Kendrys Morales is a problem. Not in anything he’s said or done: Morales has been a model citizen and a fine enough player in a disappointing Blue Jays season. But with what has developed this year, Morales is excess, a player the Jays don’t need with the situation the team is in right now.
Again, none of this is Morales’ fault. While Morales’ age 34 season has shown continued decline, he’s been about what the Jays expected, a steady offensive force who isn’t a star. He’s third on the team in hits, and second on the team in home runs and RBIs, trailing only Justin Smoak in the latter two categories.
One can easily follow the logic that led to Morales’ signing in the off-season: the team assumed (incorrectly) that Edwin Encarnacion would be priced out of their comfort zone. The Jays didn’t want to wait and see if the price came down. They followed a strategy that worked for them after 2015: instead of bringing back David Price, they struck quickly on a lesser replacement in J.A. Happ. So instead of fan favorite Encarnacion, they moved on the switch-hitting Morales at a lower price.
Of course, the hitting market cratered, and fans were left to wonder what might have been as EE went to Cleveland for much less than anyone thought he would get. Morales came into the season with an unenviable task, replacing the man who hit the home run that got the Blue Jays into the playoffs.
Much as they did in acquiring Morales, the team probably thought they’d run back 2016 in how they used the first base and DH positions. With veterans manning several positions, the Jays often used the DH to get players like Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson a break from defense, or to bring them back from injuries, moving then-DH Encarnacion to first base, and Smoak to the bench. This was not a huge loss, given how Smoak performed in 2016. His value was in his defense, and so it was going to be again.
Smoak’s incredible year has been well documented, and he’s earned his place in the Jays lineup. While the ascension of Smoak has been a godsend, the presence of Morales prevents the Jays from being as flexible with the lineup as they want to. Steve Pearce has come on strong after struggling early on, and Ezequiel Carrera has made his case for everyday at-bats in the outfield, forcing the Jays to sit a good hitter nearly every game.
Defensively, the choice is easy. Morales can only play DH and first base, and first base is now taken. Pearce and Carrera can play the outfield (kind of), which adds to their usefulness. John Gibbons has gotten creative at times to get both of them into the lineup, moving Carrera to center field and giving Kevin Pillar a day off, but a Pearce-Carrera-Bautista outfield defensively is the stuff of nightmares.
Morales doesn’t have many other offensive skills either. He does have power, but offers little else. He’s slow, doesn’t get on base a ton, and doesn’t hit many doubles for a man with his power (probably because of his speed). Carrera offers some speed, and walks a bit more. Pearce has a similar profile to Morales offensively, (power, no doubles) but can play the field, and is being paid about half as much.
The Jays very clearly had a different plan for the 2017 season, one that probably didn’t involve them selling at the deadline. Morales isn’t really the problem with the team, but the team changing the way it did has made him a problem. One wonders if the Jays saw this and looked to move him, but it’s hard to see a market for a DH who just hits and does nothing else now. Teams are starting to be more creative with how they use the position, or have someone there who can play the field if needed.
It’s hard to see a path forward until the off-season, and even then it will be tough. There may be regular at-bats for both Pearce and Carrera in the Blue Jays outfield, though the arrival of Teoscar Hernandez (and the anticipated arrival of Dalton Pompey before his inevitable injury) will muddy that picture some. Pillar’s spot should probably be in question as well, though it’s hard to imagine the front office wanting to look at potentially replacing all three positions. It might come down to Pearce and Morales at DH if the team looks to get younger and more athletic, and while Pearce IS older than Morales, he’s more valuable because of his versatility. Of course, that could mean the team finds more of a market for Pearce, and moves him instead.
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