Bringing in veteran DH may signal end of Encarnacion's Toronto tenure
By Gregor Chisholm
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have made their first big splash of the offseason by signing free-agent designated hitter Kendrys Morales to a three-year contract, but what that means for the future of Edwin Encarnacion is still unknown.
A source told MLB.com on Friday that the deal is worth $33 million over three years. The move was first reported by MLB Network's Jon Heyman, but the club has yet to publicly comment on the signing.
Morales is coming off a season in which he hit .263 with 30 home runs, 93 RBIs and a .795 OPS over 154 games. He did that while playing his home games at Kansas City's pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium, and the hope is that a switch to Rogers Centre will help him maintain, or possibly even increase, that production.
The 10-year veteran started 138 games at DH last season. That's where Encarnacion primarily has spent most of his time with the Blue Jays, but Morales' signing does not necessarily rule out Encarnacion from returning. It's still possible, but it's less likely now.
Encarnacion started 59 games at first base in 2016, and some National League teams have inquired about using him there on a full-time basis. Toronto could consider something similar, but it is a little harder to imagine Encarnacion returning following Morales' multiyear deal. The same could potentially be said for outfielder Jose Bautista, who is willing to move positions, but could ultimately become a DH over the course of a multiyear deal.
For now, the Blue Jays have Justin Smoak as their starting first baseman and Morales as the everyday designated hitter. Smoak signed a two-year deal worth $8.5 million earlier this year, but he could return to a bench role if Toronto either brings back Encarnacion or finds an upgrade elsewhere.
The exact breakdown of Morales' contract remains unknown, but if he makes $11 million during each of the three years, that would leave the Blue Jays with approximately $120 million in guaranteed salary to 10 players next season. Toronto also has a pair of $17.2 million qualifying offers out to Encarnacion and Bautista, with their decisions due Monday.
The Blue Jays have not commented on what their payroll limit will be, but the number is expected to increase. Toronto spent approximately $140 million on payroll this year, and while the number will go up, it's still not immediately clear by exactly how much.
Morales' reported signing was the second major move of the day by Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins. According to industry sources, Toronto also signed Cuban prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to a seven-year, $22 million deal, and he's expected to begin the season in the Minor Leagues.
The Blue Jays still need to add at least one corner outfielder and a couple of relievers to their roster. Atkins previously expressed a desire to have a team that's a little faster and more athletic next season, and while Morales doesn't check off any of those boxes, Toronto could look to the corner-outfield spots to fill the requirements.
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
With his relocation from offense-suppressing Kauffman Stadium to homer-happy Rogers Centre, Morales should at least be able to maintain the power numbers he produced across two seasons with the Royals. Although the switch-hitter posted an .821 OPS at home and on the road over 2015-16, he belted 30 of his 52 roundtrippers in that span away from Kansas City's pitcher-friendly home park. Likely to hit in the heart of Toronto's lineup, the 33-year-old could compile 30 homers and 95 RBIs in 2017. And if the team brings back at least one of Encarnacion and Bautista, Morales will likely see a further spike in fantasy value.
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.