Buyer's market is revealing extent of Blue Jays' Morales mistake
Put bluntly, there has been no time in the 424 days since the Toronto Blue Jays signed Kendrys Morales that it looked like a good idea.
Signing a 33-year-old designated hitter coming off a 0.8 WAR season (with just 0.2 total WAR in the two years prior) to a three-year pact worth eight figures per season is a suspect premise. That’s especially true when you have an older team that could really use the DH spot to rest some aging legs. From the start, the Morales deal looked like an ill-conceived scramble to fill Edwin Encarnacion’s shoes that was out of line with the free agent market.
The 2017 season played out as one would have expected – and even a bit worse. Instead of being a slightly above-average hitter with no defensive ability to speak of, Morales was a slightly below-average hitter – leaving him with almost no value, literally. The immobile slugger ended the season with 28 home runs – in a homer-heavy season where that number meant less than ever – and simply couldn’t get on base enough.
Heading into this offseason, the Morales deal looked like a blunder, but the current free-agent market has soured it further. Now, a three-year commitment is never going to lay a franchise low – especially at a number like $11 million per year. However, this is a front office that prides itself on efficient resource allocation and this contract is clearly disastrous on that count.
Consider that during this glacial offseason, two players have signed deals similar to the pact Morales inked in 2016. The first is Zack Cozart, who went to the Los Angeles Angels for three years with a $38 million price tag. Cozart is younger than Morales was at the time of his deal (32), he plays a premium position (shortstop) well, and he’s coming of an All-Star season where he posted a higher WAR (5.0) than Morales had in the last five seasons combined prior to his deal with Toronto. There are concerns that Cozart is a one-year wonder offensively, but even as a glove-first shortstop he’s plenty useful.
The other player going for approximately Morales money was southpaw Tyler Chatwood, who the Chicago Cubs signed for three years at $38 million as well. Chatwood is only 28, he throws 94.7 mph on average, and his ground-ball rate is among the league’s elite. His ERAs have rarely been sterling, but he’s spent his career in the pitcher’s hell of Coors Field and projects to be a mid-rotation starter elsewhere with some pretty significant upside.
None of this is to say that the Blue Jays should or could have signed Cozart or Chatwood – although the latter would have been a nice fit. The point is that these are the types of players in the Morales snack bracket. If you’re going to spend that kind of money, you need to be looking for that kind of impact.
Another way of looking at it is to examine what players similar in type to Morales are getting. This offseason three first baseman have signed multi-year deals: One is Carlos Santana, one of the best on-base men in baseball who’s far too good to be a comparable. The other two are Yonder Alonso and Mitch Moreland. Neither are entirely slouches with the glove, but their primary value is with the bat, partially by virtue of their position.
Alonso hit a tidy .266/.356/.501 with 28 home runs in a breakout 2017. Moreland slashed a more Morales-like .246/.326/.443 with 22 round trippers. Alonso got two years from the Cleveland Indians with a $16 million guarantee and a vesting option. Moreland managed two years and $13 million from the Boston Red Sox.
Both provided more with the bat, the glove, and their legs than Morales last year. Both were younger than Morales was when he signed his deal. Neither reduces his entire team’s roster flexibility by being confined to the DH role.
When signing a player to a multi-year deal, you aren’t just gauging that year’s market, but also what free agents are going to go for in the future. Now, the future is here and the two more years of Morales at $23 million isn’t looking pretty. In an offseason where the Blue Jays need a serious retool to make a playoff run, the $11 million they’ve got tied up in their DH for 2018 has never looked worse.