Jack Zduriencik didn’t sulk. When the stunning news broke that he’d lost out on his bid to sign free agent Josh Hamilton, the Seattle Mariners’ general manager didn’t have time to throw a tantrum or wonder how it all went wrong.
There were calls to make, offensive players to find and other “irons in the fire,” as he often says.
Zduriencik went to the team that crushed his Hamilton hopes – the Los Angeles Angels – to make a deal to help the Mariners’ offense.
On Wednesday, Zduriencik and the Mariners acquired designated hitter/first baseman Kendrys Morales for starting pitcher Jason Vargas.
“We have been focused on adding offense this offseason and feel that Kendrys will be a middle-of-the-order bat for us,” Zduriencik said. “He’s a switch-hitter with power who has played, and hit, in the American League West.”
Zduriencik texted Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto after the Hamilton news broke to congratulate him and say he was still in the market for offense.
“A couple days ago, I sent him another text saying to keep me in my mind; I’m still interested in pursuing discussion,” Zduriencik said. “(Tuesday) morning, he called me and said, ‘I’d like to talk to you about Kendrys Morales.’”
The talks extended into Wednesday morning; the deal was completed in the afternoon.
Morales, 29, hit .273 (132-for-484) with a .320 on-base percentage, 26 doubles, 22 home runs and 73 RBI in 134 games last season. It was his first season since suffering a gruesome broken leg May 29, 2010, while celebrating a walk-off grand slam against the Mariners. At that point, he was hitting .290 with 11 homers and 39 RBI in 51 games.
He missed all of the 2011 season recovering from surgery.
In 2009 he had monster year, hitting .306 with 34 home runs and 108 RBI. He had on an on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) of .924. He finished fifth in the AL Most Valuable Player voting.
The injury certainly was an issue for Morales last season. He had a noticeable limp in his gait and played in just 28 games at first base, spending the rest of the time at DH.
“Last year, I didn’t feel 100 percent, but as the year wore on I was able to build strength,” Morales said through translator Luis Garcia in a conference call.
It won’t be a problem this season, he said.
“I would put it at 100 percent,” Morales said. “It’s allowed me to continue to work out this offseason for the first time since about two years back. Following workouts, I feel no pain or inflammation.”
Morales thinks he can be an everyday first baseman if needed.
That creates a minor jam at first base and designated hitter. The Mariners used catchers John Jaso and Jesus Montero at DH often last season, and first baseman Justin Smoak showed signs of living up to his potential last season. There also is Mike Carp, who is out of Triple A options.
Zduriencik said he and Manager Eric Wedge felt they could make it work.
“I think we are both very confident that there will be enough at-bats to go around to be able to work well with everyone,” Zduriencik said.
Adding Morales came with a price. Vargas grew into an established big-league starter in his four seasons with Seattle, going 36-42 with a 4.09 earned-run average in 131 starts and 19 relief appearances. Last season, he led the Mariners in wins with a 14-11 record and 3.85 ERA with 22 quality starts.
“It’s tough to give up Jason Vargas, the innings he pitches for you and the dependability he shows for you,” Zduriencik said. “He’s been a great teammate. But at the end, in order to acquire talent you have give up talent.”
With the fences coming in at Safeco Field, there was some thought that Vargas’ value would be reduced. Last season, he was a completely different — and far less effective — away from Safeco, where long fly balls go to die in the cold air and massive outfield.
While Vargas, a fly-ball pitcher, was just 5-5 in home starts, he posted a 2.74 ERA with a .219 batting average against and surrendered just nine home runs in 14 starts. Away from Safeco, Vargas was 9-6 but had a 4.78 ERA with a .266 batting average against and 26 home runs surrendered.
That didn’t matter to the Angels.
“Jason was what we were looking for on the market this year, just a steady reliable left-hander who can go out there,” DiPoto said in a statement. “He’s got a history of pitching a high volume of innings and clearly I think we make ourselves a little bit better just in that we don't have to face him because he's given us fits. We're thrilled to make the deal.”
The Mariners have an extra hole in their starting rotation, with only Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Erasmo Ramirez slotted in. Blake Beavan, Hector Noesi and youngsters James Paxton, Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and Brandon Maurer are in-house candidates.
Zduriencik said he’s looking to add at least one more starting pitcher to the competition via trade or free agency.
The trade addressed dire needs for both teams.
The Angels were desperate for an established big-league starter with the loss of Dan Haren and Ervin Santana in the offseason. The Mariners needed a middle-of-the-order hitter.
The contracts also match up. Both players are in their final year of arbitration eligibility and will be free agents next season. The Mariners could save nearly $3 million based on arbitration projections. Vargas, who made $4.85 million last season, could be due as much a $7.4 million this season, while Morales made $2.975 million and likely would make about $4.8 million this season.