Blue Jays: Predicting Estrada’s Free Agent Contract

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 05: Pitcher Marco Estrada
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 05: Pitcher Marco Estrada /

The Blue Jays will have some decisions to make again this offseason, including whether or not to bring back veteran pitcher, Marco Estrada, whose contract expires at the end of the season.

In a season that the Blue Jays expected to have one of baseball’s strongest starting rotations, things didn’t exactly go as planned. Marcus Stroman has been the team’s best starter, avoiding the DL throughout the year and earning 5.2 WAR thus far to go with his 11-8 record and 3.18 ERA. J.A. Happ has been solid as well, but he missed several starts earlier in the year that played a part in the poor start for the club. Francisco Liriano struggled before being traded, and Aaron Sanchez spent almost the entire season on the sidelines, hitting the disabled list four times.

That takes us to Marco Estrada, who has managed to avoid injury throughout the year, but has delivered an inconsistent performance. He was his typical dominant self in the first two months, before getting knocked all over the diamond in June and July. He’s turned things around since, but still finished the month of August with a 5.35 ERA, as he got nicked up a bit in the latter half of the month.

As we enter the final couple weeks of the season, Estrada’s season line sits at 8-8 with a 4.96 ERA. He’s made 30 starts, managed 168.2 innings, and earned 2.0 WAR. He brought value by staying on the field and providing an injury ravaged team with taking the ball every fifth day, but otherwise it’s been a disappointing year for the 34 year old.

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It’s been well documented in the media that Estrada is interested in returning to Toronto, and from most accounts it sounds as if the front office is interested in retaining him as well. As always, it will come down to free agency cost, and determining his value is easier said than done after a rocky campaign.

After the 2015 season, Estrada signed a two year, 26 million dollar deal to remain with the Blue Jays, and all things considered it’s been a relative bargain. He didn’t have a great deal of success prior to arriving in Toronto in 2015, but both parties took a bit of a risk that worked out overall. Pitching acquired in free agency is never cheap, and with an AAV of 13 million, he’s earned his contract, despite his struggles this season. But how do we value him going forward?

The change-up specialist will turn 35 next July, but because of his skill set the age related decline isn’t as big of a concern. For Estrada, his health is a bigger worry, but having made it through this year without a DL trip is certainly encouraging, especially after he’s battled back issues for a few years now.

If we’re looking at some of the closest comparisons from the 2015-16 offseasons, here are a few contracts that both sides may use in their discussions.

  1. Jason Hammel: The right-hander entered the 2016 offseason coming off two very productive seasons with the Chicago Cubs. He was also 34 when he signed his two year, 16 million dollar deal. The Royals did receive a bit of a bargain as far as free agency goes, but his numbers aren’t all that different from Estrada’s this year. He might be the closest performance comp, but obviously the Estrada camp will be looking for a little more, as Hammel’s market fell apart a bit this offseason.
  2. Edinson Volquez: The Marlins’ starter signed a two year, 22 million dollar deal prior the beginning of the 2017 season. Volquez has had an injury riddled year this season, but his 2015 numbers were pretty similar to Estrada’s, before having an ERA over 5.00 last year. He still managed to get a better contract than Hammel, but that was likely based on upside (hint: Estrada’s agents will argue the same).
  3. Yovani Gallardo– The soft-tossing righty signed a two year, 22 million dollar deal with the Baltimore Orioles before the 2016 season, and was traded to Seattle before this year. He’s had an ERA over 5.00 since signing the contract, and hasn’t been the same pitcher he was in his 20’s.
  4. Ian Kennedy: Kennedy signed a five year, 70 million dollar deal prior to the 2016 season. He is only 32 to Estrada’s 34, which is part of why he got a longer deal with an opt-out, but Kennedy also represents the Royals taking a shot on someone with higher upside, and maintaining control a little longer. I don’t foresee Estrada getting anywhere near five years, but the comparable felt worth looking at.
  5. J.A. Happ– Taking a look at one of our own contracts, Happ signed a three year, 36 million dollar deal with the Blue Jays two years ago, and it’s been a relative bargain for Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins. Happ will turn 35 during the offseason, and has one year remaining on his deal.

Looking at those contracts, what kind of contract demands can we expect from Estrada and his camp? Were his struggles in June and July a blip on the radar, or a sign of things to come for the veteran pitcher?

This is far from an exact science I’m using here (I call it my brain), but I would likely offer him something very similar to what he signed two years ago. Pitching is not cheap, and if the Blue Jays choose to see if the market falls out a bit, they might be able to retain him on a bargain contract. However, if they believe he can be the solid starter they had for 2.5 of his 3 seasons here, isn’t it worth locking him up?

If it were up to me, I’d start with something in the neighbourhood of two years and 20 million, and see what kind of counter offer comes in. That might seem like an overpay for a pitcher we’ve watched struggle throughout the year, but as I’ve said, free agency pitching is rarely a bargain. The front office could choose to wait things out and look for other bargain bin deals, but if they are serious about competing in 2018, Estrada could represent short term deal that works on many levels.

Next: Where will the September call-ups start in 2018?

So what do you think he’ll sign for? And maybe a better question, what would you be comfortable with the Blue Jays paying him?