The moves came in a flurry Thursday.
After the Mariners dropped their fourth series in their past five and their lead in the second wild card slipped to just a .5 game over New York and Cleveland, general manager Jack Zduriencik decided he couldn’t wait any longer.
Seattle traded for 1B/DH Kendrys Morales of the Twins in exchange for Triple-A relief pitcher Stephen Pryor. Morales, 31, is on a prorated one-year contract after signing with the Twins June 8, days after the June 5 MLB draft.
Morales returns to Seattle where he played 156 games in 2013, hitting .277 and led the team in RBI (80), doubles (34) and extra-base hits (57). In his brief 39-game stint with Minnesota, Morales hit .234 (36-for-154) with 11 doubles, one home run and 18 RBI.
Also Thursday, Seattle recalled DH Jesus Montero and selected the contract of infielder Chris Taylor from Triple-A Tacoma. Taylor, 23, is a highly regarded shortstop who will be making his major league debut. In 75 games with the Rainiers, Taylor hit .328 (99-for-302) with 34 extra-base hits including 22 doubles and 37 RBI. He was selected to the Triple-A All-Star game earlier this month and is batting .347 in his last 19 games.
Montero, 24, returns to the Mariners even hotter than his Rainier teammate. In 21 games since being optioned to Tacoma on June 25, Montero has hit .420 (34-for-81) with 15 extra-base hits, including seven home runs, and 29 RBI with a 1.238 OPS.
To make room on the roster, Seattle optioned RHP Taijuan Walker to Tacoma and placed utility infielder Willie Bloomquist on the 15-day disabled list with a right knee contusion. Since Morales won’t report to the Mariners until Friday, a corresponding roster move will happen then.
The Mariners currently have 38 men on the 40-man roster with two players on the 60-day DL. That leaves room for the additions of Taylor and Morales without having to release anyone.
The moves leave Seattle stockpiled with infield depth. While Morales could step in and play every day at first base (he made 12 of 38 starts for the Twins at first), allowing Montero to DH every day, it leaves 1B Logan Morrison and DH/1B Corey Hart on the bench.
Likewise for Taylor. Taylor is a shortstop, ranked as high as the Mariners’ No. 5 prospect, who can play some second base. Seattle, of course, has All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano entrenched at the keystone position while All-Star Kyle Seager holds down third. It is likely the right-handed hitting Taylor will split time with current Mariners’ shortstop Brad Miller hitting .205 through 86.
It will be most interesting to see how manager Lloyd McClendon and the Mariners handle the 1B and DH lineup spots. Montero is absolutely torrid right now and should play every day, not just against lefties. However, he is not a first baseman. He is a DH only and the acquisition of Morales leaves Hart and Morrison squarely in limbo. It would not surprise me to see either player designated for assignment in the coming days when a roster move is made for a No. 5 starter (needed August 2).
The trade of Pryor ends what was a promising beginning for the 25-year-old. Pryor made the 25-man roster out of spring training in 2013 and was brilliant through seven games in April, posting a 0.00 ERA and 0.54 WHIP in 7.1 innings. But he tore his lat muscle late in the month and missed the rest of the season after having surgery to repair it.
Since then, Pryor has rebuilt himself in Tacoma and recently made an appearance for the Mariners on July 9, pitching 1.1 innings with one hit, one run, two walks and a strikeout. He is not arbitration eligible until after the 2015 season.