Jon Shepherd: What to make of the Morales chatter

Last week, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the Orioles and free agent first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales remained in negotiations. Those ongoing talks allegedly had agreed on the framework of a one-year deal, but differed greatly on the price. In response to that report, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said on SiriusXM Radio that the report is overblown. He further clarified noting that the improvement of Chris Davis' injured oblique (he was doing field exercises this past weekend) makes Morales more of a luxury than a true need.

The last time a rumor was mentioned as being overblown or exaggerated was with respect to the Orioles' interest in Nelson Cruz. That wound up happening, but it is always a difficult thing to discern the trappings from the truth. That this bit of news is coming from Heyman about a Scott Boras client is something worth ruminating on. Heyman has developed a reputation to breaking information from Boras to the public. Of all of the reporters who might know something, he would be one of them. However, it is also in Boras' interest to leak information that is favorable to his client and that information may not always be translated accurately as it travels through the rumor mill.

Regardless of the veracity of the reports - as well as whether or not Morales will sign with the Orioles - let us consider what his signing would mean. The situation has changed slightly since we last visited the idea on New Year's Eve. We can boil it all down to a simple question: What is worth more, David Lough's glove or Morales' bat? The way we will try to answer this question is to use advanced metrics like weighted runs created plus (wRC+) and defensive measures like defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating. These are simply tools, so I will not be defining these statistics in this column. Feel free to comment below if you want these tools parsed out a bit more.

Upon signing, we can assume that with Chris Davis healthy, Morales would take over designated hitter and Cruz will be firmly implanted in left field. Lough would find himself in a more comfortable role as a defensive fourth outfielder. Offensively, this is a drastic improvement over what the club currently trots out there. Lough currently sports a wRC+ of 21 (100 is league average; weighted runs created plus measures the run expectancy of each offensive event and then compares that to league average). If he had enough at bats to qualify, he would be the worst-hitting left fielder in baseball and ahead of Alejandro De Aza's 63 wRC+. That is rather terrible. Morales would be expected to hit 115 wRC+. This would translate to about 50 more runs than what Lough is likely to produce (we can estimate runs from those same run expectancies attached to each offensive event).

The flip side to the argument is what would happen defensively. Currently, Cruz is having one of the worst stretches in left field that we have witnessed in Camden Yards. He has had a couple highlight-worthy catches, but those have been made possible by poor route running and range. If you project his fielding metrics out, defensive runs saved has him at minus-32 runs over a full season while UZR has him at minus-47 runs (these metrics count plays not made in the player's vicinity and attached an expected run value to them). Lough's glove measures out to 32 runs saved over a full season while UZR has him at 45 runs saved. The difference between Cruz and Lough in left field comes to a projected 64 to 92 runs. In other words, when only considering the glove, Cruz will lose you about six to 10 games.

All things said, Lough's glove appears to outweigh Morales' bat by 14 to 42 runs. The take home message is that Lough's glove is worth more to the Orioles than Morales' bat. Morales' presence really only makes sense Davis suffers a setback. Steve Pearce may be a fine fill-in, but his troubles against right-handers will be exploited if his is exposed too long as the starting first baseman. Only then does it make sense to sign Morales.

Jon Shepherd blogs about the Orioles at Camden Depot. Follow him on Twitter: @CamdenDepot. His thoughts on the O's appear here as part of MASNsports.com's continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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