In the ten days leading up to the season opener against the Yankees, your friends at BJN will be dropping a #take a day to get you pumped up for the season! Day seven: Kendrys Morales
In 2018, Justin Smoak will (continue to) soar and we’re going to start wondering what to do with Kendrys Morales.
Kendrys Morales hasn’t been well received in Toronto partly due to the fact that the Blue Jays seemed to move on from Edwin Encarnacion far too quickly. It also doesn’t help that his first year on the team was kind of shitty. It’s not easy to stomach the loss of a fan favourite, especially when the guy that’s supposed to replace him can barely do the one thing he knows how to do. The good news here is that Justin Smoak now looks like he’s going to be the one to replace Edwin, while Morales is going to replace the 2015 and 2016 versions Smoak, which isn’t really a huge challenge.
In 2017, Morales, pretty much a power-hitting-only player, couldn’t do much at the plate. A change of scenery from the spacious Kauffman Stadium to the Rogers Centre was supposed to pad Morales’ stats and hopefully, try to replace some of the production lost when Encarnacion went south. Morales actually hit better at Kauffman in his last year as a Royal than he did last season at the Rogers Centre, going from a decent 110 wRC+ in 2016 to a really mediocre 99 wRC+ at home in 2017.
He actually wasn’t great at all throughout the whole year. Like I said, Morales will pretty much only give you power, and his isolated slugging, the stat that measures extra base power, ranked 99th out of all players with at least 400 PA at .196. To make matters worse, Morales saw both his strikeout (up to 21.7% from 19.4%) and ground ball (up to 48.4% from 44.2%) rates climb, and his walk rate (down to 7.1% from 7.8%). The strikeout and walk rate would normally seem like minor qualms with a slugger that should mash, but Morales didn’t really show us much last season. Add in the rising ground ball rate for one of the slowest players in the league entering his age 35 season, and I’m wondering how worried the Blue Jays will get if he has a cold start to his season.
Morales is owed a combined $23M for 2018 and 2019, so just telling him to go away isn’t a viable solution, but maybe he can be a useful – and overpaid – platoon piece if he doesn’t rebound?
Over the past two seasons, Morales put up a wRC+ of 155 against left-handed pitching in 332 plate appearances. If you split that up, it’s 148 in 2016 and 165 in 2017. If the team already didn’t already have to make tough choices with their 40-man roster to bring Tyler Clippard and John Axford north, a reunion with Adam Lind might have been possible, but that seems really unlikely at the moment. Fortunately, the Blue Jays have an influx of infielders that can actually contribute in the major leagues. Maybe the solution is to use Morales against left-handed pitching and Yangervis Solarte, whose wRC+ against RHP over the past three years is 115, 122, and 108 respectively, against rightys? It’s not really a huge upgrade, but Solarte hasn’t done much against leftys lately and it could make that DH spot productive again. It’s also much more realistic than just getting rid of Morales. Solarte can also play all over the diamond, so it’s not like he’d just be a strict platoon guy. He’d just take some of those rough at-bats against RHP away from Morales.
In 2017, Morales being mediocre for the full year was fine because the Blue Jays were never really in it. In 2018, with a much deeper team that should contend for a wild card spot, how much rope should he have if he starts slow? Hopefully not much.