Vacation is over. It’s back to the grind for Logan Morrison.
Morrison’s period of fun-employment ended Sunday when the 30-year-old put his John Hancock on a one-year, $6.5 million deal with Minnesota. The contract includes a vesting option for 2019, which could boost the deal’s overall value to $16.5 million. That’s more than enough cheddar for the average human being, but Lo-Mo has to be feeling shortchanged after belting a career-high 38 round-trippers for the Rays in 2017. That total tied for eighth in the majors. Morrison was especially prolific during the first half, swatting 24 jacks before the All-Star break. His rate of one home run every 13.5 at-bats topped perennial All-Stars Paul Goldschmidt (15.5), Nolan Arenado (16.6) and Manny Machado (19.1), among others.
Before finding a home in Minnesota, Morrison drew varying degrees of interest from the Angels, Mets, Red Sox and Royals. He also turned down a two-year, $20 million offer from the Indians, who later pivoted to former A’s All-Star Yonder Alonso. Morrison never came close to landing the long-term deal he was coveting and it’s easy to see why his market was slow to develop. Morrison’s power plays anywhere but he’s not exactly a five-category talent. The 30-year-old has gained a reputation as a subpar defender, doesn’t hit for average (.245 lifetime) and had only topped 20 homers once in his career prior to last season. He’s spent much of his career as a platoon player (though his lefty/righty splits aren’t as drastic as you’d expect) and struck out in 29.1 percent of his at-bats last season. Coming off a year that saw a major-league record 6,105 homers, the league certainly isn’t at a loss for power hitters. For a one-trick pony like Morrison, an Eric Hosmer-esque mega-deal just wasn’t in the cards. On the bright side, it’s still a noticeable raise from the $2.5 million Morrison brought in last season.
Morrison’s team-friendly deal falls in line with MLB’s recent trend toward reduced spending. Fiscal responsibility has taken the league by storm as teams have begun treating the luxury tax threshold (set at $197 million for 2018) as the equivalent of a hard salary cap. With teams increasingly reluctant to hand out blank checks, stars like J.D. Martinez and Yu Darvish have waited longer than ever to cash in while a number of prevalent free agents including Jake Arrieta, Carlos Gonzalez and Mike Moustakas remain unsigned. Maybe we’re seeing a market correction after a decade-plus of overspending, or perhaps teams are conserving their resources to make a run at next year’s free agent class, which includes the likes of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson.
Regardless, the Twins have themselves a new DH, and a pretty good one at that. The Twins were a surprise Wild Card team last year and there’s nothing to suggest they won’t make it back in 2018. Adding a power bat in Morrison could be a sign Minnesota is expecting to be without Miguel Sano, who could be facing a suspension following a sexual assault claim made by a former team photographer. Though no one would ever confuse him for a Gold Glover, Morrison can also spell Joe Mauer at first base in a pinch. It’s a small sample size but Morrison has fared well in Minnesota throughout his career, batting an impressive .387 with six homers over 31 lifetime at-bats at Target Field.
Nola Gets the Nod
If you’re tossing and turning at night wondering who the Phillies will select as their Opening Day starter, rest easy. The choice has already been made. Aaron Nola will take the hill in Atlanta for the Phillies’ season opener on March 29.
Giving the ball to Nola was a no-brainer for first-year manager Gabe Kapler. Nola enjoyed a breakout year in 2017, finishing among the league leaders in strikeouts (9.86 K/9) while settling in as the Phillies’ ace. The right-hander was especially dominant at home, cruising to a 2.98 ERA over 93 2/3 innings at Citizen’s Bank Park. Nola, well-known for his elite curveball, was also an innings eater last year, logging seven-plus frames in 12 of his 27 starts. If nothing else, Nola is a substantial upgrade on Jeremy Hellickson, who served as the Phillies’ Opening Day starter in each of the previous two seasons.
