Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Morales works on meeting expectations
By Mark Saxon
TEMPE, Ariz. -- If Kendry Morales were as good at picking agents as he is at hitting baseballs, he might be a far wealthier man.
His first representative after he defected from Cuba five years ago was a Toronto accountant named John Di Manno. At the time, Di Manno was not even certified by the players' association. Morales' six-year deal with the Angels worth at least $4.5 million seemed pretty solid in 2005, when baseball executives looked at Cuban prospects warily. But in light of recent contracts signed by Cuban defectors, it looks like peanuts.
Then, in December, Morales discovered somebody was siphoning funds from his account. The Coral Springs, Fla., police and the players' association are looking into allegations that Rodney Fernandez, a former employee of Hendricks Sports Management, Morales' second agency, took $300,000 from the Angels slugger.
Needless to say, it was a trying winter for Morales, who had helped guide fellow defector Aroldis Chapman to the Hendricks agency.
Given the ongoing investigation and the possibility of a lawsuit down the road, the issue could become a colossal distraction for a player who looks like the keystone to the Angels' offensive hopes for several years to come. Morales said he won't let it become one.
"I don't think it will affect me," Morales said through interpreter (and Angels pitcher) Joel Pineiro. "It's something on the side, with my lawyers and agents. I just have to worry about playing baseball, helping this team go out there and have some fun."
Morales has switched agents again, signing this time with Scott Boras, baseball's most powerful deal maker. Signing with Boras should safeguard Morales' finances, but it might make the Angels' chances of hanging onto their budding superstar more difficult in a few years.
Boras has a policy of not offering investment advice to his clients, because he considers it a conflict of interest. He also uses an auditing company to monitor the conduct of the people he employs.
"How can you credibly review the investment caliber of the firm doing the investing when it's you?" Boras said.
Already, Boras has plans to opt out of the final year of Morales' contract in order to make his client arbitration-eligible next fall.
"I'd say that's an easy decision," he said.
After two more years of arbitration, Morales will become a free agent. Boras also represents Mark Teixeira, a player Angels owner Arte Moreno thought he was going to keep until Teixeira accepted an eight-year, $180 million deal with the New York Yankees before last season.
Both players are switch-hitting first basemen with power. Imagine if they both were Angels. Would last season's ALCS have ended differently?
It might sound farfetched, but the Angels were prepared to use Morales in the outfield or at designated hitter if they had held onto Teixeira.
"That's why Arte burnt the cake. He could have had two switch-hitting premium players in the core of his lineup for six to eight years," Boras said. "Kendry and Tex, my Lord. They would have been in the middle of it for a long, long time."
Morales has not established himself as firmly as Teixeira has. His fielding is improved, but Teixeira is a two-time Gold Glove winner. Morales' plate discipline is a work in progress, while Teixeira is among the most patient hitters in the league. Morales, who batted .306 with 34 home runs and 108 RBIs last year, said he's not overwhelmed by the prospect of repeating the performance of last year.
"I think the first year, the pressure is greater," Morales said. "The first time around the league, the first time going out there every day.
I thank God I stayed healthy and was able to put up the numbers I had, but there's room for improvement. You can't sit back because of the numbers you had."
Chapman signed a $30 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds. The Toronto Blue Jays are close to signing a shortstop with major offensive question marks, Adeiny Hechevarria, for $10 million. It's fair to say Morales, 26, would have gotten somewhere in between those two deals if he had defected last winter instead of five years ago.
"You can't compare me with them. We're all different," Morales said. "I'm happy where I'm at right now."
Morales has appeared to be at ease this spring. After an arrival delayed by eight days while he secured his U.S. work permit, he is batting .400 in 35 at-bats and leads the team in hits and RBIs. As long as he remains comfortable, the Angels think his talent will allow him to excel, maybe even surpass the bar he set last year.
"He's a natural, you know?" Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said. "There are just some guys who have that natural ability to find a way, at the end of the season, to where they've got pretty good stats. He's still got a lot to learn."
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.