The Toronto Blue Jays could be well-represented on the Mexican mound at the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
Marco Estrada does not think he will be pitching in the first round of the tournament, however, as he continues to deal with a back issue that gave him trouble through the 2016 season.
That injury was a herniated disk, manager John Gibbons confirmed towards the end of the season. It is unclear whether Estrada’s WBC status is a reaction to that same back injury lingering or simply a precaution against reaggravating it.
The 33-year-old opened 2016 on the disabled list and missed three weeks in July. After returning, Estrada averaged under five and two-thirds innings per outing with an ERA of 4.27 over his final 13 regular season starts.
Estrada’s velocity also dipped marginally in the second half, resulting in a 2016 average fastball velocity of 88.1 MPH (1.0 MPH down from the year prior).
Beyond the herniated disc, Estrada is entering the final year of his contract and due to earn $14.5 million. He’ll have an opportunity to test the open market at 34 next winter, so another full and effective season is more important to his value now than it ever has been.
Closer Roberto Osuna is confirmed to be part of the Mexican bullpen. Given that he has a surgery on his resume already and won’t be 22 for another month, there is also reason to be cautious with his innings.
Osuna stepped up to 72 appearances last season covering 74.0 innings, making him one of the league’s most frequently-used relief pitchers. It’s entirely possible that he can maintain that pace season-to-season, but max-effort seasons in the middle of March don’t necessarily fit the ideal routine for his year-long outlook.
Aaron Sanchez is in the same boat coming off a season where he broke out as a star in the rotation, throwing more innings than anyone had conceived entering the year. Sanchez recently made the switch to super-agent Scott Boras, who has a reputation for voicing his opinion on the usage of his clients.
Boras noted that maintaining an off-season routine was important recently when discussing Bryce Harper, a client of his who will not be playing in the WBC.
“The key thing for players is routine,” Boras told Joel Sherman of the New York Post in November. “The key thing [for Harper] certainly is to focus on conditioning and getting ready for the season.”
Mexico opens the tournament on March 9th against Italy, and will also face Venezuela and Puerto Rico in Pool D.