Toronto Blue Jays (89-73)
Signed Kendrys Morales for 3 years, $33 million
Signed Steve Pearce for 2 years, $12.5 million
Signed J.P. Howell for 1 year, $3 million
Signed Joe Smith for 1 year, $3 million
Signed Lucas Harrell, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Mat Latos to minor league deals
Edwin Encarnacion signed with Indians
Michael Saunders signed with Phillies
R.A. Dickey signed with Braves
Joaquin Benoit signed with Phillies
Brett Cecil signed with Cardinals
Did you ever want a do-over? A chance to go back and, using the knowledge you have now, fix a mistake of your past? Maybe you didn’t study hard enough for the SATs. Maybe you made a fool out of yourself asking the prettiest girl or the hunkiest guy in school to prom. Maybe you jumped the gun and signed Kendrys Morales to a three year, $33 million deal before a market had even begun to develop for mid-thirties sluggers limited to first base and DH, and you missed out on Edwin Encarnacion.
If that last one sounds like you, you’re almost certainly a member of the Blue Jays front office. Oh, if only our disastrous decisions could be so easily undone! I certainly would have had more fun at prom before heading off to East Podunk State.
Toronto stayed out of the trade market this offseason, instead using free agency to acquire lesser versions of a lot of their previous players. Edwin Encarnacion was replaced by Kendrys Morales. Joaquin Benoit by Joe Smith. J.P. Howell was brought in to fill the LOOGY void vacated by Brett Cecil.
In the latter two cases, it certainly seems like Toronto making budget-conscious decisions, and trusting their coaching staff to coax additional value out of a couple pitchers who have been close to replacement level. That staff has already done strong work remaking J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano, which makes losing R.A. Dickey a non-problem, so long as the rest of the starting staff stays healthy.
It’s a different case with Encarnacion and Morales. Toronto seemed to freak out over the possibility of losing one or both of Encarnacion and Jose Bautista at the start of the offseason, and jumped at the chance to snag Morales for what, at first glance, looks like a fairly modest salary. But there just wasn’t any demand for one-dimensional sluggers out there this year. It took forever for Encarnacion, and his nonunion Mexican equivalents Mark Trumbo, Mike Napoli, and Chris Carter, to find deals they could live with. In Encarnacion’s case, this wound up being for just $60 million over three seasons in Cleveland, two years and $40 million less than was predicted at the start of the offseason. Bautista came back on a one-year deal when no one wanted to bet on him bouncing back as well.
Now, there’s certainly a chance that the Blue Jays’ hitting instructors can do for Morales what they once did for Encarnacion and Bautista. And if they can, this deal is going to be an absolute steal for Toronto, even though they probably paid far more for Morales than anyone else would have. But Encarnacion and Bautista revamped their swings when were in their 20s, and it’s hard to imagine a similar transformation happening with Morales at 34. It certainly looks like the Jays miscalculated and missed out on an opportunity to keep the band together, making their team worse in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
That said, the Jays did acquire Steve Pearce, a player I really like, who can serve as a part-time first baseman and corner outfielder. Pearce is no defensive wizard, but he kills lefties and would offer a better alternative than Justin Smoak, who the Jays also kept around. Essentially, he fills the same role that Chris Collabello did two years ago, but with far more likelihood of producing than Collabello ever had. So while the Jays did take a step back, it’s likely to be a relatively small one.
That step back probably takes them out of the running in the AL East, where the Red Sox should reign supreme, and back into the AL Wild Card race for the second year in a row. This year, two of the Mariners, Rangers, and Astros, as well as the Orioles, Yankees, and Tigers also have a legitimate chance to eke into the postseason, so the Jays face tough competition. If they could only go back and do the offseason over again, they’d almost certainly be the wild card favorite.