The Marginal Value of Kendrys Morales | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

In everyday conversation, the term “marginal” is derogatory, a word we use to describe a person or product of borderline desirability. In economics, an item’s “marginal” value is something quite different: it recognizes that the value of an item depends on who is shopping for it, and why they are shopping for it. To use a common example, people in the market for diamonds pay a premium because they are relatively scarce. By comparison most people (in the United States, anyway), are unlikely to pay much for water, because it is a resource they fortunately already have and see no need to stockpile.

This concept of marginal value is at the heart of decision-making in baseball markets, as general managers decide where to allocate their resources effectively. Certain big-picture decisions are obvious: don’t overpay for older, declining players, and don’t cheap out on a prospect you are confident will be a star. If your roster is long on bats but short on pitching, or vice versa, focus your attention where you need it.

As Nate Silver explained in Baseball between the Numbers, marginal value often dictates whether a team is interested in getting better at all. Certainly, teams that do not expect to contend won’t get much value from adding a few wins to a below-.500 record. For those teams, the marginal value of adding a good player is negligible, and may even be negative if it sucks money from prospect development or other areas of need. This is equally true for teams at the opposite end of the spectrum. For a preeminent club already expected to win 95 games, adding a multi-win player isn’t useful either. The team is already likely to make the postseason, and the last thing they need is to crowd their bench with another player who expects to play every day.

Where is the “margin” at which a few wins can matter?  Here is a chart that Nate Silver has used a few times, including at Baseball Prospectus:


The numbers on the left (y-axis) are a bit outdated at this point: they refer to the financial benefits of the postseason for ownership. It’s safe to say those numbers are up: way up. But, the win numbers along the bottom, as well as the shape of the graph on top of them, remain relevant and aptly illustrate Silver’s point about marginal win value. It typically takes about 90 wins to be assured of the postseason, but any above .500-talent team can hit that with a few breaks — especially when one of those breaks is a key player acquisition. This is why teams are willing to pay, and sometimes overpay, for certain players they are convinced will put them in or above the sweet spot of this chart.

With that background, let’s talk about Kendrys Morales. Morales is the last remaining casualty of last season’s Qualifying Offer (QO) system, the means by which baseball teams can offer an outgoing star a lucrative one-year deal. If that deal is turned down by the player, any team who signs that player before the upcoming draft loses their first round pick in that draft. Morales turned his QO down at the end of last season, but nobody wanted to give up their pick to sign him, and he has been gathering dust ever since. However, the draft pick forfeiture expires once the draft begins this Thursday, June 5. And at that point, the race will be on to sign him.

Morales isn’t a fantastic player, but he is a switch-hitter who hits particularly well from the left side and can acceptably field first base. The Brewers need better production at first base, where they rank far behind any other contender. They could also use more left-handed options in their lineup, and could especially use a player like Morales who has been consistently clutch and makes decent contact. They also need better hitting overall to take the pressure off their overachieving pitching staff. Baseball Prospectus ranked Morales as roughly a 2.5-win player for 2014, which means Fangraphs-based systems would probably see him as a 3-win player. That means, over the course of the 100 games or so he would still play this year, that he would probably contribute at least one additional win in 2014, and more if he remains healthy.

A player like Morales has unique marginal value to the Brewers, who are almost universally projected currently to land within the bulge of that graph. The value of even one extra win could be enormous. At a minimum, the Brewers will probably be fighting the Dodgers, Rockies, and Braves for a wild-card spot. A little extra production can mean the difference between getting a wild card at all, or hosting versus visiting the wild card game (an important advantage), or even winning a close division race outright. Every extra win provides that much more assurance, and a player like Morales is exactly what the Brewers should be considering.

