Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak currently make up the Toronto Blue Jays starting 1B/DH dynamic
The Toronto Blue Jays can still use a little help at first base. Edwin Encarnacion would be nice, of course, and the Blue Jays have reportedly shown interest in Mike Napoli recently. Given the needs elsewhere on the Blue Jays roster and the robust market for top-tier bats, however, it’s likely that Toronto aim a little lower if this position is addressed again.
A reserve bat or starting first baseman to push Smoak to the bench would add value to the lineup still. Chris Colabello will have his shot, though a PED suspension and his subsequent struggles in 2016 do little to help his chances. Top power prospect Rowdy Tellez is very close to being ready, too, which might make a one-year plug more attractive (though Tellez could certainly force the team’s hand by mid-season).
Here are the 1B/DH names below the top tier that the Blue Jays, or other teams in need, will have to choose from later in free agency:
Matt Holliday (36) – Holliday is in the Jose Bautista and Carlos Beltran lane of free agency. An aging outfielder that’s now better suited for some increased DH reps, Holliday still brings value with his bat and remains an annual threat for 20-plus home runs. The 2016 season was his first with an on-base percentage below .370 in a decade, so his excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio will keep his value afloat despite being past his prime. Holliday is a very complete hitter, with a career OPS of .897 against both left-handed and right-handed pitchers.
Luis Valbuena (30) – Valbuena spent the 2011-12 off-season with the Blue Jays but was selected off waivers by the Chicago Cubs before he saw any playing time. The Venezuelan has found his stride in the past three seasons, enjoying a career year in 2016 with 13 home runs and an OPS of .816. He’s averaged just over 2.0 WAR each of the past four years, and with some positional flexibility, he’ll latch on somewhere with a multi-year deal.
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Pedro Alvarez (29) – Alvarez’s all-around value has declined somewhat since his strongest seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates (2012-13), but there’s still life in his bat. On a one-year, $5.75 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles last season, Alvarez hit 22 home runs with an .826 OPS in 109 games. Some teams would have room for Alvarez as an everyday player, but his truest value comes as a left-handed half of a platoon (hitting against RHP). His career OPS is nearly .200 points higher against righties than lefties. Alvarez played a lot of first base in 2015 with Pittsburgh, but with -13 Defensive Runs Saved, it’s best he be used as a DH.
Justin Morneau (35) – If Morneau stays healthy, the Canadian will provide a roster with a decent left-handed bat capable of putting the ball in play and maintaining a nice on-base percentage. His power isn’t what it once was, of course, and it would be a risk to use him in the field, but “professional hitters” from the left side are always valuable. Morneau hit .261 with a .731 OPS in 58 games for the White Sox last season, and could wait for the market to play out this winter so that opportunities for playing time become more clear.
Mitch Moreland (31) – Moreland posted a total of seven Defensive Runs Saved at first base for the Texas Rangers last season, and given his raw power, there are starting reps for him somewhere in the league. His on-base percentage has rested below .300 in three of the past four seasons, however, which doesn’t fit well with the Blue Jays lineup.
Dae-ho Lee (34) – Lee made his MLB debut in 2016 after long dominating in the Korean and Japanese leagues. Over 104 games with the Mariners, Lee hit .253 with 14 home runs and 49 RBI. When his base-running and defence were factored in, Lee was worth just 0.3 WAR, but given his low price tag (if he chooses to continue on in North America) and ability to hit lefties, he’ll have modest appeal somewhere.
Adam Lind (33) – How could I possibly resist? Lind was with the Blue Jays organization from draft day in 2004 to the end of the 2014 season, when he was traded for Marco Estrada at exactly the right time. The Blue Jays surely aren’t the team for Lind anymore, but with his extreme splits, there is still a “right spot” for a little Lindsanity somewhere in baseball. At this point, Lind is a low-cost, one-year option with the hopes that he rebounds.
Logan Morrison (29) – The former Tampa Bay Ray didn’t get along very well with the Blue Jays in 2016, but he’s still a good (not great) hitter that’s a likely bet to hit 15 home runs and avoid a huge strikeout total. There isn’t necessarily one thing that Morrison does exceedingly well, but his all-around game could make him a backup-plan starter on a lower-level team.
Ryan Howard (37) – It won’t be the Blue Jays, and finding a suitor may take Howard a long time, but it’s criminal not to mention him. Despite his significant, significant regression, this is still the hitter that put up 198 home runs and 572 RBI in four seasons from 2006 to 2009. Perhaps a poor team signs Howard, allows him to dump 10 souvenirs in the outfield bleachers, and hopes to deal him at the deadline as a revitalized platoon piece for a small return. That’s the absolute best-case scenario for the man who is 18 home runs away from 400 (and 157 strikeouts away from 2,000…).