Earlier this season, the slugger formerly known as Kendry was said to be seeking “Billy Butler money” after “Country Breakfast” signed with the Athletics for 3/$30 million. Now Morales replaces Butler, signing with the Royals and ending the possibility of Kansas City using a platoon at DH, à LA the 2014 Oakland Athletics.
Morales didn’t quite get his wish, settling instead for 2/$17 million, according to Jeff Passan. However, one can understand Morales’ target contract as the two sluggers share similar physical profiles and career trajectories.
Tale of the Tape
Morales: 6’1”/225 lbs
Butler: 6’1”/240 lbs
Both Morales and Butler bat and throw from the right side, however (other than tossing their batting helmets to the batboy following an inning-ending double play), neither have much need for the latter. Butler is nearly three years Morales’ junior. Despite that age difference, both players have eight major league seasons under their lengthy belts. However, Butler has appeared in 1166 games while Morales has seen action in 718.
Butler was drafted out of high school in the first round of the 2004 draft and was immediately considered to be one of the top right handed bats in the minors. Over his eight seasons, he’s been durable, never spending any time on the DL while slashing an impressive .295/.359/.449 (119 OPS+). Though his power never developed to the level scouts had initially projected, he has slugged a total of 127 HR. He set a career mark in 2012 with 29 HR (138 OPS+), despite playing half his games in the cavernous Kauffman Stadium. At the time, many believed this to be a breakout year for the Florida native; however, Butler regressed – hitting 24 HR across the next two seasons.
Morales, on the other hand, saw his career get off to a slow start. Morales saw irregular playing time for the Angles between 2006 and 2008, never getting more than 200 AB in any of the three seasons. Morales broke out in 2009, slugging 34 HR and posting a 139 OPS+. He began the 2010 season on a similar pace, but fractured his ankle in a walk off grand slam celebration turned horribly wrong. He suffered complications following surgery and wound up sitting out the entire 2011 season, returning to the Angles in 2012. He put up another above-average season though he saw his numbers sag slightly (22 HR, 119 OPS+) and he was traded to Seattle in the offseason for another current Royal, starting pitcher Jason Vargas. Morales put up similar numbers in 2013 (23 HR, 123 OPS+) for Seattle and was given a qualifying offer by Jack Zduriencik.
Expecting to command a large multi-year deal on the open market, Morales turned down the one-year, $14.1-million deal. Major league GMs clearly didn’t feel the same way and Morales wound up sitting out until June 8th before being signed by the Twins, whose first-round draft pick was protected, for just over $7 million. Despite hitting three doubles in his first three games with Minnesota, Morales disappointed offensively with the Twins and was quickly flipped back to the Mariners for RPH Stephen Pryor. Overall, Morales had the worst season of his career, posting a negative WAR for the season.
Neither Morales nor Butler are considered capable defenders. Butler moved off of first base following Eric Hosmer’s arrival with the big club in 2011, while Morales stopped playing the field on a regular basis after his ankle injury. Over their careers, Morales’ defense – 6.4 UZR/150 (3068.1 innings) – has graded out slightly better than Butler’s (-5.6, 3316.2), though he won’t likely see significant time at first as long as slick fielding Hosmer can remain healthy.
The Morales contract seems reasonable when compared to the Butler deal. Despite hitting for slightly greater power (career ISO .188) than Butler (.154) he didn’t quite get the “Billy Butler money” (or term) he was looking for. However, the contract does reflect their similar past performance while also addressing what are likely the Royals’ concerns. Both players performed below replacement level in 2014; however, Morales posted a lower WAR (-1.0) than Butler (-0.3). His surgically repaired ankle and advanced age also likely contributed to Morales’ inability to match Butler’s contract. The question now is whether continuing to employ a full-time designated hitter will pay dividends for Dayton Moore’s Royals.
All statistics from baseball-reference.com unless otherwise notedNext post: A Couple of Issues to Address for the Marlins and Dee Gordon
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