Doug Melvin does a fair amount of his negotiation through the media, and earlier this year he downplayed the possibility of adding Morales, suggesting (although not actually saying) that his first-base defense is subpar. I don’t blame Melvin for trying to keep the price down, but Morales is a rare bird: an available good player at a position of need, on the open market in mid-season, who will not require a trade. The Brewers have made it clear they are willing to spend money to upgrade mid-season, and with lean years likely on the horizon, they would be foolish to pinch pennies now.

The Brewers’ need to contend underscores other thing: if they in fact do bid on Morales, do not be surprised if they end up “overpaying” for him, at least by conventional standards. Dave Cameron estimated the present value of a win on the open market this past offseason was about $6 million. But Morales is more valuable to the Brewers than to other teams, meaning they may be willing to offer $7 million, $8 million, or even more money for each win they think Morales can bring them this season. The marginal value of Morales is higher to the Brewers than virtually any other contender, and given their desire to avoid trading prospects, money right now is the cheapest price the Brewers can pay.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @bachlaw.

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. Klim says: June 3, 2014

    Would they try to sign him just for the rest of the season? Or would they try to give him something like a 3 yr 21M deal? Our 1B prospects seem to be coin flips at best so solidifying 1B for a couple of years wouldn’t be the worst thing, would it?

    Also, with Moralys everyday at 1B, that leaves a huge power bat off the bench with Reynolds or Aramis when he isn’t being filled in for. Who’s the expendable guy, Overbay?

  2. dbug says: June 3, 2014

    So, 2Y/$25M, pro-rated?

  3. Steven says: June 3, 2014

    I told you I would disagree, and I do. Here is why:

    1) “Morales isn’t a fantastic player, but he… can acceptably field first base.” I disagree with this. Morales cannot defend first base. Over the last 515.1 innings at 1st, he is -3 on the DRS scale. Over the last 557.1 innings at first, Juan Francisco, a player you once wrote “showed no ability to play competent defense at first base” is also -3 DRS. A young firstbaseman who is learning the position, is not good enough defensively, but an old one, who is declining is? That does not make any sense.

    2) “The Brewers need better production at first base, where they rank far behind any other contender.” This is only the case because of Lyle Freaking Overbay (-.5 WAR). Why he is still on this team is beyond me. Surely, Hunter Morris is replacement level against righties. Bringing him up solves this issue at a much lower cost than Morales and with arguably better results.

    3) “Over the course of the 100 games or so he would still play this year, that he would probably contribute at least one additional win in 2014, and more if he remains healthy.” First, ZIPs projects Morels to be worth 1.3 wins over AN ENTIRE SEASON. ZIPs sees no chance he adds anywhere close to a win. Additionally, though PECOTA projects Morales to be worth 2.6 wins, which would be 1.6 wins over 100 games, there are a few problems with this. First, that is as a DH. At first base, he will have negative defensive value. Maybe that’s less than .6 wins, and he is still worth more than 1 win. However, the second problem is that it is not 1.6 wins added to a team. He will take playing time away from Mark Reynolds, as well as Lyle Overbay. ZIPs projects the rest of the season first base to already be worth 1.4 wins. So the upgrade is more like .2 wins. Maybe you improve the bench, but that would be around .5 at the absolute most. So even the most optimistic analysis sees Morales as a .7 win upgrade(IMO it is more like .3 wins). Do you know how they can get a .3 win upgrade? CALL UP HUNTER MORRIS!

    To summarize, your point is something like ‘Signing Morales will take 6-10 million, a win is worth 6-8 million on the open market and more to contenders, Morales will add at least a win to the Brewers, so he is worth 8-10 million.’ My counter argument is, Morales will add only about half a win, the Brewers can add that same half a win with internal options, therefore they should not waste 8-10 million on Morales and instead use it somewhere else. Thanks for the article, it was a fun read, even though I disagree with all most all of it.

    • dbug says: June 3, 2014

      Too bad they didn’t call up Hunter Morris about a month ago. If they did, we might have a some indication of whether Morris is really ready or not. Morales will be signed by someone later this week, so there is no more time for an audition. Maybe the best course would be to pass on Morales, give Morris a shot until the all-star break, then look for another lefty on the trade market if Morris doesn’t work out.

