Kendrys Morales: From MVP candidate to major question mark

Los Angeles Angels Kendry Morales hits an RBI single to score Erick Aybar against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of their American League baseball season opening game in Anaheim, California, April 5, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

In 2009, Kendrys Morales hit .306 with 34 home runs and 108 runs battled in to finish fifth in American League most valuable player balloting. He was viewed as an up-and-coming slugger poised to be a fixture in the middle of the Angels’ lineup for years to come.

Two years and one gigantic fluke injury later and Morales is now arguably the biggest question mark in baseball.

Last June, Morales underwent surgery in which a pin and six screws were inserted into his ankle after he broke it while jumping on home plate in celebration of a walk-off home run against the Mariners. The injury almost became a punch line for baseball observers who couldn’t believe that a player would actually get hurt celebrating a home run.

But the situation is far from a joking matter. On Wednesday night, word spread that Morales will have to underdog surgery on the same ankle to remove scar tissue. The procedure will sideline him for a minimum of six months, meaning his entire 2011 season has been wiped out. By the time he steps foot on the diamond again, it’ll almost be two full years that he missed thanks to this freak injury.

The good news is that Morales, who is only 27, will still be in the prime of his career. He still has plenty of time to be the player he was in 2009, but the concern is how long that’ll take. Assuming the ankle heels this time, it could be two years before Morales finds his swing again. Getting used to major league pitching isn’t like climbing up on a bike after a two-year lay off. It’s why most young players need 3-4 years of development in the minor leagues to make a contribution at the big league level. Simply put, it takes a while for players to find their strokes.

Morales certainly has a long road ahead of him to get back to being the player he was in ’09. And here’s hoping he does. Baseball needs all of its bright young stars to be healthy and active, and Morales is no different.

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Mikey’s MLB power rankings

With football season upon us, that’s when baseball gets real interesting. To me, there is no better time of year than that first weekend in October when you have four MLB playoff series and a full slate of NFL games. As for the pennant races, they’re starting to shift and some teams are beginning to pull away while others lose hold on their position…

1. New York Yankees (75-47)—A one-game lead but the Mariners are in town this weekend, so it’s as good a time as any to start padding the margin over the Rays and Sox again.

2. Tampa Bay Rays (74-48)—Still hanging on, as the Yankees continue to look in their collective rear-view mirror.

3. San Diego Padres (73-48)—The Giants had their five-game winning streak, and the Padres answered with one of their own, widening their late August lead to 6 games over the G-men until losing last night. Is there any question about manager of the year here?

4. Atlanta Braves (72-50)—Bobby Cox hopes his team will feast on Cubs’ pitching at Wrigley while the Phils face the Nats at home.

5. Texas Rangers (68-53)—The Rangers lost four in a row this past week but still have a seven-game lead over the A’s and Angels. I’d say they have nothing to worry about.

6. Minnesota Twins (71-51)—As we suspected, the Twins keep adding to their lead, now 4.5 games over the White Sox.

7. Cincinnati Red (71-51)—Just when the Cardinals made a statement, the Reds have now won 7 in a row while St. Louis has lost 5 straight, giving Dusty Baker’s boys a 4.5 game lead and increasing the chances Brandon Phillips will start smack-talking again, if he hasn’t already.

8. Boston Red Sox (69-54)—Time is running out on the Sox, and also on Roger Clemens’ days as a free man.

9. Philadelphia Phillies (69-52)—They’ve stayed hot, but so have the Braves. Do you think the Phils wish they still had Cliff Lee?

10. San Francisco Giants (69-54)—Only trailing Philly in the wild card chase by one game, two in the loss column. But a recent slide took them out of that spot and their hopes of a division crown are fading away.

Unless PTBNL is a stud, the D’Backs were fleeced in the Dan Haren trade

Arizona Diamondbacks' starting pitcher Dan Haren throws a pitch to the New York Yankees in the third inning of their MLB interleague baseball game in Phoenix, June 22, 2010. REUTERS/Joshua Lott (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

With a player left to be named later as part of the deal, there’s still time for the Diamondbacks to even out the trade they struck with the Angels, who acquired starter Dan Haren on Sunday.

