The Toronto Blue Jays signing of free agent Kendrys Morales did not enhance the chances of Edwin Encarnacion staying with the team, general manager Ross Atkins has suggested.
However, Encarnacion’s possible return to the American League club for 2017 hasn’t been ruled out, either.
Speaking with reporters during a telephone conference call Friday afternoon after the Blue Jays confirmed they signed Morales to a three-year, $33-million (all figures U.S.) deal, Atkins said the move will have a ripple effect. But the signing does not negate the club’s interest in trying to bring back Encarnacion and outfielder Jose Bautista, who are both testing the free-agent market.
“It makes things slightly less likely for Edwin [to come back], but doesn’t impact us on Jose in any way,” Atkins said. “We still feel that both are realistic for us.
“But again, when you sign a 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.”
Atkins said the club remains interested in re-signing outfielder Michael Saunders and reliever Brett Cecil, who are also free agents. But he declined to get into any details on negotiations with any of the team’s free agents.
Atkins said Saunders, who made the all-star team in 2016 before slumping badly over the second half of the season, remains “squarely on our radar.” And the same goes for Cecil, whose season was marked by injury and inconsistency.
“We would love to have Brett Cecil back,” Atkins said. “We feel confident that he’s a great piece to this team and has been for a while. So we’ll do what we can to ensure that he comes back.”
Atkins would not comment when asked about a report that the Blue Jays had tendered the lefty a three-year deal.
Meanwhile, the signing of Morales, 33, leaked out earlier this month.
A native of Cuba, Morales hit 30 home runs with 93 runs batted in with the Kansas City Royals in 2016, utilized primarily as a designated hitter, which is the same position that Encarnacion plays.
Morales is a switch hitter so he will help fill a void in the heavy right-handed hitting lineup that the Blue Jays featured this past season. Overall, Morales hit .263 – .231 from the right side and a hefty .330 from the left.
Atkins said the club views it as a plus that Morales has been able to consistently hit for power even while playing in pitcher-friendly stadiums such as Kansas City and Seattle. That should factor in positively for Morales when he’s hitting in the home-run-happy Rogers Centre for half the games.
And Atkins said he could see Morales, who is not exactly fleet of foot, playing a multitude of roles defensively.
“It could be playing some first, it could be playing a good deal of first,” Atkins said. “It could be DH-ing predominantly, it could be from time to time going to the outfield. But it will largely depend on the rest of our off-season.”
While Atkins sounds convinced that Morales can fill a defensive role, that wasn’t the case in K.C. where he logged most of his time (138 games) as the DH. He made five starts in the outfield in right and six at first base.
Atkins also discussed the team’s plans for Lourdes Gurriel Jr., a 23-year-old Cuban prospect signed to a seven-year, $22-million pact.
His older brother, Yulieski, plays third base for the Astros.
Gurriel is considered a star in Cuban baseball, where he has played since the age of 16, both around the infield and in the outfield.
Atkins said Gurriel will start off playing in Toronto’s minor-league organization at a level to yet be determined.
“I could see him most likely at one of the middle infield positions, potentially at third base,” Atkins said.
The Blue Jays also said backup catcher Josh Thole has cleared waivers and has elected free agency.Report Typo/Error
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