Blue Jays strike quickly, sign DH Kendrys Morales

The Blue Jays signed the first of the free agent DH crop, agreeing to a 3-year, 33 million dollar deal with Kendrys Morales on Friday.

The Blue Jays have addressed their need at DH, signing Kendrys Morales. The switch hitter brings a productive power bat to the Blue Jays lineup, and should thrive hitting in the Rogers Centre. In 2016, Morales finished with a line of .263/.327/.468 with 30 home runs and 93 RBI in 154 games. He also comes with the added bonus of not being offered the qualifying offer, so he won’t cost the Blue Jays a draft pick.

Morales played the last two seasons with the Kansas City Royals, after having been a member of the Los Angeles Angels, and also briefly with the Minnesota Twins. He famously broke his ankle on May 29th, 2010, after hitting a home run and celebrating at home with teammates. After missing nearly two full seasons, Morales has worked his way back into being a feared weapon at the plate.

Now 33 and following his significant injury, Morales is relegated to being almost exclusively a DH. He played 10 games and 74 total innings in the field last season, spread between first base and right field. He is not a realistic option in the outfield, and isn’t much of an option at first either, both because of his abilities and for the sake of keeping him healthy.

The Blue Jays front office had expressed a desire to bring in some versatility, and Morales offers that with his switch-hitting ability. He’ll bring a left-handed power bat (against righties) to the  middle of the lineup, which will be a welcome change from the Blue Jays’ stack of righties the last couple of seasons.

The news does bring some potential disappointment for fans, as it may signal the end of Edwin Encarnacion‘s time in a Blue Jay uniform. Despite showing the ability to play first base at an acceptable level, “Edwing” could serve as a DH, and signing Morales may eliminate the Jays from pursing the beloved veteran.

It’s entirely possible the Blue Jays still pursue Encarnacion and/or fellow free agent Jose Bautista, but there was also solid rationale behind the Jays striking quickly with Morales. The move doesn’t eliminate the Jays ability to make other moves, and locks up a solid, middle of the order hitter at a reasonable cost.

With an AAV of 11 million, Morales has the potential to provide great value for the Blue Jays, especially moving to a much friendlier hitter’s environment. He also protects against the threat of losing both free agents, and could provide similar offensive value at a reduced cost. He wouldn’t necessarily need to replace the production on his own either, as his signing frees up additional payroll space for the Blue Jays to pursue other needs, such as in the outfield. Free agents such as Josh Reddick or Dexter Fowler are suddenly more realistic financial options for Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins.

The Blue Jays also made another move on Friday, signing free agent Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to a 7 year deal worth 22 million. Gurriel Jr. defected from Cuba in February with his brother, Yulieski Gurriel of the Houston Astros.

Lourdes Curriel Jr. is ranked the #6 prospect on MLBpipeline.com’s top 30 International Prospects List, and brings a lost of upside with him. He’ll likely start the 2017 season in the minor league system.

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