say his ace isn’t going anywhere.
Zduriencik plays things close to the vest, but indicated again Tuesday that keeping Hernandez long-term is a priority.
“We’ve always had a great relationship with the agency that represents him. It’s still that way,” Zduriencik said. “To get into any talks about extensions or anything, I wouldn’t want to publicly do that. But he’s made it clear he’d like to stay here and we’ve made it clear we’d like to keep him. And that’s the best way to answer that.”
— Greg Johns
The Mariners and Orioles pulled off a trade Tuesday as Baltimore sent infielder Robert Andino to Seattle for outfielder Trayvon Robinson.
This one makes sense from both sides. Andino, 28, is a career .235 hitter who has started 233 games for the Orioles over the past two years, primarily at second base in place of the oft-injured Brian Roberts. But Roberts is expected back and Baltimore recently added infielder Alexi Casilla from the Twins to their infield group.
The Mariners recently released Munenori Kawasaki, who was their utility infielder last season. Andino figures to fill that role, or challenge shortstop Brendan Ryan, an excellent defender who hit just .194 last season.
Robinson, 25, has played the last two months in the Majors both the past two seasons, but figured to be in a battle for a roster spot this coming spring if Seattle adds a veteran corner outfielder either by trade or the free agency market, as expected.
Robinson is out of Minor League options, so he would have either had to make the 25-man roster or be exposed to waivers. So the deal was done and now both players will get new starts in new cities.
The Orioles lost outfielders Nate McLouth and Endy Chavez in free agency this offseason. Robinson hit .215 with five home runs and 26 RBIs in 90 games over the past two years for Seattle afer arriving as a well-regarded prospect from the Dodgers organization.
— Greg Johns