Blue Jays signing of Morales cannot be viewed in a vacuum

The Toronto Blue Jays agreed to a reported three-year, $33 million deal with free agent DH Kendrys Morales on Friday

When news broke on Friday that the Blue Jays had signed free agent designated hitter Kendrys Morales, the fans’ first reaction was clear.

He’s not Edwin Encarnacion.

There’s not arguing that. Morales brings strong offensive value with 52 home runs and 199 RBI over his past two seasons with the Kansas City Royals, but his non-existent defensive and base-running tools limit his impact on the overall game.

By committing $11 million annually to a strict DH in his mid-30s, the Blue Jays have clearly limited the likelihood of Encarnacion returning. Justin Smoak is due $4.125 million in each of the next two seasons and Rowdy Tellez is close to being MLB-ready, so while the door isn’t completely closed, it’s creaking in that direction.

The third year on Morales’ deal at this value wasn’t expected, but an early misconception of the move is that it is a one-for-one replacement of Encarnacion. Instead, it must be viewed as a small piece of a large off-season.

Even if Morales does spell the end of Encarnacion in Toronto, another $12-14 million would conceivably remain in terms of annual contract value difference (when comparing Morales’ deal to what Encarnacion is expected to earn). Would Morales plus an impact outfielder — someone like Josh Reddick or, better yet, Dexter Fowler — create a stronger overall lineup than Encarnacion alone with some combination of Ezequiel Carrera, Melvin Upton Jr., or Dalton Pompey in the corner outfield?

There’s an argument to be made that it would, but again, the Blue Jays will look much different in two months than they do today.

Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins have put a strong emphasis on roster balance and MLB-level depth since arriving in Toronto, and that strategy shows in the Morales move. If adding Morales and another above-average piece allows the Blue Jays to avoid having a black hole near the bottom of the lineup, some of the drop-off between Encarnacion and Morales is offset.

Besides, the Blue Jays aren’t just looking for outfield help. The club also needs to address their bullpen aggressively as it’s possible the 2017 ‘pen opens without the services of Brett Cecil, Joaquin Benoit, and Joe Biagini (who could transition to starter).

Toronto’s catching depth is also an area for potential improvement. Longtime minor-leaguer A.J. Jimenez is a candidate to back up Russell Martin, but the Blue Jays may choose to address the position more aggressively to keep their costly starter fresh. Beyond that, general depth additions will be made at most positions via minor deals.

An MLB offseason cannot be judged by move number one. Often times, winning the offseason is as good as it gets for a team that season. Remember the Marlins and Mets deals?

Morales is a solid, unexciting signing. Not unlike the Blue Jays’ early scoop of J.A. Happ last off-season, actually. By spring training, when the full context of this roster has become clearer, his signing should look better.

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