The Toronto Blue Jays announced yesterday they were signing Marco Estrada to a one-year, $13 million extension, kick-starting their offseason almost a month earlier than they had hoped when the season began. Estrada, a pending free agent, is coming off an inconsistent year — with a 4.84 ERA and 4.54 FIP in 176 2⁄3 innings — in which the changeup artist ran into some trouble after a promising start.
Both sides should probably be satisfied with the outcome. The Blue Jays front office was able to extend him at a relative discount — Estrada made $14.5 million in 2017 and averaged $13 million over the past two years. This allows the club to extend its competitive window without adding significant commitment to the payroll beyond 2019.
Estrada, on the other hand, has an opportunity to rebuild his value, improve upon his up-and-down 2017, and at age 35, possibly look for the final multi-year contract of his career next offseason.
The extension means that Toronto now has four good-to-very-good starting pitchers in Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, and Estrada. The fifth spot seems to be up for grabs, with Joe Biagini being an internal option, and the possibility of bringing back Brett Anderson. However, by locking in Estrada, the Blue Jays have given themselves an opportunity to be a bit more selective in their search for another arm.
This also allows the team to work on filling other holes that must be plugged if they are to contend in 2018. With the impending departure of Jose Bautista, there’s an opening in the outfield that must be addressed. Given Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis’ injury history, there’s also a need to bring in an everyday middle infielder who can be an everyday player (hint: Jurickson Profar — a pipedream, I know).
The Blue Jay may also be betting on the Marco Estrada of 2015 and 2016 returning, which seems to be happening now. Earlier this year, I had argued that Marco Estrada seemed to be going through a re-invention where he had started doubling down on his changeup and improve his strikeout rate. According to FIP (3.70), it was turning into a career year for Estrada. However, I had argued that his high ERA at the time (4.54) was maybe a worrying sign, since he wasn’t generating as many popups as he had in the last couple of years and his mode of getting outs was different.
That was in June. In 12 subsequent starts, hitters started teeing off Estrada; during this time, he posted an ERA of 6.42 with 5.91 FIP in 61 2⁄3 innings. In seven of those starts, he failed to complete five innings. His walked rate ballooned to 5.84, and his home run rate was at an ugly 1.75. Over the six games since then however, he’s pitched to an ERA of 3.89 with a more humane 1.46 home run rate and a solid 1.7 walks per nine innings. His infield fly ball rate has also normalized to 17.2 percent (compared to a career rate of 14.2 percent), whereas earlier in the year his infield fly ball rate was only at 7.8.
The Blue Jays are hoping that Estrada is back to his 2015 and 2016 levels, when he’s a solid mid-rotation starter on a bargain. At worst, Estrada can be a back-end starter with a fair salary and no long-term commitment. Toronto's first pre-offseason move looks like a good deal for both sides.
Azam Farooqui is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @afarooqui21