#74 - KENDRY MORALES, 1B
Some synopses are tougher to write than others. The Angels signed Cuban defector Kendry Morales to a huge contract in 2005. In his first professional baseball At-Bat playing for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (then the Halo High A affiliate), on the first ball he swung at - he hit a home run. Stuff like that gets back to the fans and inspires them. Hope bubbles up.
Casey Kotchman was the heir apparent at 1B when he caught mononucleosis prior to the 2006 season and had to take the year off. Morales made his debut early and looked pretty green. He batted .234 in 57 games and was on the part-time shuttle to the minor leagues the next season as well. In 2008, the Angels traded Kotchman for Mark Teixeira and Kendry was blocked completely.
Thru the 2008 season he had 450+ Plate Appearances, twelve home runs and a reputation as a terrible defender. In the 2008 ALDS, the Angels were down to the Boston Red Sox two games to one. tied in the eighth inning of game four at Fenway Park, Kendry hit a clutch, pinch hit double. Reggie Willits came in to pinch run and was sacrificed over to 3B. Mike Sciosica called a suicide squeeze but but Erick Aybar missed the pitch and Willits was thrown out running back to third by Jason Varitek.
After that season, a funny thing happened. Scott Boras used Arte as a stalking in Teixeira's free agent negotiations and Arte took his saddlebags and went home, publicly pouting. All of the Angels fansites, message boards, chat-rooms and talk shows went into a potty-mouthed fit about the team's inability to replace the bat of Marky-Fark. What could they do? It was Kendry's hour, his chance to rise to the occasion - 2009 was all his to make the case.
He made it. When 2009 was done, Kendry had 170 MVP points in the AL MVP vote to Teixeira's 225 (Joe Mauer walked away with the award anyway). Teix made $25 Million, Kendry made $1 million that season. Remember the old days when the Angels could brag about getting value for their money?
Kendry had 173 hits, 43 doubles and 34 home runs with a .306 Batting Average, a .924 OPS and 139 OPS+ in 152 games. His defense was close to acceptably league average. He carried the team, a down and sadly broken team.
2009 was a season of heartbreak and closure, tragedy and fulfillment, bittersweetly close to the ultimate goal to celebrate many great accomplishments, yet always in mourning over the April death of pitcher Nick Adenhart. Kendry's 2009 gave us a third consecutive division championship but also only made us wonder more deeply what might have been. They broke their long-time curse against the hated Red Sox in the playoffs but advanced no further.
If the Angels were to have any hope in 2010, a repeat of his 2009 performance would be mandatory. But a few things changed. He had been ripped off by his agent to the tune of $300,000 (LINK) and switched to having Scott Boras represent him. He changed his uniform number to 8 from 19 (it had been 22 when he was first called up). But he warmed up to the season, hitting ten home runs in his first 200 Plate Appearances and playing just a tick below his 2009 numbers (.290 BA, .833 OPS, 129 OPS+)
But then he hit his eleventh home run of the season, a walk off grand slam on a Saturday afternoon game against the Mariners. Arriving at home plate he jumped to celebrate and landed weirdly on his left foot, breaking the bone at the ankle. The happiest moment of the season was suddenly the team's second-worst tragedy of the decade.
The fall from their glory years, that golden decade of a World Series championship and five divisions titles, was more a series of steps down than one quick leap. From the death of Adenhart, thru the firing of Eddie Bane to the terrible trades, the magic slipped out quickly but in distinct acts. Morales breaking his bone was one of these. It immediately cost the team the season. From that May 29 debacle they actually climbed up into first place on June seventh by half a game but were back out after play ended the next night. A month later they were 5.5 games back and by August 7 they were nine out, up from ten. Kendry might have made a difference.
He missed the entire 2011 season still recovering from the injury but took time in Spring Training that season to announce that the Angels had misspelled his first name. It was Kendrys Morales not Kendry. By Spring 2012 Anegls fans might have been asking who the heck this guy was at all. With Albert Pujols signed, he played 28 games at 1B and 122 at DH. Still a little hobbled he managed to hit .273, hit 22 HR and put up and OPS+ of 119. When the Angels missed the playoffs again, they signed Josh Hamilton and traded him to Seattle for pitcher Jason Vargas. Morales easily outperformed Hamilton's 2013 OPS of 105 with a 123 OPS+.
For his career as an Angel, Kendry put up some great numbers in his 1,762 Plate Appearances - his .491 Slugging, .823 OPS (On-Base Percentage Plus Slugging) and 20.5 AB/HR all rank in the franchise top ten for players who had at least 1,500 PA with a Halo. His extraordinary 2009 season gave the Angels their fifth greatest slugging percentage of any season (.569), the sixth most doubles hit in one year, and the seventh most Extra Base Hits (79) of any Angels season.
In the end, Kendry was the right Angel at the wrong time. But his numbers, and legacy, ensure he will be a Top 100 Angel for many years to come.