Kendrys Morales has been on a tear as of late. He was named American League player of the week after hitting a homering in seven straight games, slashing a ridiculous .478/.500/.1391 for the week of August 20th. That stretch of seven games brought him up to .264/.343/.484 on the year, which seems like a miracle given what happened the first six weeks of the season.
I wrote about it in May, but here’s pretty much what went down: through Morales’ first few weeks, he hit a ton of balls on the ground, and because he’s a designated hitter in his mid-30s and not a speedy middle of the diamond player, was pretty much a sure out almost every time he came to the plate. He hit only .146/.239/.260 to start the year, which may just seem like a small bump in the road now, but that was over an excruciating 30 game stretch.
It was easy to look at his .158 BABIP and 93.4MPH average exit velocity – which ranked 15th out of 387 with at least 25 batted ball events through the first nine weeks of the season – as reasons for optimism, but unless his 54.2% ground ball rate came down, no significant positive regression was going to occur.
And both happened.
Morales didn’t need to just hit line drives and fly balls to return to the player the Blue Jays thought they signed, he just needed to put less bad balls into play. His ground ball rate, even with that poor start, sat at 44.7% going into Monday’s series against the Orioles. To pretty much everybody’s surprise, he has gone from a player that fans were begging to be DFA’ed into the best hitter on the Blue Jays through the summer. From May 19th to Monday, Morales has hit .308/.382/.569 with a 155 wRC+ in 78 games.
You can measure how good a slugger is not by batting average or on base percentage, but isolated slugging (ISO), a measure of the ability to hit for extra bases. Over those 78 games, Morales’ .260 ISO ranked him 20th out of 332 hitters with at least 100 at bats in that span. This is more than a single hot streak, the guy that everybody hated back in April and May has been legitimately good.
So now it’s time to ask: what do the Blue Jays do with him?
The team obviously isn’t currently in a position to contend next year, and Morales will be entering the final year of his contract and his age 36 season. One of the arguments against being patient with his cold spell to start 2018 was that having him in everyday limits your ability to be creative with your day-to-day lineups with him pretty much being glued to the DH spot. With all the young MLB ready talent the Blue Jays on the cusp of the Major Leagues, I’m not sure you should have somebody like that on the 25-man roster. They already have too many infielders as it is. Hell, even the crowded outfield should be a reason to not carry a DH. There are a lot of guys fighting for three spots and the most intriguing one of them, Teoscar Hernandez, can hit the hell out of a baseball, but for some reason, I only hear one thing when he’s patrolling the outfield. A freed up DH spot every so often can help give him a break from playing out there, and us a break from having to watch him play out there.
Another thing to consider is the Josh Donaldson situation. We know that Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s light rapping on the door in March has turned into full blown kicks to the point where there might not even be a door by the time he’s called up sometime in April 2019. He’ll be on the team. If the Blue Jays decide to bring Donaldson back for less money on a qualifying offer, he will be too. This is where the value of that DH spot comes in. You’re not going to have the number one prospect in baseball sit on the bench after you made him wait this long for a call up, and you sure as hell aren’t going to pay your former franchise third baseman somewhere in the $18 million dollar range to do it either, especially when both sides are banking on him regaining value.
I’m not sure what an aging designated hitter would command in a trade, but the Blue Jays could build on a shrewd July 30th deadline by eating some, or hopefully all, of the $12 million owed to him in 2019, and flipping him to a contending team.
That would be a hefty $30 million dollars spent towards a few mid-level prospects and an open DH spot. Would it be worth it?
They certainly won’t get a big name back, but after his past few months, Morales might have built up enough value to actually get a non-org guy in a trade for him, instead of paying him to go away like many in Toronto thought was his fate in April. The real value as 2019 goes on would be the player development and making sure that nobody is losing too many at-bats that need them.
Or, you know, they can just keep him around the final year, because it kind of seems like he’s had an impact on some of the kids…
Lourdes Gurriel Jr with the Morales cam ? pic.twitter.com/qRVynnx6Ur
— Richard Lee-Sam (@RLeesam) August 28, 2018