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Red Sox make ‘upside’ trade for Franklin Morales, designate Hideki Okajima

05.19.11 at 11:14 pm ET
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The Red Sox hope to harness some of the considerable potential of left-hander Franklin Morales. (AP)

After the Red Sox’ 4-3 walkoff victory over the Tigers, Sox GM Theo Epstein said that the team had acquired left-hander Franklin Morales from the Rockies in exchange for a player to be named or cash. In order to clear a roster spot for Morales, the team designated left-hander Hideki Okajima for assignment.

“Morales is going to come in and be the second lefty in our bullpen,” Epstein told reporters. “He’s somebody we think has some upside, throwing strikes consistently. He’s a really hard thrower, a former top prospect. Think he’s got some upside there as the second left-hander position. We needed a 40-man spot for him so Oki’s going to be designated. We’ll see if there’s a fit for him with a trade somewhere. If not, we’ll get him through waivers and he’ll end up back at Pawtucket.

“We weren’t using Oki all that much, the way things have evolved lately,” Epstein added. “Morales is somebody with significant upside. If we can get him to repeat his delivery and throw strikes, he could be tough to hit. He’s going to take that second lefty in the bullpen spot, and we’ll see if we can capture some of his upside.”

Morales, 25, was 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in 14 games (spanning 14 innings) for the Rockies this year, striking out 11 and walking eight. In parts of five seasons, he is 7-11 with a 4.83 ERA, 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings and 5.3 walks per nine. He has been far more effective this year against right-handed hitters (.172 average, .595 OPS) than lefties (.250, .935), but in his career, he has enjoyed significantly greater success against southpaws (.185, .624) than right-handed hitters (.272, .788).

He is a hard thrower (according to Fangraphs.com, his fastball this year was averaging 93.9 mph) who also features a curveball and changeup. He was ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects in both 2007 (No. 30) and 2008 (No. 8), but his command difficulties had resulted in his move to the bullpen and his move down Colorado’s depth chart. Still, the Sox saw a risk worth taking.

“When he throws strikes, he’s really effective. He’s a guy who was one of the top prospects in all of baseball a few years ago,” said Epstein. “He’s been a little bit erratic with his strike-throwing, but there still is plenty of upside there. We feel, at a very reasonable acquisition cost, we get somebody who, if things go right, can be a real effective weapon for us from the left side.”

Okajima was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA, six strikeouts and five walks in seven games (8 1/3 innings). But the Sox had seldom used the 35-year-old, having last put him in a game on May 9, with Rich Hill (four scoreless appearances) having surpassed him on the depth chart. Indeed, because Hill had been effective, it permitted the Sox to acquire a pitcher who is a low-risk, high-reward lottery ticket.

“Rich’s emergence made us more comfortable making this deal,” Epstein said. “Rich has been throwing the ball well all year down at Pawtucket and has gotten off to a nice start up here, so he’s certainly somebody who matches up well against lefthanded hitters. That second spot, it’s not that we’re experimenting with it, but the chance to capture some upside there makes some sense for us, given what Hill is done for us.”

Read More: colorado rockies, franklin morales, Hideki Okajima,
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