American League West division rivals, the Angels and Mariners, agreed to a trade that should help both teams. The Angels sent Kendrys Morales to the offense starved Mariners for Jason Vargas, who will help round out the Angels' rotation. The Angels signing of Josh Hamilton created a logjam in their lineup, and while Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos were the names bandied about the rumor mill, it was Morales who ended up dealt. The Mariners had a variety of options at their disposal to fill the rotation, and multiple prospect arms nearly ready for the show, making Vargas expendable. At first blush, it is a deal that makes sense for both teams, but what does it mean for the players involved?
Morales is now in a position to get everyday at-bats with his new club. After missing most of 2010, and all of 2011, Morales was able to tally over 500 plate appearances last year. He didn't play at a level that matched his 2009 breakout, but it did resemble his brief 2010 season in many ways. The most notable difference between his pre-injury and post-injury play was a spike in his strikeout rate. Morales struck out in 22.2 percent of his plate appearances last year, a new career worst, nearly three and a half percent higher than his previous worst. It's possible that the spike was a result of Morales shaking off the rust of his lengthy layoff, and a return to a strikeout rate in line with his previous norms this year wouldn't be shocking.
Morales's power remained intact, for the most part, but his home run total was suppressed a bit by a groundball rate north of 50 percent. He would greatly benefit from lofting the ball, and previously did in 2009. He hit fewer worm burners that season and was able to pop 34 home runs. Because he has shown the ability to loft the ball and tap into his power in the past, I believe there is a chance he can do so again in the future. He leaves a tough ballpark to hit home runs in, and heads to Safeco Field, which has historically been even more difficult to find the seats in. Safeco Field has been tougher on right-handed power than left-handed power in the past, so as a switch-hitter, Morales shouldn't feel the brunt of the home run reducing nature of the ballpark. Most importantly, he'll be aided by the club's decision to move the fences in.
He isn't a patient hitter at all. His career walk rate is 6.6 percent, and was even lower than that last year. Gamers in leagues that count on-base percentage should keep that in mind. Morales joins a lineup that is inferior to the Angels. Oddly enough, he could benefit from that by hitting in a more favorable lineup spot with his new squad than he would with his previous team. He should see the bulk of his playing time at first base, with Jesus Montero serving as the club's primary designated hitter, and John Jaso getting the bulk of the time behind the plate. That leaves Justin Smoak as the odd man out. Smoak had a disappointing season in 2012, again failing to live up to the top prospect billing once bestowed upon him. A big September teased that he may begun to turn the corner, but it appears he'll have his work cut out for him earning the playing time necessary to prove he's broken through. Morales is a corner infield option in large mixed leagues and AL-only leagues.
Vargas joins the Angels, where he'll presumably bump Garrett Richards from the rotation, and serve as the team's fifth starter behind Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hanson, and Joe Blanton. His approach to pitching is one that I generally avoid in fantasy. Vargas doesn't strike many hitters out (5.84 K/9 last year and 5.75 K/9 for his career), and he doesn't induce many groundballs (40.2 percent groundball rate last year and 36.5 percent for his career). What he does best is pound the strike zone. His 2.28 BB/9 ranked 31st amongst qualifying pitchers last season. He's also a reliable source of innings, having eclipsed 200 innings pitched in consecutive seasons. His approach worked at Safeco Field, where he sported a 2.74 ERA last year and a 3.46 ERA from 2010-2012, but it didn't travel well on the road, where he had a 4.78 ERA last year and a 4.53 ERA from 2010-2012.
His flyball rate helped him serve up 35 home runs last year (1.45 HR/9), but so did a 12.8 percent HR/FB rate. His HR/FB rate has fluctuated throughout his career, so it's possible he could get lucky this year like he has in some of his seasons past. If he does, those flyballs that fail to leave the yard stand a good chance of being caught. As it stands, he's going to be backed by an exceptionally rangy outfield that features Bourjos, Mike Trout, and Hamilton. Vargas's fantasy value is limited to AL-only leagues, and spot start status in large mixed leagues.