Since the Blue Jays made their qualifying offer to free agent Marco Estrada, there have been a few interesting tidbits to come out regarding Estrada himself and how the 2016 Toronto Blue Jays’ starting rotation might shape up.
First of all, what’s a qualifying offer? For any free agent who hadn’t been traded mid-season (this eliminates David Price from the QO fun and games), his team can make a qualifying offer of a one-year contract at the average salary of the top 125 players which, for 2016, is $15.8 million. Until Colby Rasmus did just a few days ago, no one had ever accepted a qualifying offer. Declining the qualifying offer means that if a free agent signs with another team, his old team will get a compensatory draft pick. If a team has a protected draft pick (i.e., in the top 10 picks), they lose either a compensation-round or second-round pick. For all other teams, they’ll lose their first-round pick if they sign a player who has rejected a qualifying offer.
Many people have issues with this system (including superagent Scott Boras) mainly because, for fringe free agents, this can drive their price way down and cause them to sign late, even after the following year’s draft (which nullifies the draft pick compensation).
In 2015, the Blue Jays only have one player who received a qualifying offer: pitcher Marco Estrada. From the reporting of Joel Sherman, it looks like Estrada is close to signing a two-year deal with the Blue Jays for about $26 million. Estrada did himself a world of good with his performance last year and in the playoffs and the Blue Jays are hedging their bets that a) Estrada continues to be a solid pitcher, outperforming his DIPS (Defence Independent Pitching Statistics), eating up innings in the rotation and contributing about two to three WAR and b) Estrada will be the most likely to provide a solid return on the investment of getting a free agent pitcher on the open market.
As August Fagerstrom at Fangraphs has pointed out, Estrada gets much more guaranteed money than the one-year qualifying offer and he also gets himself some security for a couple of years. Fagerstrom also notes that the Blue Jays keep some stability in the rotation that is going to be depleted thanks to Buehrle’s contract ending (and possible retirement) and David Price likely pricing himself out of the Jays’ market. Fagerstrom believes that Estrada can maintain his good results (with some expected regression thanks to an unsustainably low .216 BABIP in 2015), mainly because of the weak contact that he induces.
If we all agree that Estrada is a good, responsible signing for the Blue Jays in 2016, where does that leave the rest of the Blue Jays starting rotation? If/when Estrada returns, the rotation consists of Stroman, Dickey, and Estrada for sure with big question marks surrounding Drew Hutchison, Roberto Osuna, Aaron Sanchez and even possibly Liam Hendriks.
Those question marks include whether Hutchison can rebound, whether Osuna and/or Sanchez can adapt to the rotation and whether the Blue Jays are willing to try Hendriks as a starter again, considering the fact that he was outstanding in relief in 2016, throwing harder than he ever had in his career. Can he hold up throwing that hard in the rotation?
Osuna and Sanchez could be studs in the rotation but there’s definitely a chance that they fail there or the club feels that they don’t want to risk an attempt to move them. Hendriks is less of a “risk” to move since most people felt that his contributions were such a pleasant surprise in 2015 that anything he can continue to give the club in 2016 is a bonus.
The Blue Jays may be more likely to move both Osuna and Sanchez to the rotation if some of the club’s pitchers on the bullpen fringes step up. Chad Jenkins and Steve Delabar are, surprisingly, the only two “bubble” relievers who are out of options. Bo Schultz, Ben Rowen, Ryan Tepera and Pat Venditte are all on the 40-man roster and call all be optioned. Expect to see some additions the 40-man roster, however, because there are only 14 pitchers on the 40-man roster, out of only 32 players. Estrada would give the club 15 pitchers out of 33 players.
The offseason is far from over and it’s going to be interesting to see how the Blue Jays fill out the roster and add much needed pitching, since getting Estrada back is still not maintaining the status quo.
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