Photo by Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
The Toronto Blue Jays have had a busy Friday, reportedly striking a pair multi-year deals as the club potentially moves on from free-agent sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
Reports from earlier today indicated the Blue Jays signed top 23-year-old Cuban infield prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to a seven-year, $22 million deal. Gurriel—who is expected to start the season at Double-A New Hampshire as a shortstop—hit .321 with a .924 OPS in 43 games last season for the Havana Industriales of the Cuban Serie Nacional before defecting from Cuba in February along with his older brother Yulieski Gurriel. The latter signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal with the Astros in the summer, and hit .262 with three homers and a .677 OPS in 36 games.
Hours later, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported that Toronto inked first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales to a three-year, $33 million contract, pending a physical. Morales, who spent the past two seasons with the Royals, would be an obvious replacement for Encarnacion, and someone who could slot into the middle of Toronto's lineup and benefit from hitting in the homer-happy park. The switch-hitter, while a clear downgrade from Encarnacion, hit .263/.327/.468 with 30 bombs last season.
The 33-year-old Cuban was one of many players we looked at earlier this week as options the Blue Jays could explore this offseason if their marriage with Bautista and Encarnacion ended. Both Encarnacion and Morales were primarily DH's in 2016. The Blue Jays also have switch-hitter Justin Smoak under contract as another option at first base.
While the Morales signing could signal the end of Encarnacion's days in Toronto, after record revenues following a second consecutive playoff appearance, the organization would certainly have the money to still make a push for Bautista. The right fielder, who is tied to draft-pick compensation (like Encarnacion) after receiving a qualifying offer from the club, is coming off a down, injury-plagued year in which he hit .234/.366/.452 with 22 homers. While he'll get nowhere near the money he was reportedly looking for before the season started, Bautista remains one of the most potent free-agent bats available.