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Marco Estrada’s quiet market could lead to a late bargain

Despite the fact that free agency has been open for a while now, we haven’t heard much chatter about Marco Estrada’s future, which could lead to a lead bargain for a team signing the veteran pitcher.

One of the biggest question marks surround the Toronto Blue Jays for 2019 and beyond is who will fill out their starting rotation.

They had a pretty veteran group in 2019, but things didn’t go anywhere near as planned for the starting five. J.A. Happ was very solid for the Blue Jays but was traded to New York in July. Jaime Garcia‘s free agent contract was a disaster, and both Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez struggled to stay healthy.

The one constant in the group was the presence of Marco Estrada, who ended up making 28 starts last season despite battling some injury issues throughout the year. It was far from his finest season, as he went 7-14 with a 5.64 ERA and a 1.427 WHIP, but we have also witnessed a much better version of the veteran when he’s been fully healthy.

At one time Estrada seemed like a prime candidate to be traded before his contract expired at the end of the 2018 season, but unfortunately his performance didn’t warrant a lot of interest from contenders. If he had pitched like the 3.13 ERA arm from 2015, or the 3.48 All-Star campaign in 2016, then he would have had suitors lined up around the block. Unfortunately, that now feels like a long time ago.

As a result of the difficult season for Estrada, there’s a good chance he’s going to have to wait out the free agent market this winter in order to find another starting gig. It’s also possible that he could have a tough time finding one at all, despite the fact that starting pitching is almost universally needed around the league. That said, baseball has been trending younger over the last couple of seasons, and teams may look at his 5.64 ERA from a year ago and think they could get better for cheaper from a young arm, while also letting them develop.

However, those of us who have watched Estrada from 2015-2018 know that he is a much better pitcher than we saw last year. He’s probably nowhere near the guy he was in 2015-16 anymore, but I do think he can still be a serviceable MLB starter, especially if his wonky back cooperates. On that note, there’s a good chance that he is going to be available for a very cheap price, and one that the Blue Jays may want to consider late in the offseason.

A lot could depend on what they do with guys like Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, both of whom have been rumoured targets on the trade market, especially the former. The rest of the starting cast is pretty up in the air in the moment, and could include young arms like Ryan Borucki, Thomas Pannone, Sean Reid-Foley, Trent Thornton, or a few others. As important as it is to provide opportunity for young pitchers in a rebuild, the staff would definitely benefit from having some veteran presence, especially if Stroman and/or Sanchez are dealt.

In that scenario I could see the Blue Jays looking to buy low on a bounce back candidate, and why not consider someone they’ve had a first hand look at over the last couple of years. There were rumours about interest in guys like Kendall Graveman, and unfortunately for the 35 year old Estrada, he now fits a similar status in the free agent pitching ranks. Last season he made 13 million on a one year deal, but chances are he’s going to have to settle for half of that or less after his difficult 2018 campaign.

Next: The case to keep Stroman in the fold

I’m not necessarily saying that re-signing Estrada is a strategy that I would recommend, but I could see how things could play out in order for that to happen. Depending on how this shakes out for Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays’ starting pitching depth over the next month or so, there’s a good chance Estrada will still be available late in the offseason, and likely at a pretty steep bargain. In that scenario, he may be worth keeping in mind.

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