Kendrys Morales will be a Key Factor in the success of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2017, and a change of scenery will help him
To many, the Toronto Blue Jays offseason has not gone as planned. From previously playoff-starved fans to corner outfield free agents, the Blue Jays have made a number of debatable decisions moving forward, resulting in some legitimate and illegitimate criticism from fans, pundits, analysts and elsewhere, furrowing their brows in a vain attempt to understand the situation. It’s simple, though: The Blue Jays are shedding payroll while remaining semi-competitive, likely poised for a decent season and potentially a trade-deadline push at Fall contention. As a result, we’re forced to look to evaluate the organization as is from here until the deadline, as it seems not much will happen until then. What has happened is as follows:
Kendry Morales deal with the Blue Jays is for 3 years.
— Christopher meola (@DfineNrmLC) November 11, 2016
Sources: The Jays and Steve Pearce agree to a two-year, $12.5 million deal.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 5, 2016
December 22, 2016: Indians sign Edwin Encarnacion
Indians get EE
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 23, 2016
And, well…that’s about it. Jose Bautista still hasn’t signed with anyone, as draft pick compensation seems to have destroyed his value (nevermind his declining…everything in 2016). There remains a possibility that he returns to Toronto (he’s been hanging around quite a bit this winter) on a pillow-type contract, but management seems hellbent on retaining that first-rounder. With the departure of Encarnacion and Bautista, we’re wondering who’s going to be the key to the Blue Jays’ success in 2017. With the emergence of a fine pitching staff in 2016 and their obvious loss in batting value this offseason, someone need to make this offense click, and that someone is Kendrys Morales.
Morales was signed early in the offseason in a move that seemed very threatening to Encarnacion’s return. This was indeed the scenario as Encarnacion would sign with Cleveland for a guaranteed $60MM. With only $33M going to Morales, the Blue Jays were allowed to add Steve Pearce for two years and $12.5M. They’ve still managed to save cash and will be able to supplement their bullpen via free agency or take on considerable salary at the trade deadline, should any unforeseen issues arrive on the 26-man roster this summer. Which as history tells us, is almost a guarantee. While Morales himself won’t replace the production of Encarnacion, his lefty bat aids in balancing a right-handed heavy lineup and the added payroll flexibility opened a spot for Steve Pearce, who got on base at a .374 rate in 2016 while swatting a few dingers (13) in the process. Not to mention that the added positional variations in Pearce’s game.
But this post isn’t about Steve Pearce or even Edwin Encarnacion. We’re here to talk about Kendrys Morales.
|162 Game Avg.||162||641||584||71||34||1||25||92||47||114||.273||.331||.465||.795||115|
Morales was brought in to hit, and aside from missing 2011 with a nasty ankle injury and a punted season in 2014, he’s done just that in his MLB career. While never an MVP threat or offense cornerstone, Morales has put up 10 MLB seasons averaging 25 HR and 92 RBI over 162 games, and he’s done so playing his home games at Angels Park, Safeco Field, Target Field and Kaufmann Stadium. Without serving a stint at Petco, Morales has played in the MLB’s most notorious power-sapping stadiums. Compared to these dead zones, Rogers Centre should be a haven for flyball-prone Morales, who put balls in the air at a 34.7% rate over his career.
This is a tick down from Edwin Encarnacion’s career mark of 41.4%. While those six points seems like a big deal, Encarnacion’s flies had a 12.3% rate falling within the infield, whereas Morales is providing more distance – with just 6.3% finding the gloves of infielders. Will they go for more home runs in the supposed band boxes of the AL East? Only time will tell. Plenty has been written elsewhere about the unknown ceiling that Morales could reach playing at Rogers Center. I could wax poetic about his exits velocity and possible response to park effects, but all of that has been analyzed to a great extent over at Jays Journal already.
Morales will likely serve as the clean-up hitter in 2017, meaning he’ll have plenty of time to drive in Josh Donaldson (OBP .404), Devon Travis (OBP.332) and whoever fills in Bautista’s three hole – likely Troy Tulowitzki (OBP .318). At worst, there will be someone on base 33% of the time in front of Morales, leading to an incredible opportunity to drive in runs. Morales’ success will depend on those batting in front of him, rather than behind him. As a poor baserunner, it’ll be difficult for fellow offseason signee Steve Pearce to bring Morales in, let alone the likes of Russell Martin, Kevin Pillar, Justin Smoak and Ezequiel Carrera who’ll be filling out the lineup in 2017. As a switch-hitter with power, Morales is designed for the Blue Jays DH and cleanup roles, and the team will go as he goes.
Perhaps if the Blue Jays had re-signed Edwin Encarnacion or even Jose Bautista, I would be writing about them in response to JFtC overlord Shaun’s article last week. But that’s not the case. The Jays front office let them go, and like it or not, we’ve got three years of Kendrys Morales in Toronto. It’s a new year, and the Blue Jays are attempting to cut calories just like everyone else. And maybe that’s not all bad, aside from the (lack of any) fielding value and base-running liability. Morales is now our guy, and he’ll be integral in this team competing in 2017.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison- UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0 cropped from original
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