      • Steven says: June 3, 2014

        This is exactly what I would consider the best move. The key is that Morris does not have to be a star, he does not really even have to be average. All he has to be is slightly better than replacement level, and he will be as much of an upgrade as Morales. This is because Morris will not be taking the playing time of Reynolds at all but only Overbay. Turn Overbay’s -.2 WAR RoS to .3 and you have upgraded by half a win. Turning Reynolds/Overbay’s 1.4 WAR RoS to Morales’s 1.6, maybe preserving .3 wins of Reynolds value as a PH and occasional starter, and you stiil only get a half a win upgrade. The first costs next to nothing, the latter costs $8-10 million.

        • dbug says: June 3, 2014

          One question that remains unanswered is why Morris wasn’t called up last September. We still haven’t seen in in the majors. Is there some reason that we don’t know about. He isn’t a high enough profile prospect to be worried about service time, so it just makes me think that he really isn’t ready for the majors. If that is the case, then maybe it makes sense to target a guy that needs a change of ballpark like Justin Smoak. If Morales goes back to Seattle, maybe they finally give up on him for a reasonable price.

    • Vin B says: June 3, 2014

      Those are some good points Steven. My thoughts:

      1) Can we expect Lyle Overbay to continue being below replacement level? If so, then Kendrys Morales would certainly add 1 WAL (Wins above Lyle) for ROS, correct?

      2) -3 DRS over 500 innings is really not that bad. Which is why I think it was a mistake by the Brewers to let go of Juan Francisco. For reference, Mark Reynolds averages about the same at 1B and Rickie Weeks averages -6 DRS per 500 innings. If you believe in those defensive numbers and expect them to continue forward, the only difference between Mark Reynolds and Kendrys Morales is the offense. Over their careers, Morales has been roughly 10% better than Reynolds wRC+ of 117 over wRC+ of 107.

      3) Once Ramirez returns, Overbay will get fewer starts but more opportunities as a PH. Morales would make a considerable upgrade in that type of role.

      By replacing Overbay with Morales, and using a combination of Morales, Reynolds & Ramirez at 1B/3B/PH would add 1 win.

  4. trouty42 says: June 3, 2014

    Morales will turn 31 in a couple weeks. That’s not old. His legs have some wear and tear but he’s not some cripple either. I wouldn’t be overly concerned about his defense. I’ll take his lifetime .813 OPS over any of the Brewers other options in a heartbeat.

    I don’t know how anyone can put an expectation of Hunter Morris being even replacement level if he gets called up. He’s not a prodigy. Minor leaguers struggle when brought up. He’s much more likely to be worse than Overbay than better.

    Reynolds’ success is ENTIRELY dependent on him hitting home runs. Of his 27 RBI only 6 have come without the aid of a HR. Take away Reynolds’ home runs and he’s the same player as Overbay. They belong on the bench. Morales is light years better than these guys.

    If Morales would join the team he would need days off, most likely against LHP’s, that’s where Reynolds can fill in. Overbay could just be dropped.

    Go get him Doug.

    • dbug says: June 3, 2014

      I think it all comes down to what you can expect out of Reynold the rest of the season. If he keeps producing as he is right now, they should be okay, but there is always a danger that he goes into a prolonged slump. If he does, then the team is in some trouble. Morales is certainly safer, but they would definitely have to pay for the luxury of consistency. In the end, I think they are going to be outbid by the Rangers or Yankees.

    • Steven says: June 3, 2014

      I’ve made my argument and I think reasonable people can disagree with this one. What bothers me is the people who think Morales is the hero, the knight in shining armor, that will save this team. In reality, he has the chance, just a chance, to be a moderate upgrade. He is not an all-star. Jonathon does a good job arguing why it is worth the money ($8-10 million) even though he is just an average to slightly below average baseball player. I am of the belief it is more likely he will add little to nothing to the team. Thus, I would like them to spend the money elsewhere, especially if the amount it takes is north of $20 million.

