While there is a solid argument for getting rid of veterans this offseason to make playing time for the kids, I fully expect Kendrys Morales to be back in Toronto next year.
If you were to go back in time to May and told frustrated Blue Jays fans who the team stat leaders are as we near the end of the season, they wouldn’t believe you. That’s because we have watched guys like Randal Grichuk go from batting around .100 to being one of the team leaders in home runs, and one of the top offensive weapons. It’s been a weird year.
Beyond Grichuk the best example of a season turnaround would be from Kendrys Morales, who went from hitting .160/.250/.240 in March/April to being one of the most dangerous hitters in the lineup in the second half. He’s now hitting .253/.336/.448 with 21 home runs, and 57 RBI in 400 at bats. It’s not All-Star level production, but he’s certainly worked his way back into being worth his roster spot for sure.
Morales’ value going forward has far less to do with his production than it does to the other intangibles he brings to a clubhouse, and that was well detailed by Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun in an article from yesterday. In it Buffery mentions the way that Morales is respected by his fellow Latin teammates, quickly becoming an important mentor in a younger clubhouse.
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In particular Buffery mentions how significant the bond is between Morales and the Blue Jays #1 prospect, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Morales played with the young phenom’s father, Vlad Sr., when they were both with the Angels several years ago, and the two have remained friends since. Like many of the young Blue Jays players, Vlad Jr. gravitated to a familiar face this spring, and there’s a good chance he’ll do the same next year when he eventually makes his way to the big leagues.
Making the jump from Triple-A to the highest level is a significant step in any young player’s development, even for someone as highly regarded as Guerrero Jr. While it’s not expected that he’ll need a lot of help to make the leap, a player with his potential is worth protecting in any way you can. I have no doubt that he’ll make fast friends once he arrives, especially with so many minor league teammates making the climb around him, but having someone who is like a “father figure” wouldn’t hurt at all.
"“Kendrys is like a second dad to Vladdy. When Vladdy came up (to the main camp) at spring training, they were always together. They have a great relationship.” – Lourdes Gurriel (Buffery, Sept 18th)"
It’s not just Vlad who looks up to Morales either, as several of the other Latin players gravitate to him, and it’s clear the rest of his teammates enjoy his easy-going attitude, especially through the grind of a 162 game season.
Buffery describes a scene where, “It’s like wherever Morales goes, the Latin kids follow”, and that’s something the Blue Jays brain trust will put tremendous value in, especially for the 2019 season. There will be other excellent veterans around like Russell Martin, Justin Smoak, Troy Tulowitzki, and more, but the connection of sharing a common language and background can’t be discounted.
There will definitely be more roster movement for the Blue Jays this offseason as well, but it’s looking like they could have a pretty flexible roster next year, which works well in Morales favour. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. can play all over the infield and has played in the corner outfield in the past, as is the case with Brandon Drury. Russell Martin was more of a utility man than I ever thought I’d see, and will likely see some time around the infield. Aledmys Diaz has also proven himself to be versatile enough to handle third base in addition to the keystone positions.
Keeping Morales around doesn’t necessarily mean you have to play him everyday either, and I expect that he’ll likely end up somewhere in the 400 at bat range he’s currently had in 2018. Depending on what the front office decides to do with Smoak before the final year of his contract, Morales could also play a bit of first in support of Rowdy Tellez. The point is, they can find a use for him on the diamond.
However, it’s the intangible stuff that fans don’t always get to see that will keep Morales employed in Toronto next year. He’s a well-documented great teammate, and as he enters the twilight of his career it sounds like he’s becoming a pretty great mentor too. I’ll be the first to admit that I was among those calling for him to be DFA’d earlier this year, but things change, and I definitely see the value he brings to the table, especially looking ahead to the future.
It’s going to be a rebuilding year in Toronto anyway, and if having Morales around makes a tremendous adjustment a little easier for the kids, he’s worth every penny.