The number on the back of Charlie Montoyo’s new jersey was as talked about as the crest on the front when he was introduced as the Blue Jays’ new manager.
That’s because the No. 25 he was sporting recently belonged to right-hander Marco Estrada.
“Much as I’m liking Montoyo, I find it ominous that no one is talking about how he’s wearing Marco Estrada’s number 25. Is Marco gone?” was one of many reactions on social media.
While Montoyo’s choice of number doesn’t rule out a return by the 35-year-old Estrada — who became a free agent hours before the manager was introduced on Monday — it does signal the start of an off-season of change in the organization, with at least a couple of key decisions to be made by week’s end.
Estrada and reliever Tyler Clippard are free agents, but the Jays have an exclusive five-day period until Saturday to negotiate with them if they choose.
There’s also a Friday deadline leaguewide for extending qualifying offers — set at $17.9 million this year (all dollars U.S.) — to pending free agents. That’s a pipe dream for two aging veterans coming off rocky seasons — Estrada went 7-14 with a 5.64 ERA in 28 starts, while the 33-year-old Clippard owned a 3.46 ERA in 72 appearances out of the ’pen — but offers accepted or declined by players elsewhere will help define the market.
“I know it’s a business. We’ll see. Hopefully I’ll get to come back, but if not I’m just happy that I got to spend some time here,” Estrada said after his final start at the Rogers Centre in September.
General manager Ross Atkins also faced decisions on the contract options of infielders Justin Smoak and Yangervis Solarte.
According to multiple reports, the Jays picked up Smoak’s $8-million tab on Tuesday, rather than paying the $250,000 buyout. The 31-year-old first baseman failed to match his career-best numbers from 2017, but still led the Jays in games played (147), home runs (25), RBIs (77), walks (83), on-base percentage (.350) and OPS (.808) this past season. The Jays are also paying for his glovework, which recently earned a career-first nod as a Gold Glove finalist.
Smoak’s understudy, Rowdy Tellez, made an impression as a September call-up, hitting .314 with four home runs and 14 RBIs, but the Jays weren’t about to let Smoak go for nothing.
“Justin has been an incredible influence on this organization,” Atkins told the Star’s Rosie DiManno in late September. “He’s been remarkable in the middle of our lineup for two years. He’s arguably the best first baseman in the American League. It would be very difficult to imagine this team without him.”
Solarte, on the other hand, isn’t likely to be a Blue Jay by the weekend. The 31-year-old, acquired for two low-level prospects in a January trade with the San Diego Padres, flashed some early power but hit a career-low .226 with 17 home runs and 54 RBIs. Eighty of his 122 starts came at third base with Josh Donaldson injured. It’s a crowded position for the Jays with No. 1 prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. expected to make the jump to the big leagues early in 2019, while Brandon Drury, Aledmys Diaz and Russell Martin are all capable of playing at the hot corner.
Laura Armstrong is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @lauraarmy