The 24-year-old Nola will be Philadelphia’s youngest Opening Day starter since 1964. However, the Phillies may reconsider slotting Nola first if they’re able to reel in former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, who continues to wait for the right opportunity. There’s risk involved with Arrieta—he’s almost 32 (his birthday is March 6), walk-prone (handed out 55 free passes last year) and represented by stare-down artist Scott Boras. With that said, the push-up enthusiast and author of two no-hitters was brilliant down the stretch for Chicago in 2017, contributing a picturesque 2.09 ERA over his final 14 starts including the postseason. Arrieta has ties to the Phillies’ front office—he crossed paths with GM Matt Klentak and Director of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail during his time in Baltimore—but surely his decision will come down to which team offers him the most money. If the Phillies want to bolster their rotation but are unwilling to meet Arrieta’s lofty salary demands, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn would both be strong fallback options.
AL Quick Hits: The Blue Jays have reached an agreement with ex-Cardinals closer Seung Hwan Oh, pending a physical. Oh had a deal in place with the Rangers earlier this month but Texas backed out after he was diagnosed with right elbow inflammation. If Oh does join the Blue Jays, he’ll work in a setup role ahead of closer Roberto Osuna … The Red Sox are expected to officially introduce J.D. Martinez in a press conference on Monday. Martinez agreed to a five-year, $110 million pact with Boston last week but the signing was delayed after a foot injury was discovered during his physical. Martinez is expected to DH for the Red Sox with Hanley Ramirez and Mitch Moreland splitting time at first base … Red Sox manager Alex Cora admitted Steven Wright is a long shot for Opening Day. The knuckleballer is still recovering from knee surgery. With Eduardo Rodriguez (knee) also on the shelf, the Red Sox could look to Brian Johnson or Hector Velazquez to fill out their starting rotation … Orioles skipper Buck Showalter plans to start Colby Rasmus against right-handers this season. Rasmus joined the Orioles on a minor league deal last week … Pedro Alvarez will return to the Orioles on a minor league contract. The deal includes an invitation to spring training. El Toro scattered 10 hits over 32 major league at-bats last season while spending most of the year at Triple-A Norfolk … Gerrit Cole delivered a pair of scoreless innings in his Astros debut Sunday versus the Cardinals. The Pirates traded the right-hander this offseason as part of the team’s recent rebuilding effort … Daniel Vogelbach was seen in a walking boot after taking a pitch off his right foot in Friday’s Cactus League opener against the Padres, but was able to escape with just a bruise. Acquired from the Cubs in 2016, Vogelbach slugged two homers in 16 appearances for the Mariners last season … Michael Brantley has struggled decelerating while running but Indians manager Terry Francona is still encouraged by the progress he’s made in his recovery from offseason ankle surgery. It’s unclear if Brantley will be ready for Opening Day.
NL Quick Hits: Injuries are already piling up for the Mets and it’s not even March. Dominic Smith is dealing with a strained right quad and will head for an MRI on Monday while Juan Lagares is day-to-day with a strained left hamstring. Jay Bruce is battling plantar fasciitis in his left foot but has classified the injury as a “non-issue.” Smith’s injury won’t help his chances of cracking the Opening Day roster, which were already slim with Adrian Gonzalez blocking his path to playing time at first base … Ben Revere signed a minor league deal with Cincinnati on Sunday and will join the Reds for spring training. A prodigious base-stealer, the 29-year-old swiped 21 bags for the Angels last season … Joe Musgrove returned to the mound Sunday following a brief bout of shoulder discomfort. The right-hander, who was acquired from Houston last month, is still not ready to throw breaking pitches … Phillies third baseman Will Middlebrooks is out indefinitely after suffering a fractured left fibula in Saturday’s Grapefruit League game against Baltimore. The 29-year-old hit just .211 with 14 strikeouts in 38 major league at-bats for the Rangers last season … Buster Posey returned to action Sunday after sitting out Saturday’s game with a minor ankle injury. He chipped in with a two-run double in San Francisco’s 12-10 loss to the Cubs … Nationals manager Dave Martinez will reportedly give Trea Turner “free rein” on the base paths this year even though he’ll likely be hitting in front of Bryce Harper. Turner finished third in the majors with 46 steals last season despite missing 64 games.