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Is Kendrys Morales hitting his way into a Qualifying Offer?

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Maybe if he gets to hit against the Twins every night.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Minnesota Twins Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Kendrys Morales has been a streaky hitter this year. He got off to an abysmal start to begin the year, then had about the most torrid month of hitting in June, hitting .402/.453/.655. After a July slump, he began to heat up again in August, and has four home runs in the first six games of September. Overall, he is hitting .260/.329/.463 with a team-high 27 home runs. Has he hit his way into receiving a Qualifying Offer this winter?

Morales does have a mutual option for $11 million next year with a $1.5 million buyout. The Royals may be interested in picking that up, but if Morales finishes strong, the 33-year old switch-hitter could very well turn that down, seeking perhaps the last multi-year contract of his career. If he becomes a free agent, the Royals could make him a Qualifying Offer, which should be around $16.7 million. If Morales accepts it, they Royals have him for one more season at that salary. If he rejects it and signs elsewhere before the draft, the Royals can receive a compensatory pick after the end of the first round.

However, Kendrys Morales has been through this before and may wish to avoid a repeat of his disastrous 2014 season. After the 2013 season, the Mariners made him a Qualifying Offer after a .277/.336/.449 season with 23 home runs. Morales rejected the offer, but found no teams willing to give up a draft pick for the chance to sign him. He ended up signing with the Twins in June, after the draft (so no draft picks were given up by the Twins or compensated to the Mariners), and had a miserable season.

If Morales accepts this time around, the Royals would be on the hook for a pricey designated hitter, although some would argue "there is no such things as a bad one-year contract." However, if the Royals have a budget, and paying Morales that much money prevents them from pursuing another piece that can help them, then that can very much be a bad one-year contract. The Royals are looking at a 2017 payroll of around $147 million, and that is if they do not bring back Morales or starting pitcher Edinson Volquez.

What do designated hitters typically get paid? Let’s look around the league this year, with the salary in millions.

Designated Hitter Team Salary AVG OBA SLG HR
David Ortiz BOS $16.00 .317 .402 .629 34
Edwin Encarnacion TOR $10.00 .264 .355 .538 39
Nelson Cruz SEA $14.00 .287 .359 .547 37
Pedro Alvarez BAL $5.80 .252 .320 .505 20
Victor Martinez DET $18.00 .290 .345 .472 24
Carlos Santana CLE $12.00 .243 .352 .470 31
Evan Gattis HOU $3.30 .247 .314 .491 26
Albert Pujols LAA $25.00 .262 .317 .450 29
Kendrys Morales KCR $9.00 .260 .329 .463 27
Billy Butler OAK $10.00 .277 .329 .390 4
Avisail Garcia CHW $2.10 .249 .308 .385 11
Byung Ho Park MIN $2.80 .191 .275 .400 12
Prince Fielder TEX $24.00 .212 .292 .334 8
Alex Rodriguez NYY $20.00 .200 .247 .351 9

We can probably look past the overpaid sluggers who signed deals long ago, like the retired A-Rod and Prince Fielder, and the declining Albert Pujols. Guys like Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Santana, Evan Gattis and Avi Garcia have yet to hit free agency. The more instructive salaries are Nelson Cruz and Victor Martinez, both of whom signed free agent contracts in the last few seasons. Both put up numbers better than Kendrys, but were weighed down by a Qualifying Offer. Here are the numbers they put up before receiving their latest free agent contract. The age listed is their age in the first season of their new contract.

Years AVG OBA SLG Age Contract
Nelson Cruz 2013-2014 .269 .331 .518 34 4 years, $57 million
Victor Martinez 2013-2014 .317 .381 .495 36 4 years, $68 million
Kendrys Morales 2015-2016 .276 .346 .475 34 ?

Cruz averages $14.25 million on his deal, with Victor Martinez averaging $17 million per year, which seemed like a bust of a deal after his disastrous 2015 season, although he has bounced back this year. Based on this, if Morales would probably be worth around a 2-3 year deal at around $11-12 million per season. Jon Heyman guesses Morales would get more like a two-year deal, worth $16 million. So if the Royals make a Qualifying Offer and he accepts at $16.7 million, the Royals would be overpaying by at least a few million dollars, and possibly by as much as $8 million in 2017.

Sam Mellinger doubts it happens.

Morales is 33 years old, and his 2015 season is the exception to his recent career, not the rule. It’s the best year he’s had since 2009, which was a long time ago, and a major surgery ago. In the cold calculations of the baseball world, he is simply not worth the money.

Would it be worth it to overpay for Morales? There will be plenty of free agents available at the DH position this winter. While names like Edwin Encarnacion or Mark Trumbo may be out of their price range, Carlos Beltran is a possibility, and there are plenty of mid-tier candidates like Brandon Moss, Adam Lind, Pedro Alvarez, Steve Pearce, Logan Morrison, and Ryan Howard. The Royals could also look to rotate the DH position, using it to play Cheslor Cuthbert, rest Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain, or even give Hunter Dozier a chance.

The Royals have a pivotal off-season coming up. A good winter can set them up for another run in 2017. A bad one could squander the window of opportunity the Royals will have, leaving them with one of the highest payrolls in franchise history. Kendrys Morales was a nice "buy-low" opportunity for the Royals two years ago. However to be successful, Dayton Moore will need to continue finding "buy-low" opportunities, and resist the temptation to go too long with aging players.