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Oakland A’s acquire Kendrys Morales from Blue Jays

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A last-minute addition to fill in for injured Matt Olson.

Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s acquired Kendrys Morales from the Blue Jays on Wednesday, the team announced. In exchange, Toronto received a minor leaguer and international slot money. Morales is slated to earn $12 million this season, and the Blue Jays will cover more than $10 million while the A’s will pay him less than $2 million, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.

Opening Day is less than 24 hours away, but it’s easy to see why Oakland squeezed in one final move. Last week they lost first baseman Matt Olson to a broken hamate, and he’s expected to be out for a month or two. They have a collection of versatile and promising players who were ready to fill in, including second baseman Jurickson Profar preparing to slide over part-time, but instead they’re going with an external addition.

For his part, Morales provides an above-average bat even as he approaches his 36th birthday in June. He’s far removed from getting downballot MVP votes in 2015, but he’s still put together a 106 wRC+ in the three years since then. He’s averaged 25 homers over the last four years, and at his best he does a decent job getting on base too. Here are his 2018 numbers, which are also representative of his 2016-18 line except for the career-high walk rate (fueled by a career-low swing rate).

Morales, 2018: .249/.331/.438, 108 wRC+, 21 HR, 10.6% BB, 20.2% Ks

Perhaps most importantly, Morales is a switch-hitter. After losing Olson and catcher Chis Herrmann to injuries, Oakland’s lineup was leaning hard to the right — the only lefty swingers remaining on the active roster were Profar and outfielder Robbie Grossman. Now Morales makes three lefties, which is still short of ideal but at least closer to it. Slusser suggests that Morales could see a platoon with Mark Canha at first base, as the newcomer “has consistently mauled right-handed pitching throughout his career” according to GM David Forst (via Slusser).

On the downside, his defense seems unlikely to be positive. He has mostly served as a DH since 2012, with just 129 starts at first base during those seven years combined, so at the very least he hasn’t been getting a lot of practice in games recently. His small-sample advanced metrics are decent enough, though, for whatever they’re worth, so he also might not be bad. But he’s presumably here for his bat, first and foremost.

In exchange for Morales, Oakland gave up minor league infielder Jesus Lopez. The A’s signed him for nearly a million dollars back in 2013, but he hasn’t made any serious noise on the field so far and never quite made any of our Community Prospect Lists. Melissa Lockard of The Athletic has the following to say about the 22-year-old infielder: “Lopez has long been an exciting talent and has looked great in the complex, only to often struggle in full-season ball. But still some potential there for the Jays to mold.“ Last summer he played for Single-A Beloit and posted a 96 wRC+ in 84 games, with 10 homers and decent plate discipline.

To make room on the 40-man, pitcher Jharel Cotton was transferred to the 60-day injured list while he finishes his recovery from Tommy John surgery. No move has yet been made to fit Morales on the 25-man roster, but the beat writers all suggest that infielder Franklin Barreto is the logical choice to go down, as he likely would have in the first place if Olson hadn’t gotten hurt. Slusser notes that it’s unclear whether Morales will arrive in time for Thursday afternoon’s game, so it’s possible he won’t join the active roster until Friday. (Update: Morales is available on Thursday, and Barreto was indeed optioned to Triple-A.)

Hot Takes

I don’t get it. I mean, I get it at its logical core. The A’s lost their lefty first baseman, so they found a new first baseman who bats lefty and is a decent enough hitter. It didn’t cost much, between a nominal prospect and only a mill or two in cash. It makes sense in a world where the A’s were desperate for an answer.

But it didn’t seem like they were, and Olson won’t even be out that long, so what was the point? They went to all this trouble to build a roster full of versatility and dynamic youth, but then instead of using it they just plouffed out at the last moment and found a safe, mediocre stopgap. They didn’t give up much, but even a mill or two is more than nothing, and when you’re one of the lowest-budget teams in the league all these little couple-mill depth pieces start to add up.

Don’t get me wrong, there is upside. Morales could get hot and smash the ball for a month and make a huge positive contribution, but only in that way that any competent hitter theoretically could. Like breakout-candidate Pinder maybe could have in an everyday role, or like high-ceiling youngster Barreto maybe could have burst onto the scene with a hot month if given some time at second base. Meanwhile, it’s nice to have that extra lefty bat, but is it really that big a deal in the short-term, especially when the key righties don’t seem to have big platoon issues?

Having said all that, I’m not disappointed that Profar won’t have to move out of position and can stay where he’s supposed to be. And I can’t say for sure that Morales will be worse in the field than the other internal options like Profar or Pinder; no one has much experience and anyone would have been a significant downgrade from Olson’s brilliance. It just wasn’t something I thought they needed to make a whole other trade to address. On the bright side, though, it sounds like this at least won’t affect Canha’s opportunity, if Slusser’s platoon guess is correct. (I was personally in favor of Canha just getting the everyday job at 1B, but that already wasn’t happening even before Morales got here.)

But still. The A’s have a looooong line of quality players and prospects itching for opportunities, and we got dangerously close to actually getting to watch some of them. Instead Kendrys Morales will get a month or two of at-bats. He’s a fine player who belongs in the majors and is capable of doing some damage, and he’s a good fit for the lineup, but I’m just not sure how much of an upgrade he is nor why this panic move was necessary. Hopefully he returns to his 2015 form and mashes until Olson returns, because that’s the only way this seems like it could end up being worth the trouble.