As I write this the Jays are one game under .500 and have a 1-0 lead over the Oakland A’s. If all goes well, the team will even their win-loss record for the first time this year, and with no team dominating in the AL East as of yet, the division is still a possibility.
I have to believe Boston will put up a solid record over the coming months on the strength of their rotation, and the Yankees and Baltimore have offensive lineups that can do some serious damage. In my estimation, the Jays could still pull off winning the division, but could also miss the playoffs by a game or two.
I am prefacing the meat of my ponderings with this because I think what becomes of Marco Estrada will depend heavily on how the team is doing. I am going to break down the reasons why the Jays should trade Estrada and go through the scenario in which he stays.
Why he sticks around
I am starting with why Estrada ends the season a Jay because from my perspective it isn’t all that likely, and once you finish reading (I know you can do it!) you’ll see the reasons why it might make a lot of sense to move him.
The team is starting to turn a corner, they’re getting healthier and are getting some surprise performances thus far (Justin Smoak, I’m looking at you). The problem 57 games into this season seems to be that the runs aren’t coming like they were the last couple of years, and the bullpen, apart from Joe Smith and Roberto Osuna is a tire fire.
I think the only way Estrada isn’t traded before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is if the Jays are playing well and within five games of the division. They are only that close right now because the other teams in the East have been just as inconsistent, with far fewer injuries. If the team shows another ugly month in June or July I think Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins will try and get what they can for Estrada before he becomes an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
Why trade him?
So why would the Blue Jays want to trade their most consistent pitcher over the last two seasons? The guy who put up a 3.13ERA in 2015 and 3.48ERA in 2016 and led the AL in opponent batting average both of those seasons, and averaged less than seven hits against in both of those seasons might get traded? Wel, let me break down why I think it might be the best move to trade him.
Holes to fill
I think the decision to trade or not to trade Estrada will come down a few factors. The first is that with his numbers he could get a nice package in return. It wouldn’t be crazy to think a good pitching prospect and serviceable corner outfielder could come back in a trade for Estrada. Depending on how he is doing, and the team trading for him, it could be more than that.
On top of that, Joe Biagini has shown he can fill a starter’s role and if he was the number four or five pitcher in the rotation it wouldn’t be the worst situation to find yourself in. Upgrading the abyss that is the Jays left-field spot and getting a young arm could be enough to sway the Jays front office into making a deal.
Many more holes that need filling
The bigger factor in deciding to keep Estrada is the coming offseason. The Jays have $91 million committed already next year, and that is for seven players. Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitski ($20 million), Jose Bautista ($17 million), J.A. Happ ($13 million), Kendrys Morales ($11 million), Steve Pearce ($6.25 million) and Justin Smoak ($4.125 million) are the only guys under contract for the 2018 season. Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Josh Donaldson, Devon Travis and Roberto Osuna are the notable arbitration cases and that will add another $25 or $30 million in the most conservative of estimates.
The team has a $168 million payroll this year, but I have to believe that Shapiro and Atkins will try and cut that down to around $150 million meaning the team would have around $30 million to play with in the offseason. Estrada is finishing a two-year $26 million deal and I don’t see why he would make any less money unless he got a longer term.
Estrada is 34 years old now, and signing him to a deal more than two years long just wouldn’t fit into the Shapiro/Atkins MO. They will look to lock-up Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez to deals similar to the one they signed with Corey Kluber in 2015: A five-year $38.5 million contract loaded with incentives ($77 million ceiling). That wouldn’t leave much space for another pitcher making an 8-figure salary.
I also think that replenishing the farm system is a top goal of the front office, especially with the paltry pitching prospects the team has coming down the pipeline.
Maybe, maybe not
Whenever I think of a trade that would make fans angry but might be the right move I think of the move Pat Gillick made trading Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez, both fan-favourites for good reason, for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar. If the Jays could get a top-tier prospect for Estrada it might make people angry now, but they’ll get over it if that prospect turns into an ace or an everyday position player.
Not only that but if they don’t trade Estrada and miss the playoffs they will either pay up to keep his services or lose him for nothing. The front office didn’t come into Toronto with intentions of spending a lot to win now (see Edwin Encarnacion), they are going to keep the team competitive while re-stocking the prospect cupboard (with moves like trading Estrada this year, and possibly Happ next year) while keeping club control of younger players that will be the core of the team (Stroman, Sanchez, Pillar and Travis come to mind).
Of course, the team could go on a run and start looking more like a World Series calibre team, in which case I don’t know if the Jays would pull the trigger. But they are currently down 4-1 to the worst team in the American League, seemingly destined to hover a game under .500 for all of eternity, and if they keep this up it could spell the end of Estrada’s time in T.O.