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Report: Blue Jays Sign DH Kendrys Morales

Transaction Friday indeed! Apparently Ross Atkins was busy at the GM Meetings, as the Toronto Blue Jays have apparently just completed their second big move of the day:

Fresh off of announcing the signing of international free agent Lourdes Gourriel, the Blue Jays have acquired their 2017 designated hitter by signing another Cuban, inking Kendrys Morales to a three year deal with a total value of $33 million.

It’s easy to see why the Blue Jays were interested in the switch-hitter. Morales hit .290/.362/.485 in 2015, and then .263/.327/.468 this year, which included a .296/.357/.531 line from June 1st until the end of the year. Keep in mind that half of those games were at Kaufmann Stadium, a notorious pitchers’ park. With the number of hitters parks in the AL East, those numbers could definitely shoot up.

Morales is known for having plenty of power, hitting 30 home runs in 2016, following a season of 22 home runs and 41 doubles in 2015. However, unlike some of the the other slugging options (many are outlined in this piece) on the market this year, Morales makes enough decent contact not to strike out 150 times in a season.

As a switch hitter, he also shows no real platoon splits in his career, which is something the Jays seemed to be targeting (especially people who hit well from the left side) this offseason. Interestingly though, in the last two seasons his splits have been…well…split. In 2015, most of his power came against right-handed pitching to the tune of a .284/.363/.538 triple slash line (His .298/.359/.412 line against lefties was fine, but lacked punch). Then in 2016, everything reversed. Morales absolutely destroyed lefties to the tune of .330/.369/.560, but struggled against righthanders (.231/.307/.423). However, that latter number was driven by a .244 BABIP, which is well below his career mark when hitting from the left side. The Jays are clearly betting on the career numbers being real.

There are some real downsides to Morales as well, of course.

Unlike many of the other players available in this year’s free agent class, Morales has absolutely no defensive value whatsoever. He is limited to being a pure DH, and only playing first base in emergency situations (despite hilarious attempts to play him in the outfield in recent years).

Morales also makes Justin Smoak look fast. This isn’t exactly a shock considering he lost over a year of his career after breaking his leg on a walk-off grand slam celebration, but it’s still notable. He doesn’t make up for that with any kind of special instincts, either. Simply put, he’s a terrible baserunner. As a bat-only player, being a negative on the bases carries more weight than it does for other players.

Morales is also going to play half of next year at 34-years-old (his birthday is June 20th), so there’s a very good chance that the bat will slow at some point soon, rendering him unusable. The last year of this deal could be pretty ugly.

Finally, there’s the matter of Edwin Encarnacion. To many, this signing signals the end of the Toronto pursuit of their star slugger. It’s tough to say if this is true, as the Jays seemed more willing to play Encarnacion as an everyday first baseman last year. However, if Toronto DID sign Morales as an Encarnacion replacement, they likely did so knowing that their former slugger had officially priced himself beyond their willingness to spend.

All of this being said, Morales isn’t a great signing, but it is a solid one. He provides them with some switch-hitting offense in the middle of the lineup, at least in the short term, and most importantly, he didn’t cost much ($11M AAV).

If rumours of payroll increases are indeed true, the Blue Jays still should have a lot of money left. By addressing a specific need early, and without eating up too much payroll both in the short and long term, the Jays can now be a little more flexible with how they fill out the rest of the roster. They can use the money they have left, or they can backload for players who will command longer deals (Dexter Fowler? Edwin Encarnacion?)

Welcome to Toroto, Kendrys. Now keep ‘em coming, Mr. Atkins.

Lead Photo: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

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