The Royals made grumblings about their distaste of a full-time designated hitter last summer, making it no surprise when they let Billy Butler go last winter without much pursuit. What was surprising was that they replaced him with....a full-time designated hitter. Make no mistake, Kendrys Morales is just as tethered to the bench on defense as Billy was. Although he is capable of playing of first base, Morales is a poor defender. What Morales provides that the Royals prefer over Billy Butler is easy to see - financial flexibility.
Morales signed a two-year deal (with a mutual option , of course!) giving the Royals some flexibility that they couldn't have had under the three-year $30 million deal Billy Butler signed with Oakland. Morales is not nearly the offensive player Butler is, with an on-base percentage 35 points lower, with similar career slugging percentages. The one thing Morales can do better than Butler is hit the ball over the fence. Morales has a 15.2% home run-to-fly ball ratio, compared to 10.9% for Billy Butler. Morales hit 34 home runs in 2009, but aside from that career year, he has been a 20-home run, .460-slugging percentage performer.
|Career per 162 games||.271||.324||.460||25||87||2.2|
As bad as Billy Butler was in 2014, Kendrys Morales was much, much worse. Morales had an epically bad season, after missing the first two months of the season holding out for a contract. There may be hope that missing out on spring training last year hurt Morales, and with a full Cactus League workout, Morales can bounce back. His walk and strikeout ratios were along his normal career numbers, but his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was just .244, far below the league average. All of the projection models expect some bounce-back, and Morales should put up numbers slightly better than what Billy Butler did last season.
Morales is a poor baserunner, as would be expected, althoug he is not as bad as Billy Butler, with a lower ground-into-double play rate. Morales has historically been a better hitter from the left-side, although his splits are not huge (.808 OPS vs. right-handers, .722 OPS vs. left-handers). Morales has only 60 plate appearances in his career in Kauffman, but has fared well, hitting .281/.317/.509 with three home runs.
The Royals took a strategy this past winter gambling on short-term deals on flawed players. Morales might bounce back, but his ceiling is pretty limited. The Royals are hoping he can rebound to be the 20-home run hitter in their lineup they need. It will be up to Morales to prove that 2014 was an aberration, and the 31-year old still has something left in the tank.
What do you expect out of Kendrys Morales in 2015?