The Toronto Blue Jays added Kendrys Morales, which now creates the need to focus on an everyday firstbaseman. We look at some options.
Part of the pursuit of Edwin Encarnacion and, to a lesser extent, Jose Bautista was looking to fill the DH/ first base need. While Edwin played a lot of first base in 2016, and his agent says he is an everyday player at that position, he seemed like a natural fit because occupying the 1B/DH spot allows for more flexibility with giving other players rest, etc. Now that the club has signed Kendrys Morales to a 3yr/$33M deal, that flexibility becomes more challenging since Morales is a pure DH. He does have some time (5 games) playing in RF, but we shouldn’t be looking at him in that way.
So, now the Toronto Blue Jays are left with a dilemma with their first base position. Edwin could certainly still be brought in to play there, and it would create quite an interesting lineup. That door is still open, even though the above deal would lead many to think it has closed. It hasn’t. Edwin’s agent would like to get a deal done quickly and the Blue Jays are his client’s first choice. Really, it just is a matter if they will meet his requests.
Let’s say they do not. That would leave the Blue Jays with Justin Smoak as their everyday firstbaseman. That idea is not a comfortable one. He’s signed through the end of the 2018 season at $8.2M, so the team likes the depth he provides. But, does he give enough for them to like every day over that time?
|162 Game Avg.||162||568||56||112||22||21||64||60||136||.223||.308||.392||.700|
The power of Smoak is well known. That is not the question. But, his nearly 33% strike out rate last season is not something a club can run out there every day and hope to be successful. As much as batting average is not the be all, end all of stats, .217 is ugly. Adding his bat to the lineup is going to create a daily hole of frustration. It is not the quality at bats the club is looking for. Yes, he is a switch hitter, but at this point, we can’t be ready to call him more than a bench bat. His defense would be solid, perhaps. According to Fangraphs, it took a bit of a dip last season, but over his 2 yrs in Toronto, he’s put up -1 DRS and a UZR/150 of 1.5.
So, they need to look for some help at the position. The first answer is Edwin Encarnacion. We don’t really need to go into how much better his bat would be over Smoak’s in this lineup, do we? He’s no switch hitter, sure. But, he’s a much bitter hitter, period. Over the last couple of seasons, he has shown surprising consistency playing first base. He’s put up 0 DRS in 2015 and 2016 respectively and an 8.6 UZR/150 mark. We can go along with his agent and think that he’s a solid option at 1B, certainly for the next season or two…or three.
But, Edwin’s price tag is going to be the potentially prohibiting factor. So, what else is out there?
Turning 34 in April, Pearce has been a thorn in the side of the Blue Jays over the last couple of seasons and the club has had a look at what he can do. He’s a righty bat that hit 15 HR in 2015 and 13 in 2016 in just over 300 PA in each season. He’s coming off a 2016 season where he slashed .288/.374/.492. With the glove, he put up 2 DRS and a UZR/150 of 5.2 in 278 innings at 1B.
The lefty bat will turn 34 next September. With the Cardinals, he hit 28 HR in 2016. But, he struck out at a rate of 30.4%. His line of .225/.300/.484 might not make him the most sexy option. Now, he does provide roster flexibility in that he played 79 games in the outfield last year and 64 games at first, where he put up -3 DRS and -10.1 UZR/150. As an outfielder, his 3 DRS and 14.1 UZR/150 are better. He might not be what the Blue Jays are looking for.
Just turned 35, Napoli is an interesting guy in that everywhere he goes, winning seems to follow. His Party at Napoli’s gig worked well in Cleveland last year. His role as a leader in the clubhouse could be very appealing. So too could his 34 HR and 101 RBI in 2016. Though, he’s a right handed bat that struck out 30.1% of the time. His .239/.335/.465 line leave something to be desired, but certainly could be tolerable. However, at this point in his career, you’re not likely going to see a dramatic improvement on the whiffs. Of the above options, his defense looks poorer with -4 DRS and a UZR/150 of -6.1.
The 31 yr old lefty bat hit 22 HR and drove in 60 runs for the Rangers last season. He hit for a line of .233/.298/.422. He has power potential, but does not get on base enough to get excited about the thought of adding him. Defensively speaking, he might be one of the better options. He put up 7 DRS and a UZR/150 of 9.2.
[Ed Note– After posting thought: the thought of Rowdy Tellez possibly being ready after this season means a one year, stop gap deal could be more likely.]
Right now, the very best option for the Toronto Blue Jays would be to keep pursuing Edwin Encarnacion. While that likely spells the end of Jose Bautista, this Morales deal necessitates a long, hard look at filling that first base position. A look at the above list tells you that Edwin is the best option out there at first base. The Blue Jays know it. The problem is that Edwin and his agent know it as well.
Whether a reunion is possible is up in the air right now. Whatever happens, the Blue Jays cannot be comfortable with how they look at first base at the moment.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.