SEATTLE — Kendry Morales, American League most valuable player? It's not as far-fetched as it might seem, Manager Mike Scioscia said.
Morales began Tuesday ranked 10th in the AL in average (.314), fifth in home runs (30), fourth in runs batted in (94), second in slugging percentage (.598), extra-base hits (68) and total bases (274), seventh in average with runners in scoring position (.336) and eighth in doubles (36).
Scioscia said there is "no doubt" Morales, a switch-hitting first baseman in his first full big league season, belongs on the list of leading MVP candidates with New York's Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter, Minnesota's Joe Mauer and Detroit's Miguel Cabrera.
But will Morales gain enough support among those east of the Mississippi River to have a chance at the award?
"It seems word travels West to East in baseball a little slower than it does East to West," Scioscia said, perhaps a subtle slap at ESPN's perceived bias toward the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
"But I think the baseball world knows what he has meant to our club. If you look at his individual statistics, what he's meant to our club . . . if you take Kendry out of our lineup, I think you're looking at a different offense."
Scioscia had been kicking around the idea of flip-flopping Juan Rivera and Morales in the order, and he did it Tuesday night, moving Rivera from the fifth to the sixth spot and Morales from sixth to fifth.
It wasn't only because Morales has been one of baseball's hottest hitters since July, with a major league-leading 45 RBIs since the All-Star break.
"The way he's been swinging," Scioscia said, "it will be good to get a left-handed bat behind" cleanup hitter Vladimir Guerrero.
You don't acquire a two-time All-Star such as Scott Kazmir without giving up top talent, so it was no surprise Tuesday when one of the Angels' top prospects, Sean Rodriguez, was identified as the player to be named in the trade for the Tampa Bay pitcher.
Rodriguez, a 24-year-old middle infielder who can also play the outfield, hit .299 with 29 home runs and 93 RBIs for triple-A Salt Lake, but in an organization that is loaded with middle infielders, he became expendable.
"To get a potential Cy Young Award candidate, it's going to take talent," Scioscia said. "Sean's potential is very real. We think he's going to be a terrific major league player. But with our needs as an organization right now, Kazmir has the ability to have an impact this season and in the future.
"We got a terrific pitcher, and to get a terrific pitcher, you have to put together an attractive package. Obviously, Sean made that deal work for Tampa Bay."
Rodriguez will have a shot at becoming the Rays' starting second baseman or utility player next season.
"I talked to Sean on the phone, and he said he felt bittersweet," said infielder Brandon Wood, who was recalled from Salt Lake late Monday night. "He has a lot of good friends here, he's built a lot of relationships and he's leaving all his buddies.
"But he's going to a place where he might have better opportunities. He seems to be the main piece in the trade. He plays a heck of a second base and can hit 30 home runs. I would think he'd fit in anywhere."