Blue Jays: Bringing back Marco Estrada again makes more sense than you think
According to comments from Ross Atkins the other day, he’s open to the idea of bringing back some of his veteran starters, including Marco Estrada. While it’s no guarantee, it makes a lot more sense than you might think.
While the Blue Jays aren’t expected to be major players in free agency this winter, they will have some work to do to prepare their roster for the 2019 season.
Their rebuild will be in full-swing next year, and the plan is to “let the kids play” as much as possible for the good of their development, and to sort out who the long term building blocks of the organization might be. We saw some of those talented young men like Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Ryan Borucki, Danny Jansen, and several others, and there are more where that came from.
The depth on the position player side is pretty exciting, especially when you eventually add names like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and the Eastern League MVP from 2018 in Cavan Biggio. However, while the Blue Jays showed they had more young pitching than many people thought it’s still an area they’ll need to address in their rebuild, and also for the 2019 campaign.
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The Blue Jays are expected to field a group of starters that will include youthful veterans in Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, as well as the impressive group of youngsters like Borucki, Sean Reid-Foley, Thomas Pannone, and even Sam Gaviglio. That’s enough to get you started, but the Blue Jays have been a prime example of needing rotation depth to get through a 162 game season, and they’ll definitely want to add a few names to the chart before Opening Day.
It’s highly likely that the Jays will bring in a few veterans on small, or even minor league contracts, in order to compete for a spot in the rotation. It’s also possible or even likely that they could spend some of their available cash on the rotation, and a short term veteran would be ideal. Funny enough, they faced a similar situation last year and found a solution in their own Marco Estrada on a one year deal, and there’s a chance it could happen again this winter.
Ross Atkins did his end-of-season presser with the media earlier this week, and admitted that he would be open to the idea of bringing back a veteran like Estrada, or J.A. Happ. While I think the latter would be the more obvious choice, I’m not sure that he’ll be easy to convince to come back to Toronto at this late stage of his career. Perhaps if he wins a ring with a Yankees this fall then he’d be open to it, but something tells me a taste of October will send him elsewhere, if not returning to New York.
Estrada on the other hand will be looking for a job, and the Blue Jays might be his best chance of landing a guaranteed rotation spot in 2019. He was quietly excellent in 2015 and again in his All-Star season in 2016, but he’s trended downward since and this past year he put up some of the worst numbers of his career.
In 28 starts he went 7-14 with a 5.64 ERA and a 1.427 WHIP, throwing just 143.2 innings. He again battled issues with his wonky back, and allowed home runs at an alarming rate of 1.8 per nine innings, his highest mark since leading the National League in the category in 2014 at 1.7.
He’s also coming off a season which paid him 13 million dollars, and previous to that was a two year deal worth 26 million. Ultimately he’s been worth that money throughout his four years in Toronto, but there’s little to no chance he’s going to see eight figures next season. In fact, I’d wager to bet that he’d settle for a one yer deal for around five or six million, especially given the lack of opportunity for veterans on the open market last year. It wasn’t as bad for pitchers, but agents won’t be as confident as they were before last winter’s negotiations, and that contract would probably get it done.
Estrada would provide a veteran presence to help guide the young arms in the rotation, and also help safeguard against the injury-prone Sanchez. If he can provide somewhere between 150-180 innings next year it will help the organization from pushing someone who isn’t ready into doing too much. For example, if someone like Reid-Foley struggled next year and needed a return to Triple-A, the Blue Jays wouldn’t have to start as much of a carousel of young, underprepared arms. In theory, Estrada could be a rock for them, even if it’s one that isn’t as shiny as it used to be.
Almost as importantly as his role is his desire to stay in Toronto, and his genuine affinity for the city. He said as much when talking with the media after his final start as the Rogers Centre, and it’s hard not to believe that he’d come back again, especially after he’s already signed to return twice before. The mid-level options on the free agent market probably aren’t expected to be terribly inspiring either, with the list including options like Tyson Ross, James Shields, Lance Lynn, and several others. Maybe they do spend a little more and opt for a higher tier arm like a Dallas Keuchel, Patrick Corbin, or even a Happ, but I sincerely doubt that’ll be the case.
More likely, bringing someone in like Estrada will be the way that Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro go, so why not just bring back the change-up artist and know what you’re getting? There’s no guarantee that he’ll be any healthier than he was this year, but there are no guarantees with any pitcher. This way you’ll be getting a veteran presence on a cheap salary, an asset you know, and a guy who genuinely wants to be in Toronto.
It might not be the sexiest option on the market, but it makes a lot more sense than I would have thought it would, and it might just happen.