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Toronto Blue Jays: Morales signing likely signals end of Encarnacion or Bautista era

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The Toronto Blue Jays made the first big free agent signing of the winter, and it was a move that has a few people scratching their heads. The team has signed designated hitter Kendrys Morales to a three year, 33 million dollar deal on Friday. Morales is coming off a 30 home run season with the Kansas City Royals.

Morales is a 33 year old power hitter who mainly find his playing time as a designated hitter. He can play some first base, as he did play seven games their last season, but he has not played more than 50 games in the field since 2010 when he was with the Los Angeles Angels. A career .273 hitter, Morales is coming off a year where he batted .263 and drove in 93 runs. He boasts a very similar profile to two current free agents who have spent plenty of years in Toronto. Those two free agents of course are Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

Both Bautista and Encarnacion have received qualifying offers from the Blue Jays, and both are likely to reject it. Baustista, a 36 year old outfielder is coming off a rough 2016 season that saw him deal with multiple injuries. He batted .234 while hitting 22 home runs and 69 RBIs. Encarnacion, a 34 year old first baseman, was the teams primary source of power. He blasted 42 homers, drove in 127 runs and slugged .529 in 2016. Encarnacion has been with the Jays for eight and a half seasons, while Joey Bats spent nine and a half years North of the border. Unfortunately for one of these men, the Morales signing may signal the end of their time in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform.

Given the team has a handful of free agents this winter, including Edwin, Bautista and Michael Saunders among others, the club has plenty of holes to fill. Morales will fill the DH hole, which is where Edwin spent the majority of his 2016 season. The team still has an opening at first base, left field and right field when it comes to position players. So technically, the club could still bring back both Bautista and Encarnacion if they wish, but doing so would make the team too one dimensional. Morales fills the same type of power role of the two slugging free agents, so the club will likely let at least one of them walk.

Both men have drawn early interest on the free agent market, meaning the Blue Jays will certainly have plenty of competition. One team that has reached out to Jose Bautista already comes in the form of the New York Mets. The Mets have a bit of an outfield logjam, and their main focus is Yoenis Cespedes, but the club still represents competition in the Joey Bats market.

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But of the two, it will be Encarnacion that will be drawing the majority of the interest, given his 42 home run season. Interest in Encarnacion has been plenty in the early going, and he will surely have a ton of options. The Boston Red Sox, who will be losing their designated hitter David Ortiz this winter, are said to be extremely interested in the main who has hit very well against them in Fenway Park for years. The Texas Rangers and Houston Astros also represent two other clubs who could be looking for another big slugger to add to their respective lineups, and will certainly be in on the bidding.

The Blue Jays have had some early talks with Edwin’s camp, which has not resulted in a deal, as Encarnacion will wait to see how the market plays out. But with the Blue Jays turning so quickly to Morales, could it signal they were not happy with the direction these talks went? Maybe the team already feels his market will grow to a price they do not feel comfortable with for a slugger of Edwin’s age.

When all is said and done, one of these two men will be playing elsewhere in 2017. Morales will take over one of the team’s power slots, and the team cannot afford to have three sluggers in their mid 30’s in their lineup if they wish to succeed. My guess says Encarnacion gets a better deal elsewhere and ends up leaving Toronto. Bautista’s market is not as clear given his down season and age, making him the more likely of the two to return.

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