The Blue Jays’ roster has gotten a lot younger and more inexperienced in a hurry, which is what makes Kendrys Morales’ veteran presence as important as ever.
Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays made their latest trade on Friday, announcing that Russell Martin was headed to the team that he debuted with back in 2006, the L.A. Dodgers. The swap wasn’t exactly a surprise, as fans knew that Martin was potentially on the trade block this offseason, and with the presence of talented young catchers like Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire, the trade should give all three catchers a better opportunity to play in 2019.
It’s no secret that the Blue Jays wanted to get younger and more athletic at the beginning stages of their rebuild, and they’ve done exactly that, starting last summer with the trades of guys like J.A. Happ, Josh Donaldson, Curtis Granderson, and more. The veteran exodus has continued this winter, as the roster no longer sports the names of Martin, Troy Tulowitzki (released), Yangervis Solarte (non-tendered), Aledmys Diaz (traded), or free agents like Tyler Clippard, John Axford, and Marco Estrada.
What was recently the oldest roster in baseball has quickly become one of the youngest, and with that will signal a shift in a lot of things in the Blue Jays dugout. We know the leadership has changed in the skipper’s seat as well with the dismissal of John Gibbons and the hiring of Charlie Montoyo, but leadership is going to change among the players too, and that’s where Kendrys Morales will earn the bulk of his salary in 2019.
The Cuban switch-hitter drew the ire of many Blue Jays fans with his ice cold start to the 2018 campaign, but he turned things around in the second half and was arguably one of, if not the Jays’ most consistent hitter after the All-Star break. Whether he produces in 2019 or not isn’t that important, at least when you compare it to the mentorship role he’s going to have to take next year.
There was a time when there were arguably too many strong leaders in Toronto with the presence of Martin, Tulowitzki, Donaldson, and other notable voices like Jose Bautista. Every one of those veteran leaders and more have moved on to other teams, leaving the Blue Jays with a pretty inexperienced group of regulars. There are remaining veteran holdovers like Justin Smoak, Kevin Pillar, and maybe Randal Grichuk and Devon Travis, but none of them have been big vocal leaders in the past. While I expect each of them will step up to varying degrees, Morales is definitely the guy with the most experience, and probably the most influence.
It was reported that young Latino players like Gurriel Jr. gravitated to Morales late in the season, and he’s also got a special bond with Vladimir Guerrero Jr, which no doubt contributed to his roster safety this offseason. He’s going to be counted on to teach those potential stars the ropes of the big leagues, but that role will have to extend beyond just a few players, especially now that guys like Martin and Tulowitzki will be wearing a different jersey.
It’ll be a lot different look for the Blue Jays next season, but with that also comes the excitement and potential of their youthful talent. And while Morales may not make a ton of sense on paper in the middle of all the kids, his mentorship is going to be more important than ever in 2019.