Blue Jays GM: Encarnacion return 'less likely' now

But Toronto not out on slugger or fellow free agent Bautista despite Morales deal

Blue Jays GM: Encarnacion return 'less likely' now

TORONTO -- The decision to sign Kendrys Morales has made it "less likely" that the Blue Jays will bring back Edwin Encarnacion, but the club insists it hasn't ruled out that possibility.

Toronto officially signed Morales to a three-year contract worth $33 million on Friday afternoon. General manager Ross Atkins hosted a conference call with reporters after the deal was announced, and he was pressed for answers on what the signing means for Encarnacion.

• Blue Jays expect big things from Morales

Atkins conceded that Morales' deal does change things, but it doesn't necessarily mean the Blue Jays are out of the running for Encarnacion or fellow free agent Jose Bautista.

Bautista passes on offer

"It makes things slightly less likely for Edwin, but doesn't impact us on Jose in any way," Atkins said when asked about the implications of Morales' deal. "We still feel that both are realistic for us, but when you sign someone like Kendrys Morales, that does decrease the likelihood of Edwin coming back to the Blue Jays. But it by no means eliminates that possibility."

Encarnacion spent most of his time in Toronto as a designated hitter, but he played 78 games at first base in 2016. He handled the position well defensively, but the bigger question is whether Encarnacion can remain healthy while playing there on an everyday basis.

IT: Blue Jays moving on

Morales has predominantly been a DH throughout his career. He's generally considered a major liability in the field, but Atkins did raise the possibility of using him at first base and perhaps even the outfield. Whether Toronto is actually prepared to do that is another story, but in theory it does create a path for Encarnacion to spend some time at DH when his body needs a rest.

Atkins confirmed that he remained in contact with Encarnacion's representatives after the agreement with Morales, but declined to get into specifics. Recent reports suggested Toronto made a multiyear offer to Encarnacion prior to the start of free agency, but the deal was turned down and has since been pulled off the table.

"I would love to tell you guys every detail of exactly how the negotiations transpired, but they're ongoing, they're still continuing," Atkins said. "We're going to continue to stay in touch with [agent] Paul Kinzler. We're going to stay in touch with Edwin.

"There are different opportunities and different alternatives that present themselves. What happened with Kendrys Morales is, we felt we had a deal that we liked and a player we wanted to acquire, and it made our team better."

Encarnacion impacted by Morales

Encarnacion and Bautista recently turned down Toronto's $17.2 million qualifying offers for next season. That means the Blue Jays will receive a compensatory pick in next year's Draft if either slugger signs with another team. It's believed that Encarnacion is seeking a four- or five-year deal, while Bautista is expected to require at least three.

Toronto also has a known interest in re-signing veteran lefty Brett Cecil. A report from Sportsnet earlier this week indicated the Blue Jays offered Cecil a three-year contract. Atkins would not comment on those rumors, but he did confirm a desire to keep Cecil in the fold for the foreseeable future.

Cecil fans two in perfect frame

"We would love to have Brett Cecil back, is what I can tell you," Atkins said. "We feel confident that he's a great piece to this team and has been for a while. We'll do what we can to ensure that he comes back. We just have to focus on the best way to build the best possible team."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for 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.