John McGrath

John McGrath: Morales’ miserable effort for Mariners last season warrants pay raise?

Kendrys Morales, rewarded $7.41 million in 2014 for holding a bat and making infrequent contact with a baseball, agreed Thursday to a two-year contract worth $17 million.

Despite his ill-informed decision to sit out two months, despite disappointing the Minnesota Twins and then hitting .207 for a Seattle Mariners team willing to forgive and forget his rejection of a long-term deal, despite his tanking of an entire season, Morales got what amounted to a pay raise.

Pro sports contracts long ago stopped amazing me. Athletes, after all, are entertainers, and if Dwayne Johnson can pull in $52 million for a year’s worth of beating up stunt men in action movies, it makes LeBron James’ two-year, $42.1 million contract look like a steal for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But, still...

A pay raise for Kendrys Morales?

What’s next? A Christmas bonus for Percy Harvin? Kennedy Center honors for Donald Sterling? A lifetime achievement Oscar award for Dwayne Johnson?

What’s especially baffling about Morales’ contract is its, um, brainchild: Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore, architect of a roster steeped in two fundamentals — speed and defense — that propelled the Royals into the playoffs, and kept them there until the tying run of World Series Game 7 was stranded at third base in the ninth inning.

Morales moves at the speed of a PBS pledge-drive break. His defense is limited to the occasional appearance at first base, on those days the starting first baseman is down with food poisoning after sharing some leftover pizza with the backup first baseman.

To be fair, Kansas City obtained the switch-hitting Morales as a DH, a role previously occupied by Oakland-bound free agent Billy Butler. The Royals have guaranteed Morales about $13 million less than the Athletics gave Butler, and feel free to presume they see the acquisition of Seattle’s former cleanup hitter as a bargain.

I see it as further evidence of a world under an attack of body snatchers from another planet, and that once-keen general managers are their first victims.

My disdain for Kendrys Morales, by the way, is strictly related to his failure to produce for the 2014 Mariners. Although returning to Seattle ranked somewhere between bankruptcy and imprisonment on his wish list, Morales wasn’t a clubhouse mope who alienated teammates. He did nothing to create headlines.

Which is the point: Morales did nothing to create headlines.

“He’s a professional hitter,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said after the July 24 trade that brought Morales to Seattle for reliever Stephen Pryor. “He gives us an opportunity to stretch out our lineup, so to speak. He’s a nice fit.”

A nice fit? Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik spoke of Morales as if he were a nice superhero.

“We know what Kendrys is,” Zduriencik said in July. “We know his career as a hitter, we know what he did here, and now that he’s in a pennant race, I think we all feel that Kendrys is going to hit his stride and be the Kendrys Morales we all knew.”

Hitting .234 when he changed uniforms, Morales was so reinvigorated by the pennant race, he contributed two hits in his next 22 at-bats. Cut the guy some slack, McClendon urged. A mid-season relocation can be a difficult transition, even for a veteran familiar with his not-so-new teammates.

Rendering judgment on somebody after a handful of games in July is foolish.

Then August came and went, without Morales resembling a vague version of the hitter who led the 2013 Mariners with 23 homers and 80 RBIs. The slump continued through September.

It would be an exaggeration to hold Morales fully accountable for the late-season nosedive that deprived the Mariners of a playoff berth by a single game. But if he’d been the “professional hitter” McClendon had touted, if he’d “hit his stride” as Zduriencik had hoped, the Mariners were competing as a wild-card entrant and, perhaps, going places.

Here’s what grates: Morales’ bad-seed season, which began with him holding out for two months and ended with him looking like somebody who never recovered from the two-month layoff, was perceived as a fluke.

It wasn’t a fluke. It was a self-made accident arranged by a player whose overestimation of his market value led to some sad consequences.

But not too sad. Kendrys Morales stunk up Safeco Field in 2014, stunk up everywhere else, and yet is empowered for a 2015 comeback by the ultimate compliment.

A pay raise.

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