With Kendrys Morales struggling and the Toronto Blue Jays falling in the standings, perhaps it is time for a drastic decision
The Toronto Blue Jays find themselves in a massive deficit in the AL East. We’re in the middle of May and they sit 7.5 games back in the division and 3.5 games back of a Wild Card spot. Sure, it’s early in the season and a lot can change, but lately, this Blue Jays team is looking very much like a .500 team, which would put them far from a playoff spot.
Sure, injuries have been an issue in the early goings. But, so too have poor performances. One of the most frustrating is that of Kendrys Morales. Through 42 games, Morales has seen action in just 28, amounting to 104 plate appearances. That’s over 100 rather uninspiring plate appearances for the guy who is making $11M to be the DH. Morales brings almost no defensive value, so his bat is going to have to be his money maker. It hasn’t been thus far. In fact, it’s been rather bad.
According to Fangraphs, Morales has put up a wRC+ mark of 34, a line of .154/.250/.275 and is striking out at the highest rate of his career: 24%. Now, if we’re being fair, we would acknowledge that he is also seeing an unbelievably unsustainable BABIP of .172. But, that can’t excuse everything. His GB% has gone up and his LD% has gone down. His soft contact rate is the highest of his career. Oddly, he is also swinging less than he ever has (42.7%). His contact rate is the lowest of his career, easily. Now, we know Morales has issues with the curveball and, well…anything low in the zone. But, it is surprising to see that he is having the most trouble he has ever had against fastballs as evidenced by his -2.91 wFA/C. They say if you can’t hit fastballs, there really isn’t a place for you in the big leagues.
And, that’s what Ben Nicholson-Smith looked into at Sportsnet. Because, honestly, it is not really clear if there is a place for Morales on this Blue Jays roster, which I’ll get into in a bit. Apparently, the club is saying all the right things…if you’re the player, that is. GM, Ross Atkins says, “He has had struggles like this in the past. This one’s a bit more prolonged than most, but he has actually had struggles nearly this prolonged. We still see a lot of signs of the potential for him to be a productive major-league hitter and hopefully we’ll see that sooner than later.” Hitting coach, Brook Jacoby, acknowledges that Morales’ confidence is shot at the moment. And, considering the above numbers, that would make sense. That said, it appears the club is willing to stick with Morales in the hopes that he will be able to produce something.
But, how long can they wait? This is a club that is falling in the standings in part due to their offense being unable to produce like they did to start the season. That is not taking anything away from the massive disappointment that is the starting pitching, of course. But, this club needs to score as many runs as it can, especially if the starters are creating deficits in the earlier innings. Can the Blue Jays afford to run Morales out there until he works his way out of this prolonged slump? They believe his work ethic will get him out of it, but how long will that take? We have seen them sit him in favour of using that DH spot in other ways, which just might be the best option- using the DH spot in other ways.
With an aging roster, it would behoove the Blue Jays to continue using the DH spot to provide rest for Josh Donaldson and others. When Troy Tulowitzki returns, you can bet that the DH spot will have another name added to it occasionally. The Blue Jays 2018 roster has provided them with positional flexibility, but that only goes so far if the DH spot is used up by a DH only type of player, something that is going the way of the 4 pitch intentional walk.
It says here that the Blue Jays might be better off cutting ties with Kendrys Morales. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that a sports team rids themselves of a player just after going on record as believing in him. Now, some will counter with the remaining salary owed to Morales as reason to keep him. ‘He’s being paid $11M whether he plays, or not, so why not keep him?’. For a minute, let’s just say that somehow the Blue Jays manage to be in contention in July and the Trade Deadline is looming. They need to make a deal to put themselves over the hump. Well, you can bet that the $11M committed to Morales won’t hinder them. The roster spot is too valuable. Well, I’m of the opinion that that sentiment is true in May. There are too many other options available (or potentially available) to this club to have the roster spot used up.
I’d wager that Anthony Alford‘s skill set (that led to a 0.0 fWAR in limited time) would be worth more to the club than Morales’ -0.8 fWAR. The possibility exists that Randal Grichuk, Steve Pearce, Tulo, Aledmys Diaz and even Devon Travis could all make their way back to the big league club soon(ish), making that roster spot that much more valuable. Consider the combined efforts of this list and then compare it to what Morales brings to the table. It seems like an easy decision. Of course, it must be acknowledged that Morales has been an excellent teammate and a valuable mentor for players like Diaz and Lourdes Gurriel. But, is that worth holding a roster spot and paying the remainder of his contract out?
At The Athletic ($), Andrew Stoeten looked into whether teams cutting ties with large(er) contracts is a common occurrence. As it turns out, it is more common than we might think. In fact, the San Diego Padres just DFA’d Chase Headley ($13M), who is having a similarly poor season at the plate AND he can play defense. The Padres are further away from a playoff spot than Toronto and they aren’t messing around. So, perhaps it is time for Toronto to seriously consider this with Morales. Stoeten says as much: “Since there’s little chance any other club is going to want to deal for Morales — even if he wasn’t playing such awful baseball right now, his market would be severely limited by the fact that he’s a DH — and it’s unlikely that the Blue Jays will use him to offset a big salary they might be taking on, or give up one of their better prospects in order to get another club to take on a bunch of his salary, a release is the route the Blue Jays are, at some point, probably going to have to take.”
If you’re a regular listener to the JFtC Radio podcast, you would have heard me discuss this on the most recent episode. Perhaps, right this moment is not the right time to make the right move. We know what needs to be done. It is time to move on from Kendrys Morales. I hate taking this stance. Very rarely do I suggest moving on from any player; I believe in giving opportunity, etc. But, this season, this roster and this player’s performance dictates I rethink my stance. Toronto cannot afford to continue to waste the roster spot. But, right now, it won’t be an issue. However, once players return from injury and the roster becomes tighter, Morales just might be squeezed out.
Some will say that Morales never should have been signed in the first place and this wouldn’t be an issue. It isn’t too difficult to see the signing as a mistake. It might be time to correct that mistake.
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.