Coming in 23rd, with 55 points in the voting: starting pitcher Marco Estrada.
[UPDATE – Reports indicate that Estrada and the Blue Jays have agreed in principle to two-year deal, the possibility of which is mentioned in the column below. While Estrada is therefore not a free agent, this will explain what he has to offer the Blue Jays for the next two seasons]
Free agent Marco Estrada struggled mightily early on in his big league career. The now-32-year-old right-hander was drafted in the sixth round of the 2005 amateur draft by the Washington Nationals. He made his big-league debut in 2008, appearing in 11 games for the Nationals and pitching 12.2 innings to a 7.82 ERA.
After another unsuccessful try in the big leagues with Washington in which he appeared in four games, getting the start in one, he was placed on waivers and claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers in February 2010. His first season with the Brewers didn’t go well either. However, in the five seasons since 2010, Estrada’s ERA lowered significantly. This was while he was still in the position of being a spot-starter/long-reliever.
In 2011, he started seven games (while appearing in 43) and finished the season with a 4.08 ERA; in 2012, Estrada spent almost the entire season as a starter after injuries to Chris Narveson and Randy Wolf. He made 29 appearances and 23 starts while posting a 3.64 ERA. He was a starter again in 2013, posting a 3.87 ERA. He hit a small bump in the road in 2014 and was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in November.
Estrada had a career year for Toronto in 2015, and was actually their most consistent pitcher. He went 13-8 with a 3.13 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP, being used almost exclusively as a starter.
Estrada offers a low-90’s fastball, a high-70’s curveball, a changeup that averages about the same speed as his curve, and a seldom-used cutter that hits around 90 mph. He throws his fastball high and induces a lot of pop-ups.
The progression from being a partial starter to a regularly-used starter has helped Estrada tremendously, and even though his strikeout numbers have been declining, that’s to be expected when you move to a starting role full-time. For Estrada, it’s about contact management.
Currently, the Blue Jays have extended a one-year qualifying offer to Estrada of $15.8 million. He has by the end of the day to accept or reject that offer, or as is more likely, work out a different deal with the Blue Jays. Sources are saying that the Blue Jays and Estrada are getting close to a two-year, $26 million deal. It’s like a win-win in situations like these.
Estrada has made approximately $10 million across his entire career, so the one-year, $15.8 million deal would be a huge pay raise, but like many players, job security can be more important. A two-year deal still gives Estrada big bump in his yearly salary and the Blue Jays get a break in how much they have to pay him.
There is also a good chance, according to August Fagerstrom at Fangraphs, that Estrada’s good year in 2014 was not a fluke but rather a sign of things to come. That’s what the Blue Jays would be banking on – two more years with Estrada at a reduced rate.
The deal gives Estrada security for the next two seasons, even if his career takes a downhill turn in 2016, and more money per year than he has ever made. It appears like a win-win for both parties.
With some teams sticking with the stance that 2015 was just a fluke and a lucky year for the right-hander, Estrada likely would not be able to command much more on the open market than the deal Toronto is offering.
Estrada’s mind on testing the free agent waters is likely at this point made up. He will likely just re-sign for two years with Toronto. If the reported deal that is in place falls through, he’ll hit the free agent market, attached to a draft pick because he rejected the Blue Jays qualifying offer. From there, plenty of teams will be interested, though unlikely to pay much more than the Blue Jays are offering.