Could the Jays have another ninja general manager on their hands with Ross Atkins? “Transaction Friday” provided not one but two signings, including the signing of 23-year-old Cuban defector Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. for seven years and $22 million. While Gurriel is an example of the club looking to the future, Atkins made a move to address 2017 by quickly adding DH Kendrys Morales (another Cuban) to a three-year, $33 million deal yesterday.
Coming out of Cuba in 2005, Morales, 33, was originally signed by the Angels and really broke through in 2009, hitting 34 home runs with a .306/.355/.569 slash line before undergoing a catastrophic ankle injury jumping on the plate after a walk-off grand slam on May 29, 2010.
Thanks to the injury, Morales missed the entire 2011 season and returned to action in 2012 with solid numbers, hitting .273/.320/.467 with 22 home runs. He hit 23 dingers the next year with Seattle, posting similar numbers but had a poor season in 2014 split between the Mariners and the Twins. Morales returned to form in 2015 and 2016 with the Kansas City Royals, hitting 52 home runs (including 30 last year) while posting a combined .821 OPS with the Royals.
The Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stat is particularly unkind to Morales (especially the Fangraphs version) because of lack of ability to contribute on defense as well as his poor baserunning (consistently rated in the negatives by Fangraphs). He’s combined for 2.6 fWAR in the last two seasons and 3.3 rWAR (Baseball Reference’s version of WAR), meaning that the Blue Jays will be paying about $11 million for an expected 1.3 to 1.65 WAR per year. This works out to anywhere between $6.66 million per win and $8.46 million per win and I’ve seen a reference (although, of course, I can’t find it now) to an estimated average value of $7-8 million per win on the free agent market this year.
Of course, Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium is generally known as a pitcher’s park and Morales could see a significant boost to his offensive production playing 81 games a year in Toronto (see what happened to Josh Donaldson‘s numbers when he moved to Toronto two years ago). That said, after looking at the stats, I can see an argument both for and against the likelihood of this happening. Morales’s lifetime stats at Rogers Centre is not impressive at a .276/.330/.438 slash line with 11 doubles and two home runs in 28 games. Conversely, he has a .285/.348/.474 slash line in Kauffman Stadium, his home park for the last two years while posting a .293/.339/.499 slash line in Angel Stadium, his home park for the first six seasons of his career. Even his numbers at Safeco Field, another pitchers’ park, are slightly better than his numbers at Rogers Centre at .265/.323/.459.
Morales’s career number show that he’s a slight “homer,” with an OPS that’s 25 points higher at home than on the road. Playing at parks that aren’t known for being beneficial to hitters, this could bode very well for Morales who might benefit from the Rogers Centre environment as his home park. We can look at how the home/road split worked for Josh Donaldson before he came over from Oakland, another pitcher’s park, to theorize how things might work out for Morales. In 2013, his best in Oakland, Donaldson had a fairly even split with an .888 OPS at home and .877 OPS on the road. In 2014, that skewed the other way, a .718 OPS at home and a .874 OPS on the road. Once he got to Toronto, however, things turned around dramatically. In 2015, MVP Donaldson had a 1.046 OPS at the Rogers Centre and an .830 OPS away from it and, in 2016, He had a 1.004 OPS at home and .902 on the road. Could we see such a drastic split when Morales plays half of the year in Toronto?
The other element at play in Morales’s signing is that he doesn’t play in the infield well and the most common theme in writing about the deal is that it all but excludes the possibility of Edwin Encarnacion coming back, both from a financial perspective and a positional one. Unless the Blue Jays can trade Justin Smoak (under contract for $8.5 million guaranteed over the next two-plus seasons), there will be far too many 1B/DH types hanging around, earning too much money for the Blue Jays to adequately address issues in the outfield and in the bullpen.
Welcome to Toronto, Kendrys Morales.
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