Ross Atkins pulled off a shocking, completely out-of-the-blue move just one day before Opening Day, sending Kendrys Morales to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for a player we’ve never heard of and some international bonus money.
The player they got back is Jesus Lopez, a 22-year-old infielder plucked from the depths of Oakland’s system who slashed a.239/.293/.402 line in Single-A last year. There’s a very good chance we never hear Lopez’s name as a possible solution at the Major League level, but this deal isn’t about him. It’s about getting rid of Morales. As harsh as it seems, this deal is addition by subtraction.
Look, first thing’s first, I’m not here to just needlessly pile on Kendrys Morales.
I mean, there’s no doubt he has a confusing legacy in Toronto given that he’s the other guy the Blue Jays signed hastily instead of Edwin Encarnacion after the 2016 season. The Jays made Edwin an offer that was probably reasonable, he declined it to explore his options, and the team quickly went out and signed Morales (who, to be fair, had been quite solid for the World Series winning Kansas City Royals) to a much cheaper deal. Edwin would go on to sign a deal with Cleveland that the Jays easily could have afforded had they been patient.
With that fresh in everyone’s mind, Kendrys had an uphill battle facing him as he joined the Blue Jays. He had to fill the shoes not only of an excellent power hitter, but those of a fan favourite who played here for nearly a decade. He was also always going to be the physical embodiment of a mistake by a front office that everybody was looking for reasons to dislike.
All told, Kendrys would play 280 games for the Jays, hitting 49 bombs and slashing a .249/.318/.442 line. While his numbers were underwhelming, Kendrys had some great moments in Toronto. He had a knack for coming through in the clutch, he’ll always have the legacy of hitting homers in seven-consecutive games, and he’ll finish his Blue Jays career with a 0.00 ERA. He’s also been praised by many for being an excellent teammate and leader on the bench.
So, yeah, nothing against you, Kendrys — this just wasn’t an ideal fit. The Blue Jays in their current rebuilding stage are better off without Morales than they are with him. While the Jays will most certainly miss his leadership and presence, the big thing here is freeing up the designated hitter position and another spot on the 25-man and 40-man rosters.
Dealing Morales for a random depth prospect will open up another spot on the 40-man roster for the Jays to add one of their unsigned pitchers. Bud Norris still doesn’t have a contract, neither does Javy Guerra, who has impressed in spring training. There’s also John Axford, who’s currently rehabbing on a minor-league deal.
The deal also opens up a lot of flexibility on the 25-man roster. The Jays will use the open spot on the 25-man to recall Anthony Alford, giving them a very strong defensive outfield of him, Kevin Pillar, and Randal Grichuk. Most importantly, though, it opens up the designated hitter position. Teoscar Hernandez, a disaster in the outfield, will now see more time at his rightful position as the DH, and guys like Lourdes Gurriel and Danny Jansen can now remain in the lineup when they aren’t in the field.
Also, if we’re being totally honest, Vlad Jr. is going to spend a bunch of time as the designated hitter once he comes up. While the long-term goal is for him to be a third baseman, it’s hard to imaging him playing there at the Major League level every day.
Morales had value to this team, more so than the common negative fan who was tired of watching him whiff on breaking balls or slowly jog to first most at bats (be honest, we’re all guilty of this) would suggest, but this is roster is better off with added the flexibility dumping him affords.