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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Is Kendrys Morales obsolete on the Blue Jays?

The days of the full-time designated hitter are essentially on death’s doorstep. Teams are no longer pooling resources into players who can affect change on only one side of the ball. Straight-up DH’s are becoming the way of the dinosaur.

That is unless you’re the Toronto Blue Jays and you commit three years and $33 million Kendrys Morales as a full-time designated hitter.

Remarkably, we’re only into year two of his three-year deal and somehow it feels like year five already. The man signed as a replacement for Edwin Encarnacion hasn’t lived up to expectations. But what can one expect from a DH like Morales in his age 34 season?

Morales has been hot and cold throughout his brief Blue Jays career thus far, but he’s never been colder than right now. His wRC+ of 29 is the third worst on the Blue Jays roster so far and his -0.6 WAR is dead last on the team and fifth worst in baseball this year.

Although he still has the rest of 2018 and 2019 left on his contract, Morales is making it extremely difficult to justify his presence on the Blue Jays roster. Given the way the game is shifting, he is looking more and more obsolete with each passing day.

First off, his offense; he was signed with the intention of being a full-time designated hitter. If he’s going to carry a sub-50 wRC+ the rest of the season, there are much cheaper and versatile options on the market and internally within the organization.

Which leads into the second point. Yes, Morales can throw a first baseman’s glove on and play the odd game at first. Apparently, he even has dreams of getting to pitch this year? But Morales isn’t providing any value on defense, and the way he’s hitting, he isn’t providing any value on offense, either. He’s essentially chewing up a roster spot which could be better utilized with many of the other multi-positional players the Blue Jays have.

Consider this; going into Opening Day, John Gibbons had to somehow find a way to work all these guys into the lineup on a consistent basis. Curtis Granderson and Steve Pearce: the left and right-handed sides of a left field platoon. He had to factor in giving Devon Travis and Russell Martin every third game off in the field. And those two decisions were restricted by the man occupying the DH spot: Morales.

There’s a reason why the majority of American League teams rotate through the DH spot and haven’t pigeonhole themselves into one player at that spot in the lineup. They filter through the roster using the DH spot to give some of their players some days off in the field. With Morales occupying that spot in the lineup, the Blue Jays don’t have that luxury. With the recent string of injuries to Blue Jays infielders and outfielders, they need that roster flexibility now more than ever.

Baseball is looking for the complete player. Juxtapose Morales with someone like his fellow Cuban countryman, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. At times, Gurriel clearly shows his inexperience at the Major League level, but other times, he makes up for it with a dazzling play like this one. The Blue Jays can take their lumps with Gurriel because he’s gaining Major League experience, plus the fact that he can field multiple positions and play plus defense.

To circle this back to Morales, if he continues to play this poorly and the Blue Jays have someone else to replace him, how hard is it to get rid of his contract? The Blue Jays likely have to eat the remainder of that $33 million deal; no sane team would take on any portion of that contract, even if the Jays pay 95% of it.

Luckily, it’s not like a Troy Tulowitzki-sized payment the Blue Jays would have to make. Writing off $20 million is much more palatable than close to $60 million left owed to Tulowitzki.

The Blue Jays are experiencing a roster crunch right now and it doesn’t seem like they’re anxious to ditch Morales just yet, but there’s only one scenario I can foresee where Morales gets taken off the roster. It would take a prospect’s highly-anticipated arrival to push Morales off the Blue Jays. And these two transactions would collectively send the Blue Jays fan base into overdrive.

For the Blue Jays to abandon Morales, the corresponding move is to call up Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Vlad likely doesn’t come in and play a position either, but the Blue Jays absolutely need to see whether he can handle Major League pitching. And by releasing Morales and calling up Vlad Jr., the Blue Jays get the best of both worlds.

I don’t know if the front office has the intestinal fortitude to pull off those moves. But if Morales keeps hitting the way he’s hitting and Guerrero Jr. continues to assault poor, defenceless baseballs in the minor leagues, the Blue Jays won’t have any other choice but to cut Morales and call up Vlad.

Morales had a few four-to-six week stretches last season where he earned his keep as the Blue Jays’ $33 million designated hitter. Yet, with every passing year, considering his decreased foot speed, lack of position and dwindling offense, Morales’ roster spot is more and more irrelevant.

  • Abogilo

    I agree with everything you said until you “release Morales and call up Vlad Jr.”

    I think those are two very separate discussions. Morales is a hole in the lineup that can easily be filled with people currently on the roster… Ditch Morales, add a reliever would be a net positive move at this point (laughably it would be positive on both offense and defense).

    The Vlad conversation has to take into account many other factors:
    – service time
    – how you plan to build the roster around him so you can capitalize on all his years of control with real playoff teams surrounding him
    – is he ready for pitchers who can throw breaking balls for strikes and make fewer mistakes.
    – what if he gets injured on the 40 man roster and starts burning control years on the DL.

    I like the idea of having both conversations, but I don’t think they are tied together regardless of the intestinal fortitude of the front office.

    • Abogilo

      Also Welcome to BJN Ian, I have been reading your stuff at Blue Jay Hunter for a few years now and find it very interesting and thought provoking. Keep it coming!

      • Ian Hunter

        Thanks for the kind words! Glad you enjoyed it – the Morales topic is probably something that shall be covered many more times this season. With Vlad pressing the issue, the conversation may happen sooner rather than later.

    • Dexxter

      I agree completely with this. Morales should be let go and the Jays will have to eat the remaining cash on his deal…. but I don’t think that has anything to do with Vlad.

