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Blue Jays: Is qualifying offer the right move with Marco Estrada?

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The Toronto Blue Jays struck gold in Marco Estrada, and now he’s about to strike gold himself. With a perfectly timed breakout season in 2015, Estrada is heading into free agency with an opportunity few ever expected him to have, and it’s pushing the Blue Jays to decide whether or not to extend the right-hander a qualifying offer.

This conversation would have been laughed at eight months ago, but since coming to the Jays in a deal for Adam Lind, Estrada has been the rotation’s glue. In 181.0 innings pitched including 28 starts, the 32-year old Mexican recorded a 13-8 record with an excellent 3.13 ERA. His fastball/changeup combination was downright awe-inspiring at times.

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Offering Estrada the $15.8 million qualifying offer would put him in a difficult situation of his own. Does he take the mammoth payday and bet on himself to maintain his value through 2016, perhaps even increasing it with another strong campaign? Or perhaps Estrada sees his one great chance to sell high, and foregoes the offer for long-term security on the open market. This is a delicate dance.

The argument

for

a qualifying offer:

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While that salary number in 2016 would be steep for Estrada, it wouldn’t be beyond comprehension. Especially when we consider some of the deals handed out in free agency that result in absolutely nothing. Besides, Blue Jays ownership should have a thicker wallet after the season that was.

If accepted, Estrada would add some level of certainty to a rotation that is desperately in need. Marcus Stroman is the only member of the season-ending rotation that is guaranteed to return in 2016, and while the young arms of Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna have great potential, those are gambles.

The expectation is that the Jays will pick up R.A. Dickey‘s $12 million option for 2016, but if Dickey is worth that number, would another quality season from Estrada not be worth something just north? The added year of Estrada could also allow the Jays to fully establish what they have in him, and if he performs well again, they can enter short-term extension talks with greater confidence.

Estrada rejecting the offer could benefit the club just as much in the long run, as the draft pick compensation tied to him would help the organization to replenish a farm system ravaged by the 2015 trade deadline. The pick tied to Estrada may also hamper his value in the open market, which I’d hate to see, but each of these outcomes have the potential to improve the ball club.

Oh, did I mention he can pitch in the postseason? As 2015 taught us, that’s not the easiest thing to find.

The argument against a qualifying offer:

Marco Estrada is breaking out at age 32, and $15.8 million is a lot of money. Buying on a player at their all-time peak value is a risky play, especially one whose market is so incredibly unpredictable. While part of me sees Estrada’s free agent salary soaring above $12 million annually, what if he’d be willing to return on a two-to-three year deal worth $10 million per season after meeting an underwhelming market?

Anthopoulos is a brilliant general manager, and given $15.8 million, I’m confident that he can make something happen. Something better, potentially, and something that will last beyond just 2016. Besides, how would this salary impact Toronto’s pursuit of David Price or other rotation help?

Furthermore, does Estrada need Dioner Navarro? His ERA was nearly a run and a half lower while working with Navarro, and the two enjoyed a level of trust and success that he never did find with Russell Martin. If Navarro were returning regardless, then fantastic, but would Estrada be the same pitcher without him? At that price tag, the Blue Jays need a little more certainty on their return.

The conclusion

I’ll come off the fence, albeit just barely, to say go for it. My suspicion is that the Blue Jays will be making a serious push in contract talks with Estrada regardless. After the big names like Price, Zack Greinke and Johnny Cueto, Estrada could be an early domino in the ‘B’ tier of free agency as teams scramble to come away with something.

While there’s risk involved with Estrada as a pitcher, a great deal for that matter, entering the free agent period with a rotation of Stroman, Dickey and question marks is a risk I’m far less willing to take.

Next: Did Price put the postseason pitching narrative to rest?

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