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.