Let’s be honest: this is not a question we expected to be asking at the start of the year, when Marco Estrada was settling into the Blue Jays pen as a swingman and long reliever. But he impressed early, provided a solid rotation presence much of the way, and had a notable impact in the post-season. That makes it worthwhile to wonder: is a qualifying offer in play?
We already know something about Estrada’s market valuation, because the Jays acquired him early last fall from the Brewers. The swap sent first baseman Adam Lind to Milwaukee. He, too, had a nice season after the deal, but at the time it wasn’t the most impactful deal. If anything, that trade suggested that Lind was the more valuable player, since he was the more expensive side of the 1-to-1 trade. Lind cost $7.5MM last year, plus a $500K buyout on a $8MM option that wasn’t certain to be exercised (but now likely will be). Estrada, meanwhile, ultimately agreed to a $3.9MM salary to avoid arbitration.
Nothing about that trade suggested that Estrada would be valued at anything close to the qualifying offer rate. Wwhen he came to Toronto, he was coming off of a four-year run in which he compiled 509 2/3 innings of 3.99 ERA pitching, with 8.4 K/9 against 2.3 BB/9. But that K rate had been in decline, and 2013 was his worst season in the earned run department.How have things changed since? MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk took a closer look in September, but in a nutshell, it’s hard to argue with Estrada’s 2015 results: he logged a 3.13 ERA over 181 frames. But his strikeouts plummeted to 6.5 per nine, while his walks ranged above his career average to 2.7 BB/9. And ERA estimators were not pleased with the new mix of peripherals: Estrada earned a 4.40 FIP, 4.93 xFIP, and 4.64 SIERA.
It’s worth noting, also, that Estrada enjoyed a .216 batting average on balls in play against him. He’s always controlled contact, as Tony Blengino of Fangraphs has explained, but that’s still a notably low mark. He has a notably excellent change, and doesn’t rely on velocity, so you might like his chances going forward. But Estrada has already turned 32 years of age, so that’s not on his side, either.
Then again, the post-season provided Estrada an opportunity to put his abilities on display before the entire league, and he didn’t disappoint. In 19 1/3 innings over three starts, he allowed just five earned runs while striking out 15 and issuing only one walk.
All said, there’s reason for some skepticism, but also reason to believe that some team will make Estrade a three-year offer at a healthy AAV. And given that possibility, he might be inclined to test the market for what will likely be his best chance at a multi-year deal. Meanwhile, a pitching-needy Toronto club might feel okay about taking the risk that Estrada will accept a $15.8MM, one-year qualifying offer. That wouldn’t exactly be crippling for a large-budget contender, even if he’s only a solid back-of-the-rotation piece.
It’ll be fascinating to see what happens with Estrada. For now, let’s see what MLBTR’s readers think: should the Jays make him a qualifying offer?