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Royals betting on big bounce-back from Kendrys Morales

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Despite a plan in recent years to not employ a full time designated hitter, the Royals locked up a post-prime slugger who is just another version of a guy they just let walk away.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday was a pretty nutty last day at the winter meetings in San Diego. Anyone who was working, in class, or sleeping in missed a bevy of impact moves that seems unprecedented. Nearly all teams were in on the action including, for better or worse, the American League champion Royals. Kansas City chose not to re-sign Billy Butler (who inked a three year, $30 million deal with Oakland) instead choosing to sign Kendrys Morales to a two year, $17 million contract. The Morales deal is curious considering his negative fWAR in 2014, and his downward trend in both power and total offense measured by league adjusted runs created.

Despite sitting out the first two months of the season waiting for that magic phone call from a suitor, Morales amassed the lowest ‘value' of any designated hitter in 2014, accumulating a  -1.7 fWAR. He mustered a pathetic .218/.274/.338 slash line, en route to a 72 wRC+, 28% lower than the league average, a far cry from the slugger we saw in Anaheim not five years ago.

In 2009, Morales was a 3-win player for the Angels, mashing 34 home runs and ending the season with a 136 wRC+, the highest of his career . While it's obvious the days of 30+ home runs are well behind him, Morales did hit for decent power in 2012 and 2013, raking 22 and 23 home runs, respectively. Unfortunately, the chances he can crank 20 in KC (not exactly ‘friendly confines' for the long ball) are relatively slim considering Morales' slugging percentage has gone done every year since 2009. This is not the trend you want to see out of a player entering his age 32 season who is guaranteed money for another two years.

Year Slugging Percentage
2009 .569
2010 .487
2011 DID NOT PLAY DUE TO INJURY
2012 .467
2013 .449
2014 .338

There is some upside due to a the lowest BABIP of Morales's career. In 2014, he was extraordinarily unlucky, hitting for a career low for .244 BABIP. Raising that number to his career and approximate league average of .297, and suddenly you have a player who can hit .270, well above .246 which was the designated hitter league average in 2014. Even if he were to hit .270 or more, the offensive issues remain, as Morales sported a 6.7% walk-rate in 2014 — nearly identical to Billy Butler's 6.8%, meaning the .270 is mostly an empty average, and he will neither get on base often, nor hit for power.

The Steamer projection system is bullish on Morales compared to what we saw this year, but even with a decent amount of optimism, the numbers are meager at best. Morales is projected for a .259/.316/.421 slash line, with 8 home runs, a 106 wRC+ and a 0.3 fWAR. While Steamer does not project a disaster similar to 2014, these numbers are not nearly strong enough for a full-time DH.

Amassing no value in the field, and with limited power, Morales' value is going to be limited in 2015, and even lower in 2016. Eschewing the theory that they should go without a full time designated hitter, essentially the Royals just spent $17 million and committed two years to someone whose only job is to hit — it's just too bad he can't hit very well. Kansas City is counting on a big bounce-back for the former slugger, whose best years look like they are well behind him.

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All statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.

Steven Martano is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano.