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Bob Lutz: Is Morales an upgrade over Butler for Royals?

Kendrys Morales, a switch-hitter who has battled injuries during his big league career, is reportedly headed to Kansas City to be the Royals’ designated hitter.
Kendrys Morales, a switch-hitter who has battled injuries during his big league career, is reportedly headed to Kansas City to be the Royals’ designated hitter. ASSOCIATED PRESS

New Kansas City Royals designated-hitter Kendrys Morales could easily be Billy Butler. In a baseball sense, that is.

They’re both designated hitters with some capability of playing first base. They both hit right-handed. They both have some pop. And they’re both coming off of disappointing seasons in 2014.

Especially Morales, a switch-hitter who reportedly has signed a two-year, $17 million contract with Kansas City to replace Butler as the Royals’ DH.

I was watching the MLB Network on Wednesday night to get up to snuff on the latest dealings during baseball’s winter meetings and Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore came on for an interview.

When Moore was asked about losing Butler to the Oakland A’s, who signed the free agent to a three-year, $30 million deal last month, he looked almost ashen. And he appeared to second guess the decision to let Butler go. It was a strange interview.

And today comes the news of the Morales signing, a head-scratcher if there ever was one.

Essentially, Kansas City gets Morales for one less year and $13 million fewer dollars than the A’s gave Butler. But the argument can be made that Butler is a more productive hitter than Morales, whose career year came in 2009 with the Los Angeles Angels. He batted .306 with 34 homers and 108 RBI. As a 26-year-old, he looked like a rising offensive star.

But in 2010, while celebrating his walk-off grand slam in the 10th inning of a late-May win over Seattle, Morales landed badly after jumping on home plate. He suffered a broken left leg and missed the rest of the season.

Morales was batting .290 with 11 homers and 39 RBIs at the time. He was on pace for another monster season, but that season ended abruptly.

And Morales, who will be 32 in June, has struggled to find his stroke since returning.

In 2012 with the Angels, he batted .273 with 22 homers and 73 RBIs. After being traded to Seattle for current Royals left-hander Jason Vargas in 2013, Morales had a good 2013 season with the Mariners, batting .277 with 23 homers and 80 RBIs.

But 2014 wasn’t good to Morales after he was signed as a free agent by Minnesota. He played in only 39 games with the Twins because of an injury and was dealt back to Seattle at the trade deadline, where he batted only .207 with seven homers in 59 games.

Morales is clearly a risk and hasn’t been nearly as healthy or dependable as Butler during his career.

Butler played in 159, 158, 159, 161, 162 and 151 games the past six seasons. His career slugging percentage (.449) and OPS (.808) are comparable to those of Morales (.460, .784) and Butler has a significantly better batting average – .295 to .271.

Morales, meanwhile, has played in more than 150 games only twice, most recently in 2013 with Seattle.

It makes you wonder what the Royals think they’re getting in Morales than they weren’t getting from Butler. Yes, Butler’s power numbers did show a marked decrease the past couple of seasons from 2012, when he had a career year with 29 homers, 107 RBIs and a .313 average. But aren’t the warning signs from Morales more significant?

Butler is a couple of years younger than Morales and he was home grown in the Royals system. Kansas City fans may have been pulling their hair out after all of Butler’s double-play grounders, but he was a Royal through and through. I can’t imagine they’re thinking the team improved with the Morales signing.

Morales, too, is a human logjam on the base paths with only four career stolen bases. He hits into a fair number of double plays, too, though he’s more of a fly ball hitter than Butler.

Did the Royals get better with this move? Well, they have to have a DH, so in that sense they did plug a hole. But it’s a hole Kansas City created by not trying to sign Butler.

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