      Literally anyone they call up will give them more positional flexibility than Morales. And bringing Vlad up to DH 75% of the time and giving him so few reps on defense likely isn’t what’s best for him.

    • Ian Hunter

      Fair points there. I’m thinking in the vacuum of roster management and assuming the Jays are still somehow in contention in the next 4-8 weeks. Fitting Vlad on the roster as-is would be extremely tough. At least if Morales is gone, that gives Vlad everyday AB’s and he can play the odd game in the field and give Donaldson a day off his feet. I’d honestly take the shot to see if he can handle Major League pitching, as the leap from AA to AAA may not be challenging enough for him. I think Morales has a pretty long rope with this front office, but if he continues on this path and Vlad keeps destroying minor league pitching, the decision makes itself.

      • Dexxter

        Sure. In 4 – 8 weeks if everything goes well I will probably agree with you about promoting Vlad. If they’re holding strong in playoff contention come July and Vlad is still killing it then bring him on up.

  • The Humungus

    Short answer: Yes.

    Longer answer: Yes. This isn’t even a question. This morning, I heard Wilner on the radio talking about Morales being a “league average hitter”.

    It’s not even about being league average. He has to be better than that. If he’s below average as a runner and doesn’t even really own a glove, this dude has to post a 120 WRC+ MINIMUM to have a spot on this team. Otherwise, his hitting isn’t compensating for the lack of roster flexibility he presents them with, nor does it compensate for the likelihood he’ll have to be pinch-run for in close & late situations, which basically takes another spot off an already small bench.

    He’s toast.

    However, don’t call up Vladito. Him hitting .400 in AA is nice, but Atkins was very clear this isn’t just about his bat. They don’t want him to be a career long DH, so he’s there to develop as a runner and fielder as well. You bring him up now and you’re either making him into a DH at 19, or you’re accepting that he’s going to give you some bullshit defense while he tries to learn a position in the big leagues.

  • sons

    “but the Blue Jays absolutely need to see whether he can handle Major League pitching”

    I’m all for reading about how they need Vlad up but you can’t just make up a reason and state it as fact like that.

  • Player to Be Named Later

    Yes to walking away from Morales. But no to calling up Vlad. As thrilling as it would be to see Vlad in Toronto, I think you move him up to AAA and let him face those starters for a while. For me it’s all about the service time. Having a year of cheap season of 25/26-year-old Vlad is going to be much more valuable than a partial season of 19-year-old-Vlad. It’s tough to be patient. But it seems to me to be the right call. As for Morales, I think you hold on to him while we’re waiting for the walking wounded to come back. But when Grichuk/Pearce/Grandy start getting healthy I think Morales may have to go.

    On a related note: I wonder if we’ve been seeing him at 1B a bit more to try to show the league that he can play the field, in the (remote) hopes that they might find a taker (acknowledging that the Jays would have to eat nearly the whole salary.) The other day Morales was at 1B and Solarte was DH, which made little sense in terms of fielding the best defense. But maybe it makes sense in terms of shopping Kendrys. He has made some nice picks over there, to his credit.

  • Andy55

    The future should be now. Vlad. Bo. Lourdes. Alford. Jansen. Teoscar. Put the others on the market, get what you can. The best we can do this year is second wild card, lose the one game playoff. Screw that one game. Let’s move forward.

    • Paul Beestons Grass Surface

      No! Time for patience. Would you rather have the kids now, in a losing environment (based on your scenario), or would you rather they progress, as they are doing now, and in the long run, we have them for longer, in their prime, at reasonable prices? Why not let them percolate in the minors and enjoy this years team, which may surprise us?

    • Steve-O

      “The best we can do this year is second wild card, lose the one game playoff.”

      They, uh, could win that game. It’s a single game. Far less crazy things have happened. Not sure why anyone would complain about trying to compete this year.

  • Steve-O

    He might figure things out. and I honestly don’t think he’s tying up the roster nearly as much as it’s being made out. He seems to be highly respected and liked (from what I’ve heard) so FWIW unceremoniously dumping a guy like that might not be a great message to send to both teammates and potential free agents around the league.

    I dunno. I don’t feel too strongly about it either way but I think he’s earned a bit more rope. If the best he does is end up as a part-time DH/bat off the bench, then so be it.

    The Vlad Jr. part is a competency unrelated topic IMO. (I’m super excited but think slow and steady progression up the ranks is the way to go.)

  • Oz Rob

    It sure is a tough call. To me it comes down to whether we have a decent chance to make the playoffs. That’s going to be extremely hard this year even if Vlad is called up and does well. So why waste a year of service time? Having said that I’d still like them to eat Morales contract. We’d still be better off as Ian has explained.

  • Barry

    One problem with letting Morales go now is that we’d be eating this year’s salary and next’s, and Rogers’ policy with regards to Jays’ payroll is that if the Jays eat salary like that, the entire amount paid out goes on this year’s payroll, so, the $12 million we would be forking out for next year’s salary would be added to THIS YEAR’S payroll. (It goes on the books this year because this is the year when he would get that money.)

    And that’s fine, as long as we think we won’t want to add payroll at the trade deadline. But if we think we have a shot at a playoff spot, I’d rather not have our options limited by not being able to make deals where we take on salary.

    Of course, the other option is keeping Morales.

    So, there really isn’t an easy solution here, despite his performance making it appear there is.

    The most viable option from the Jays’ standpoint would likely be to trade him and be on the hook for a huge chunk of his salary … but even then, why would anyone trade for Morales at this point?