Toronto Blue Jays: Kendrys Morales Needs to Have a Big Year

TORONTO, ON - JUNE 14: Kendrys Morales
TORONTO, ON - JUNE 14: Kendrys Morales /

After finishing 26th in runs scored in 2017, the Toronto Blue Jays will need a much better season from their designated hitter.

Kendrys Morales was signed to a three-year, $33 million contract by the Toronto Blue Jays last off-season to be their everyday designated hitter, shortly after a take-it-or-leave-it offer was turned down by former franchise cornerstone Edwin Encarnacion. While Morales was simply a victim of circumstance in that case, the fact he was viewed by the organization and the fans as “Edwin’s replacement” placed a lot of expectations on him.

In the slugger’s first season in Toronto, he had a very disappointing performance. The Fomento, Cuba native had his worst full season since becoming a Major League regular in 2009 (not counting his 2014 season which was shortened due to signing a contract mid-season).

He posted a below average 97 wRC+, -0.6 WAR, and had the 2nd highest K% of his career (21.7%). When you factor in that he is an awful base runner (ranked second worst in baseball last season) and has no defensive value, it compounds how bad of a season he had.

The outlook for 2018 is a little better. ZiPS projections are projecting a 104 wRC+ for Morales in 2018, while Steamer is projecting a 106 wRC+. That type of output would put him in the above average category in terms of offensive production.

However, it is simply not good enough to justify the value he hemorrhages on the base paths and the non-existent defensive value. It would make him a sub-1.0 WAR player, and players of that ilk are not that valuable in an everyday role.

Making matters worse is that the Blue Jays have to get creative with their lineup to accommodate Morales. The team already has a similar player in Steve Pearce on the roster, someone who is far better suited in the first base/DH role, but he is being forced to play the outfield where he is a huge negative.

Teoscar Hernandez, who had a huge power surge in September despite a scary K%, will have to start in AAA in all likelihood (barring injury to Pearce) due to lack of available spots. However, he might just be the team’s best option in left field, with newly acquired Curtis Granderson being the team’s best DH option (against right-handed pitching).

Another issue will be the injury concerns with superstar Josh Donaldson, which might force him to DH more regularly. In that scenario, Morales would have to sit on the bench, where aside from pinch hitting, he provides no tangible value to the roster.

In this situation, where Morales appears to be a superfluous piece to the roster. There are only three alternatives; trade, cut bait, or hope for better performance.

Given the tough time free agents are having getting contracts, it seems like a pipe dream to unload that contract in a trade. Plus, the front office might be unwilling to release $23 million in sunk cost, since they liked him enough to sign him to that contract in the first place.

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So that leaves one realistic option, and that is hoping for better results.

For all of his faults in 2017, Morales still ranked in the top 10 in baseball in exit velocity. He still hits the ball very hard, which was likely one of the reasons the team signed him, with the expectation that the hard contact rate would make him a better fit at Rogers Centre.

Manager John Gibbons has also alluded to players struggling in their first year on a new team, and Morales has allegedly come to camp this spring in better shape.

What type of performance do the Blue Jays need from Morales to compensate for his shortcomings? Most likely, a wRC+ around 110-120, a WAR above 1.0, and over 30 home runs.

Can Morales post those numbers? Possibly. At this point, if the team seriously wants to contend for that last playoff spot, then he will need to hit considerably better either way. They cannot afford to have a below replacement level DH that creates such roster mismanagement.

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Morales can cure a lot of those issues by becoming an asset at the DH spot. He is certainly capable, but only time will tell whether his bat can bounce back at age 34.