Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has been a busy man since the final out was recorded in 2014. He’s added perennial All Stars with team control in Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki via trade, signed catcher Russell Martin to a long-term deal and even landed the biggest fish on the deadline market in David Price. One of his finest moves, however, was his first.
This past offseason, the Blue Jays underwent a clear shift in philosophy by prioritizing their locker room culture and chemistry. This left the rarely-inspirational Adam Lind on the outside looking in, and upon picking up his $7.5 million contract option shortly after the 2014 season ended, Anthopoulos dealt the long-time Jay to Milwaukee for an overpaid swingman who was set to surrender 50 home runs in the Rogers Centre. Or so I thought.
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Marco Estrada is not the biggest name acquired by the Blue Jays before or during the 2015 season. He may not even be in the top five. When we look at these trades in terms of pure value-by-transaction, however, his addition may be stand behind only Donaldson’s arrival as Anthopoulos’ finest work.
Lind’s salary helped him out the door along with his inability to stay on the field consistently in Toronto. He’s enjoyed a strong debut with the Brewers, however, hitting .287 with 16 home runs and 64 RBI, good for a 1.9 WAR according to FanGraphs. Impressive numbers, but this trade now appears so valuable because the Blue Jays surrendered a piece they did not need for a piece that we now cannot imagine the rotation without.
Estrada, the unlikely changeup guru, has cemented himself in the starting rotation and now owns a 9-6 record, good for a 1.6 WAR. His 3.40 ERA and 1.11 WHIP are extremely impressive, and still falling as he continues a red-hot run, but his most vital statistic has been his HR/9. Despite moving into a launching pad, his HR/9 has dropped from 1.73 in 2014 (Yikes!) to 0.89 this season.
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In Lind’s place, the DH/1B position has survived just fine with the trio of Edwin Encarnacion, Chris Colabello and Justin Smoak. Smoak has seen his average slide lately, but his nine home runs and 31 RBI give Toronto a legitimate power threat. In Colabello, the Blue Jays have received a similar offensive line to Lind’s. The longshot signing is now hitting .318 with 10 home runs and 41 RBI. I don’t care if those numbers are due to regress, so let’s save that overused argument. These are real numbers that he’s earned up to this point, and they have filled Lind’s hole just fine.
For a team with limited financial flexibility, this deal also offered $2.5-to-3 million dollars in salary relief. Toronto dealt from a position of incredible strength by trading a bat, although perhaps we didn’t realize the extent at the time. In doing so, they did not add the swingman I feared, they added a legitimate number three-to-four starter.
Toronto’s rotation is rounding the corner very strong in August, pitching well enough in the top four to cover up Drew Hutchison‘s ugly 2015. Had Estrada not been added, perhaps someone like Daniel Norris or Matt Boyd would be in the rotation full-time, and if so, would David Price be in blue and white? It’s a tangled web, but in a crowded field of trades by Anthopoulos, Estrada has been a stroke of genius.