The Blue Jays inked their surprise 2015 stud starter, Marco Estrada, to a 2 year $26 million contract this week, adding back a key part of their 2015 success to a potentially depleted starting rotation. And while ghosts of David Price past and Zack Greinke future dance through Jays fan’s heads like sugar plum fairies, the fact remains that the Estrada signing has the team in much better stead than many think.
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While it remains a distinct long shot that the Blue Jays will manage to pry away Price or Greinke from the ravenous mass market buyers in the National League, a combination of the league’s top offense and a rotation buoyed by a full year (knock on wood) of our own ace, Marcus Stroman, and the consistent performances of Marco Estrada can go a long way in providing this offense with enough pitching for another 90+ win season.
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So what’s next now that they’ve signed Estrada? The offense can use some tinkering, as it’s mainly right handed heavy, but if the Blue Jays went into 2016 season with the identical offense from 2015, I think the Rogers Centre faithful will be happy with their potent run production.
So let’s look at the starting rotation and the bullpen. My biggest lesson from the 2015 post-season was how big losing Brett Cecil and Aarop Loup turned out to be. In fact, the loss of Cecil and Loup triggered the domino effect of Price to the bullpen, as his left-handedness became more valuable to the club than his starter status. So clearly, the bullpen can use some depth to handle any injuries, especially southpaw injuries.
Going into 2016, the rotation will be lead by ace-in-training Marcus Stroman. Don’t forget that Stroman had the 6th highest projected 2015 WAR of any starter, and didn’t disappoint in any of his 2015 starts. Newly signed Marco Estrada will eat innings and strike out batters with his off-speed arsenal and everyone’s favourite knuckleballer R.A. Dickey will try to sneak fastballs past hitters in the 3rd spot after the Blue Jays exercised their option on him.
The 4th and 5th spots are not so simple. The Blue Jays will likely see one of Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna or Drew Hutchison step into the 4th spot, with smart money being on Sanchez but growing support swelling towards an Osuna promotion (probably because we’ve seen Sanchez start and have only dreamt of Osuna starting).
I believe that the team is one mid-tiered starter and one top reliever away from being AL East favourites. I also believe that the team can accomplish these goals within the $140M budget that has been rumoured. Here are some ways the team can achieve this goal, without the addition of a $30M/year pitcher.
Gold: Hisashi Iwakuma or Jeff Samardzija
Both of these pitchers would be overqualified in the 3rd rotation spot, and that’s a good thing. The Shark came off a decent to down year with the so-so White Sox, carrying an 11-13 record with a 4.96ERA and 1.29 WHIP. Iwakuma was 9-5 with the Mariners carrying a 3.54 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP, and a no-hitter against the Orioles. Bidding will be fierce for both of their service, but neither should command a deal beyond 4 or 5 years.
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Silver: Mike Leake
Not a name that gets Jays fans fired up, but a reliable #3 he is. A combined line of 11-10, 3.70 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, Leake averaged 30 starts and 188 innings a year for the Reds. He’d solidify the middle of the Jays rotation and eat a lot of innings. Just the type of pitcher an offense friendly team can win with. And he’s a young free agent at 28 years old.
Bronze: Yovani Gallardo
If you can’t beat them, sign them. Gallardo held the Blue Jays in check most of the year. He was 13-11 with the Rangers in 2015, showing off a 3.42 ERA and an inflated WHIP of 1.41. At 29 years of age, he still has a lot of upside to provide on a 3 or 4 year contract.
Assuming that the Jays lose a reliever to the rotation, they will likely need 2 bullpen pieces. Assuming they can tinker and add an arm in spring training, let’s focus on the top tiered bullpen arm they could sorely use.
Please note that Darren O’Day has been removed from consideration because, come on, don’t we all want to see Jose Bautista tee off on him all season?
Gold: Tyler Clippard
Clippard split the year between the A’s and the Mets and posted a combined 5-4, 2.92 ERA with 19 saves and 8.1 K/9. As reliable as a reliever can get, he’d be a big addition to the back of the Jays bullpen and would likely be signed for 3 years/$20M range.
Silver: Joakim Soria
In 2015 Soria was a closer with the Tigers before being traded to the Pirates and becoming their set up man. He posted a combined 3-1 with a 2.34 ERA with 24 saves and 8.4 K/9. He’d flourish in either set up or closer role in Toronto.
Bronze: Ryan Madson
Ryan Madson had a career year with the Royals, posting a sub 1 WHIP and taking on a lot more responsibility admirably once Greg Holland went down. He’s much older at 35, but he’d be a good, less expensive option for the Jays pen.
Should the Blue Jays accomplish these two goals – a mid-tiered starter and a top flight reliever, the team should have a great nucleus to tinker with, improve upon and challenge for the AL East title again.