TORONTO — After sitting out three months this season rather than accept the Mariners’ qualifying offer, and making far less money in the end, Kendrys Morales is willing to bypass free agency in the coming offseason.
“If it got to the point where we could work something out before I got to free agency,” he said, “I’d have interest in staying. I’m comfortable with the players. I’m comfortable with the direction of the team.
“Yes, I’d love to stay here.”
The catch is Morales wants a multi-year deal, which prompts a question: Is he worth that after a disappointing season? If so, how much money and how many years?
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“He’s a big risk,” said a top official of a rival club that is also seeking run-production help. “I doubt he gets more than two (years) after the year he’s had.
“But if he bounces back, a year from now we could all be talking about what a steal he was.”
Morales maintains his primary objection last year to the Mariners’ $14.1 million qualifying offer was that it spanned just one season and, potentially, put him on a one-year treadmill of such offers in the future.
“I didn’t want to deal with that,” he said. “This year, since I waited so long, I don’t have to deal with that.
“(The Mariners) talked about a three-year deal (for $30 million), but that never got to the later stages (of negotiation). My concern is I didn’t want to fall back into the qualification offer (going forward).”
When Morales rejected the qualifying offer, he became a free agent, but any team that signed him would, because of that qualifying offer, surrender a high draft pick if he signed before the June draft.
That depressed his value as a free agent. Morales remained unsigned until shortly after the draft, when he settled for a deal with Minnesota through the end of the season for roughly $7.6 million.
The Mariners reacquired Morales in a July 24 deal that sent minor-league reliever Stephen Pryor to the Twins.
Results have been disappointing.
Morales, 31, is batting just .206 with the Mariners in 53 games with six homers and 23 RBIs. His overall 2014 numbers: seven homers, 41 RBIs and a .218 average in 92 games.
“Losing at-bats and getting my timing down has been a little difficult,” he admitted. “I’m swinging at pitches I normally don’t swing at. But next year will be a different thing. I’ll have a full season going forward.”
The Mariners, privately, appear open to keeping him around. Boosting the lineup figures to be an off-season priority, and the looming free-agent market thins out quickly.
If they choose to use it, the Mariners have an exclusive negotiating window with Morales through the end of the World Series. Eligible players become free agents the day after the Series ends.
“I’ve always had interest in staying here,” he said. “This season (without the harness of a qualifying offer) makes it a little easier to make that decision.”
All signs point to long reliever Tom Wilhelmsen starting Thursday’s series finale against Toronto as a replacement for an ineffective Chris Young.
Wilhelmsen pitched one inning in Monday’s series opener, which effectively served as a bullpen workout. He started once earlier this season: July 10, when he pitched 2 2/3 innings in a 4-2 loss to the Twins.
The Blue Jays are also planning to empty their bullpen Thursday by starting lefty reliever Daniel Norris in place of suspended right-hander Marcus Stroman.
Manager Lloyd McClendon pulled Young from the rotation after he gave up seven runs, including four homers, in last Saturday’s 10-1 loss at Houston.
Young has allowed 19 runs (17 earned) over 18 1/3 innings in his last five starts.
The Mariners turned to Felix Hernandez on Tuesday to stem a full-scale breakdown in their pitching staff over the last three days.
The previous three games saw (in order) Young, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton turn in their worst starts of the season by allowing a combined 20 runs over a combined eight innings in blowout losses.
The bullpen hasn’t been much better: 12 runs in 14 combined innings.
Add a season-ending injury Sept. 16 to rookie lefty Roenis Elias, who won’t throw for four-to-six weeks after being diagnosed with a strained flexor bundle in his elbow.
It’s been a bad stretch.
The Mariners, entering Tuesday, still led the American League in ERA at 3.18 and in bullpen ERA at 2.58, but their rotation had fallen to third at 3.49.
The league-leading numbers prior to the last three games: 3.04, 2.45 and 3.34.
When Kyle Seager hit his 25th homer in Monday’s loss, he became the 15th player in club history to have 25 homers and 25 doubles in the same season. Seager has 27 doubles. The last Mariner to have a 25-double, 25-homer season was Jose Lopez in 2009 with 42 doubles and 25 homers…Seager needs six RBIs in his last six games to be the first Mariner to reach 100 since Raul Ibanez had 110 in 2008…Toronto starter Mark Buehrle needs six innings Wednesday, in what figures to be his final start of the season, to reach 200 for the 14th straight year. At 12-10, he has already reached double-digit victories for the 14th straight year.
It was 19 years ago Wednesday — Sept. 24, 1995 — that the Mariners continued their season-ending charge when Tino Martinez hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning against Dennis Eckersley for a 9-8 walk-off victory over Oakland at the Kingdome.
Martinez’s homer enabled the Mariners to complete a three-game sweep over the A’s. It was part of a 17-5 closing kick by the Mariners that enabled them to tie the Angels for the American League West title.
The Mariners won their first division crown when Randy Johnson beat ex-Mariner Mark Langston in a one-game playoff.
The Mariners and Blue Jays continue their four-game series at 4:07 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday at the Rogers Centre.
Rookie right-hander Taijuan Walker (2-2 with a 3.00 ERA) will oppose Toronto left-hander Mark Buehrle (12-10, 3.53). Root Sports will televise the game.
The series concludes at 1:07 p.m. Pacific time Thursday. The Mariners then return home to close the regular season with three weekend games against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.