Kendrys Morales has left the Royals for the greener, artificial pastures of Toronto. The Cuban slugger has given the Royals some good years, and for a signing I was originally negative on, he has provided terrific value, giving the Royals 2.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), according to Fangraphs, good for a value of $21.3 million, more than the $17 million the club actually paid him.
He was also a good clubhouse guy and came through in some clutch situations, including perhaps his most memorable moment in Game Five of the 2015 American League Divisional Series against Houston.
But when it comes to free agency, it is not a time to be sentimental about the past. Free agents are paid based not on what they have done, but on what teams expect them to do. The Blue Jays signed Kendrys Morales to a three year, $33 million deal and it does not seem likely he will live up to that deal the way he lived up to his last one.
Let’s first focus on what Kendrys Morales does well - hit for power. He slugged 30 home runs last year, the first Royals hitter to reach that mark since 2000. In a more home run-friendly park like Toronto, he can be expected to hit for even more power. Losing a switch-hitting power hitter will leave a void in the Royals lineup.
But let’s not forget that it was just a few months ago that some fans wanted Morales to be flat-out released. Morales got off to a miserable start this year, and it was only a red-hot month of June that got his season back on track. As players get older into their 30s, those cold slumps get longer, while the hot streaks aren’t quite as hot. Morales will turn 34 next June. According to reporter Jeffrey Flanagan, the Royals likely balked at giving Morales a third year. He will be 36 in the final year of this deal.
Even with his hot June, his numbers were fairly mediocre for a designated hitter. There were 13 hitters with at least 250 plate appearances who spent at least half their time at DH. Kendrys ranked ninth among them in OPS. If you use OPS+, which adjusts for ballpark, he was tenth, tied with Billy Butler, who was released mid-season.
But the big reason that Morales won’t live up to his deal is that designated hitters just aren’t that valuble. Morales, despite his 30 home runs, was worth less than 1 Win Above Replacement Level (WAR). Morales provides zero value on defense. He is a net negative on the bases. Morales had the thirteenth-worst Baserunning Runs in baseball last year among qualified hitters. It is great when Kendrys smacks it out of the park. It is not great when he is on the basepaths.
Dave Cameron at Fangraphs summarizes Morales’ deal with the Blue Jays in those terms.
If all he really had to do was hit, Morales would still be a useful piece, but since he then has to try and run after he makes contact, Morales remains an overrated player; his lack of ability to move at human speed renders even his one-dimension of value less worthwhile than it seems. Thirty-four-year-old designated hitters who can’t run aren’t worth much, so even these modest contract forecasts are probably overpays.
Our own Shaun Newkirk provides his own forecast for Morales, and it doesn’t look good for the Jays to recoup their value.
Woof. The Kendrys Morales deal eems like a not great contract for the Blue Jays. Very Billy Butler-esque pic.twitter.com/Y3qxgB5Jc7— Shaun Newkirk (@Shauncore) November 11, 2016
The market is flooded with designated hitters. You want a guy that can hit home runs and provide little to no defensive value? Try Carlos Beltran on a one-year deal. How about a much younger Pedro Alvarez on a short-term deal? How about Brandon Moss? Mike Napoli? Matt Holliday?
The Royals have discussed the idea of a floating designated hitter, with no player attached to the position. I’ll still be a bit surprised if that happens. This club does need some offense, and adding a bat is still a priority. But it probably won’t be someone that cannot play the field much and is a liability on the bases. And it probably won’t be someone that requires $11 million per season.
Kendrys Morales was a fun player to root for and we had some good times when he was here. We’ll always remember him fondly for his part in the 2015 championship, and he wowed us with some blasts in 2016 as well.
But every player eventually ends their time in Kansas City. Eventually, every member of the 1985 championship club left Kansas City. Every member of the 2015 club will eventually depart as well. Kendrys Morales has left the Royals for $33 million, and they'll be fine. After all, the last time a designated hitter left here for a three-year contract, it turned out okay.