Morales agrees to one-year deal with Angels
First baseman avoids arbitration with $2.975 million contract
The Angels and agent Scott Boras have made a deal. In some quarters, that's big news.
Kendry Morales, a Boras client, avoided arbitration on Tuesday when he agreed to a one-year, $2.975 million deal for 2011, according to an industry source.
The deal also includes a $50,000 bonus for 550 plate appearances.
Morales, 27, was hitting .290 with 11 home runs and 39 RBIs in 51 games before he suffered a season-ending leg injury when he landed awkwardly on home plate after a walk-off home run on May 29 at Angel Stadium. He was lost for the season, undergoing surgery to repair damage to the lower left leg.
Morales, replacing Mark Teixeira at first base after Teixeira signed with the Yankees as a free agent following the 2008 season, had a breakout season in '09. He placed fifth in the American League's Most Valuable Player balloting after hitting .306 with 34 homers and 108 RBIs.
"Getting Kendry back is the biggest free-agent signing you could ever have in the offseason," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's an impact player in the middle of our order. And he has become a terrific defensive player."
Morales, who felt his upbeat personality was missed as much as his offense and defense after his departure last season, is anticipating a full recovery.
"I don't think I have any reason to have any doubt about coming back 100 percent," Morales said. "The doctor said I was in good hands, that everything went well. I'll be ready for next year."
On crutches for about two months, he estimated, after undergoing surgery to repair his fractured leg, Morales remained in Southern California throughout his recovery, seeing therapists and doctors and doing their prescribed exercise programs.
"It's been difficult, because it's the first time in my career I've been in this position," Morales said. "As much as you want to help on the field, you can't. You try to help mentally, with the guys. I [talked] to them quite a bit -- to joke around and bust their chops, like before.
"I'm always trying to keep the guys loose, especially in the clubhouse. For me, that's probably what they were missing most -- my personality."
Morales has Silver Slugger and Gold Glove talents, but the road to regaining his timing and rhythm in those pursuits will come in increments, step by step. The club will be careful not to let him try to overextend prematurely in Spring Training.
"We're anticipating him to be full-go in Spring Training," Scioscia said. "Obviously, once you get on the field and get into some more extensive activities, you're going to take it slow. Does it mean he'll play our first Spring Training game? I don't know yet. When he comes into Spring Training, we expect he'll be full-go for all the drills, and if not, we'll adjust on that."
If not for the freak injury, it was reasonable to assume Morales would have equaled or surpassed his production numbers from '09. He didn't take off until midway through that season when, at the urging of teammate Bobby Abreu and hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, he began to apply the discipline and selectivity at the plate that had been missing.
"Kendry was on his way," Abreu said. "No doubt about it. He's very important to our lineup with his power in the middle. He's one of the best hitters in the game.
"He plays hard every day. He's a good teammate, a team player. He's got good hands and a strong arm, and he has become a very good first baseman. And he's a good guy, popular with everybody. He's a fun guy. Everybody likes Kendry."
Morales, who starred for the Cuban national team before successfully defecting on a boat in 2004 on his 13th attempt, signed a six-year deal with the Angels that expired after the 2010 season.
"It's tough to know," he said, when asked if he felt his 2010 season would have been better than '09. "I started off not doing very well [in '09] and finished strong. This year I started out well and thought things were going in the right direction. But you never know."
Morales has watched television replays of his fall.
"I just got caught up in the emotion of the game," he said. "It happened. What can I do? I don't remember much. I remember jumping, being on the ground, looking at my foot and thinking perhaps it was broken."
Scioscia used eight first basemen in Morales' absence, and the Angels finished under .500, at 80-82, for the first time since 2003 after claiming the AL West in five of the previous six seasons.
"He's a superstar-caliber player," Angels second baseman Howard Kendrick said. "He's basically like Albert Pujols. He was starting to put up those types of numbers, have that kind of impact. He was on that track. What would the Cardinals be like without Pujols?
"A lot of times, he's the guy in our lineup you have to be worried about. That takes some pressure off, and guys are pitched differently. Kendry's a hitter who can hurt you in so many ways. He has a presence at the plate that changes the way they approach you as a team."
Scioscia sees Morales' return having an impact throughout the lineup.
"A guy like Kendry has a spillover effect on a positive side in keeping guys in a comfort zone," Scioscia said. "The spillover from a guy in the middle of your lineup that's going to hit 30, 35 home runs is very, very big."