When the Yankees first traded for Kendrys Morales, I was reasonably excited. He’s a switch-hitter and has -- or at least had -- a reasonable reputation as a power hitter that could work the zone, but that excitement quickly waned. First, it was Joshua Diemert’s cautionary piece on Morales that pointed out that despite elite-level exit velocity, he fails to optimize that contact because he hits far too many grounders, which is less than ideal for someone as slow as Morales. Then, the games started.
Now nearly a month removed from the Morales acquisition, Josh proved himself clairvoyant, my excitement is completely gone, and it seems clear: the Kendrys Morales experiment needs to end.
Josh also mentioned there was a very small chance the Yankees could help correct this problem, but what we all hoped for hasn’t happened. FanGraphs has Morales’s groundball percentage for the season at 55.2%, which is well above the league average of 45.6%. Since joining the Yankees, the data shows Morales has hit even more groundballs. When he makes contact, he’s hit a groundball nearly 75% of the time. Here’s his batted ball profile from his first 16 games in pinstripes:
Morales’s batted ball profile is trending in the wrong direction, and his other statistics have been equally dreadful. He hasn’t quite been the worst offensive player in the league, but it’s close. Since May 15th, Morales owns a .216 slugging percentage. Ronny Rodriguez, the Tigers’ utility infielder, is the only player with a worse figure. Overall, Morales has been worth just a 58 wRC+. Only 19 players in the league have a worse wRC+ in that same span. Morales’s value comes solely from his bat, and right now, his bat hasn’t been worth much of anything.
Morales simply hasn’t brought a ton of value to the lineup, and running him out there forces the Yankees to sacrifice at other positions. Yes, Morales is a better first baseman than Luke Voit, but taking Voit out of the field means he’s either the designated hitter or on the bench. With Voit or Morales at DH, the Yankees are forced to play Clint Frazier in left or right, where he profiles as one of the league’s worst defensive outfielders, or they have to put Cameron Maybin in the outfield and sacrifice offense by sitting Frazier. Having Morales in the lineup right now means the Yankees aren’t putting their best team on the field.
To be sure, these numbers are from a small sample size. Including Friday’s game against Cleveland, Morales has appeared in just 17 games as a Yankee. There’s certainly a chance that his performance so far isn’t completely representative of his talent level, and he’ll start improving closer to his career averages. Even if he does, is that something to be excited about? As Josh’s initial piece pointed out, Morales is like the offensive Michael Pineda, a Statcast darling that consistently underperforms.
Financially speaking, cutting Morales doesn’t bear much of an impact on the Yankees’ books. The Blue Jays retained $10 million of his salary when they traded him to Oakland just before the season began. After Oakland designated him for assignment and traded him to New York, the Yankees picked up the $1.5 million tab, which is just a drop in the $223 million bucket.
The Yankees took a flier on Kendrys Morales, and it just hasn’t worked out. He might have been an above average threat at the plate as recently as last year, but the 36-year-old has looked just about done since the calendar flipped to 2019. It’s unfortunately only gotten worse since he started donning the pinstripes. Morales might stick around until Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton make it back from the IL, but probably not a day longer. After this month-long audition, the Yankees should be ready to move on from Morales.