  5. Josh says: June 3, 2014

    Getting Morales makes no sense. Reynolds is younger than Morales and Reynolds is universally predicted to produce 1-1.7 wins this season. His 2 million contract compared to the likely 6-7 Million needed to get Morales for the rest of the season is flushing money down the toilet. I predict once Aramis is back and swinging healthy, Overbay will be gone. We can keep Reynolds at first and sit him on days Maldy catches to keep Lucroy’s bat in the lineup.

    • Josh says: June 3, 2014

      And Morales has been hitting BP all season to Reynolds having 191 PA already. It will likely take Morales atleast after the all star break to even hit a groove at the plate.

  6. Jason says: June 3, 2014

    If the Brewers are serious about making a run for the playoffs (or WS), they need to get better at first. Reynolds is a useful replacement at the corner infield positions, but you cannot have a 1st baseman slouching around the Mendoza Line, much less TWO.

    Unless the Brewers are willing to give up 2-3 pitching prospects, this is the best way to upgrade 1st base.

  7. Vin B says: June 3, 2014

    Some good points have been raised here about the value Morales may or may not add to the 2014 Brewers. But what about 2015 and later? Adding Morales would give them the option to let Reynolds or Aramis go at the end of the season (Aramis has a 14 mil mutual option for 2015).

    Lord knows there’s no real internal options at corner IF since the Brewers have shown no faith in Hunter Morris, Taylor green etc.

  8. Josh says: June 3, 2014

    I see no scenario where we pick up an 14 mil option next year, unless the Brewers have already made that decision (mostly), then signing Morales to a 2 year deal makes more sense. This will open up several options at 3rd next year, including Reynolds.

  9. Ross B says: June 3, 2014

    Just a note on the A-Ram option. Should the Brewers turn it down, they will owe him a $4M buyout, so it will actually cost $10M to exercise it.

    • Vin B says: June 4, 2014

      In that case it seems pretty silly that the Brewers would opt-out. But it’s a mutual option so A-Ram could walk away if he thought the market wanted him. Right handed power and all that.

  10. Evan (Maryland) says: June 6, 2014

    Great article Jonathan. I’ve been waiting for a Brewers perspective more than just a blurb on Bleacher Report about how terrible our current options at 1st Base are. Lyle Overbay is this year’s Betancourt in that he’s clearly not playing at a Major League Caliber but due to lack of depth we don’t really have anyone else to put in there. Hunter Morris is not an option for the near term. The difference between this year and last is that this team is in 1st place and not out of it already in June. An established bat at 1st base would do wonders for this offense. Ramirez and Morales would get plenty of off days to put Reynolds at 1st once in awhile against left handed pitching as well. A part year rental is all he’d probably sign for anyway in that he’s not going to be subject to the draft pick compensation over head next year.

    Some may think Boras made mistakes with Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales this year but next year they’ll both get decent Free Agent contracts that wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t turn down their original offers. The Brewers have made plenty of deals with Boras clients and here’s hoping we can get this one as well.

    • Evan (Maryland) says: June 6, 2014

      (Posted to the proper thread this time)

      In addition I would like to add that it makes sense the Mariners would be (re)interested in him as Corey Hart is down and not producing either. Sure they wouldn’t have had a draft pick to relinquish but with the Rule 4 draft date that was approaching Boras probably wanted to sweeten the pot by eliminating the draft pick compensation off Morales’ head which would ultimately bring in more teams (Brewers, Rangers, Yankees). The internet has a lot of information but unfortunately not enough experts on such topics. Thank you DOU for providing thoughtful analysis based on logic, intelligence and stats. There was absolutely no way the Crew was going to forfeit drafting Medeiros just to get Morales for part of one season but when we’re only dealing with money then things can change.


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