Kendrys Morales was like many baseball followers, even Royals followers, when it came to evaluating the team as a postseason contender.
“At first, I didn’t think maybe they would make the playoffs,” Morales said, through interpreter Luis Garcia.
Of course Morales had to think that. He was playing for the Mariners, a contending rival of the Royals.
But once the Royals clinched a playoff spot…
“They started playing well and gained confidence, and once they did that was the most important part for that team,” Morales said.
Now Morales will have a role in the Royals’ quest to repeat as a playoff team. He was introduced Tuesday by the team and handed a Royals cap and No. 15 jersey by general manager Dayton Moore at Kauffman Stadium.
The deal calls for Morales to earn $6.5 million in 2015 and $9 million in 2016 with a mutual option of $11 million or a $1.5 million buyout in 2017. Morales can earn performance bonuses of $750,000 per year based on plate appearances.
To make room for Morales, the Royals designated outfielder Moises Sierra for assignment. Sierra, 26, was claimed off waivers from the White Sox on Oct. 24.
In Morales, the Royals are getting a 31-year-old Cuban who posted solid numbers in the three years he logged more than 500 plate appearances.
In 2009, Morales belted 34 home runs and drove in 108, finishing fifth in the American League MVP race, and in 2012 he hit 22 home runs. Both came with his original team, the Angels.
He was traded to the Mariners for current Royals pitcher Jason Vargas for the 2013 season and hit 23 home runs with 80 RBIs.
Last season with the Twins and Mariners, Morales hit eight home runs, with 42 RBIs and a .218 batting average in 98 games. He sat out the first 2 1/2 months and attributed that to his weak numbers.
After hitting one home run in 39 games for the Twins, Morales was traded to the Mariners and hit seven homers in 59 games.
“The biggest part of the layoff was getting my time down,” Morales said.
Moore said Morales will be the Royals’ primary designated hitter and could occasionally spell Eric Hosmer at first base.
“He will blend in nicely with our current group,” Moore said.
The Royals anticipate a power upgrade with Morales and right fielder Alex Rios, whose one-year, $11 million signing is expected to be announced soon.
The newcomers essentially replace Billy Butler and Nori Aoki. Butler signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the A’s, and Aoki is a free agent.
“We’ve got to be able to drive the ball better,” Moore said. “When we come up with the bases loaded or first and second, we need somebody who can be a presence, drive the ball in the alley and clear the bases.
“We think the players we’ve acquired and are looking to acquire fit our ballpark, they fit our style of play.”
The Royals talked about resigning Butler, but declined a $12.5 million team option on him for 2015.
“Obviously Billy was a terrific hitter for us, we respect him a great deal and what he meant to our organization,” Moore said. “Billy will be in the Royals Hall of Fame someday.”
After the Rios signing is announced, the Royals’ focus is expected to turn to another starting pitcher.
On Monday, the Royals announced the signing of Yohan Pino, who made 11 starts for the Twins last season. He’s expected to add depth and can start or be used in long relief.
But the search continues because James Shields, a free agent who was the Royals top starter over the past two seasons, is expected to be priced out of the Royals’ market.
“We’re still in the pitching market,” Moore said. “We’re looking at trades, evaluating those opportunities as well as free agents.
“We’re not done.”