But as the deal currently stands now, the D’Backs were fleeced.

Haren is a 29-year-old front-of-the-rotation starter who is under team control through the 2013 season. The Angels aren’t getting a rental player here – they acquired a legitimate ace that should dramatically improve their team over the next three seasons, assuming Haren doesn’t go Scott Kazmir on them.

In exchange for Haren, Arizona received lefties Joe Saunders and Patrick Corbin, righty Rafael Rodriguez and a player to be named later. That’s the epitome of “meh” in deal that netted one team an ace pitcher.

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Will the Brewers trade Prince Fielder at the trade deadline?

Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder eyes a pitch against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on June 18, 2010 in Denver. Colorado beat Milwaukee 2-0.         UPI/Gary C. Caskey Photo via Newscom

The Brewers seemingly have two options when it comes to Prince Fielder: trade him now, or trade him later. Either way, they’re going to have to trade him at some point because Scott Boras is going to make sure that in a year and a half, Fielder is richer than Bill Gates’ personnel chef.

Fielder signed a two-year, $18 million contract extension with the Brewers in January of last year. Only $4.34 million remains on that contract through the end of the season and then Fielder becomes arbitration-eligible for the 2011 season. After making another $15-16 million in arbitration next year, Boras will ensure that the slugger makes $100 million once he hits free agency in 2012.

A bidding war over a home run commodity like Fielder isn’t something the small market Brewers are prepared for. They could break the bank in hopes of re-signing the slugger, but the more likely scenario is that GM Doug Melvin will seek a top-pitching prospect in a trade for Fielder now or in the offseason.

If Melvin waits, he’ll probably have more suitors interested in the first baseman. But if he trades him at the deadline this year, he might find a desperate general manager who is willing to give up a top arm in order to acquire a slugger for the stretch run.

There are several teams that could be interested in Fielder’s services, although you could make an argument for and against every one of them. The Brewers scouted White Sox pitcher Daniel Hudson on Monday night, but it’s doubtful that he could be the centerpiece in a deal for Fielder. At least not when the Rays (Jeremy Hellickson and Wade Davis) and Giants (Madison Bumgarner and Zach Wheeler) have more highly touted arms and could be interested in Fielder as well.

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Lee willing to waive his no-trade clause?

April 23, 2010- Milwaukee, WI. Miller Park..Chicago Cubs Derrek Lee runs to third base, Lee had 1 hits in his 3 at bats tonight. .Milwaukee Brewers lost to the Chicago Cubs 1-8. .Mike McGinnis / CSM.

According to Jon Paul Morosi and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, Cubs’ first baseman Derrek Lee may be willing to waive his no-trade clause in the right deal.

Derrek Lee has remained noncommittal on the issue of his no-trade clause. But some friends of the Cubs first baseman said this week that they believe he would accept a deal to the right team.

And if the Cubs formally decide to sell, it’s hard to imagine a better fit than the Angels.

The Angels, 4.5 games back in the American League West, are still looking for an upgrade at first base because of Kendry Morales’ season-ending injury. And they prefer someone who isn’t under contract for next season.

Why? They plan to pursue Carl Crawford as a free agent and would like to have the flexibility of sliding Bobby Abreu into a DH role once Morales returns to first.

The article notes that Lee lives in California during the off-season and would “probably be comfortable” playing in Anaheim. He’d also have the opportunity to play for a contender, which the Cubs are definitely, positively not.

Assuming he’s willing to waive his no-trade clause, then a trade to the Angels makes a lot of sense for all parties involved. The Halos need a replacement for Morales in order to try and keep up with the Rangers in the AL West, while the Cubs could take the opportunity to restock their farm system.

That said, it’s unknown if the two teams have even had trade discussions involving Lee yet, so we’ll have to see if this story develops.

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