It’s quite possible that no player in Major League Baseball made himself more money than Marco Estrada did this season. Having thrown more than 150 innings in a season once entering 2015, Estrada was acquired by the Toronto Blue Jays last November in an unheralded deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Blue Jays paid Estrada $3.9 million for his services this season, bringing his career earnings to just under $11 million.
Twenty-eight starts later, Estrada stands to more than triple his 2015 salary after pitching to a 3.13 ERA and a 13-8 win-loss record. Today, the Blue Jays extended a qualifying offer to Estrada, who will be 33 years old halfway through next year. Estrada is now left with an interesting choice — take the offer of $15.8 million, which would more than double his career earnings to date, or test the free-agent market. Of course, Estrada could return to the Blue Jays on a multi-year deal.
What to make of a qualifying offer to a pitcher with one solid year of performance under his belt, fast approaching the age of 35?
This move clearly shows that the Blue Jays do not want to lose Estrada. By tying a compensatory draft pick to his name in free agency, the Blue Jays are attempting to limit the level of interest in Estrada on the open market. With Marcus Stroman and R.A. Dickey the only guarantees in the 2016 rotation, the Blue Jays need to bring Estrada back.
How many teams would realistically be willing to surrender a first round pick to sign a soft-tossing right-hander who has made more than 25 starts in a single season only one time? That’s quite difficult to predict, but the number of teams lining up to sign Estrada will be reduced by the attached penalty. This, of course, is the reason owners instituted the qualifying offer and the penalty — it gives them a modicum of control over their player’s freedom to negotiate in free agency. This is nothing new. From the reserve clause to collusion, the billionaires have always controlled the millionaires in the world of baseball.
Even with the qualifying offer, someone will most likely give Estrada a three-year deal worth $36-42 million. He showed enough this season in his 28 starts for most teams to consider his performance more than a fluke. At 32 years old, Estrada has been around the block and finally put things together when given a chance to pitch over a full season. He was not terrible with the Brewers, either. Estrada’s value is also driven up by the fact that he has thrown only 722.0 big league innings and does not rely heavily on velocity to get outs. Even into his age-35 season, a team signing Estrada should not expect a terrible decline. Or, perhaps, maybe a terrible decline should be expected, as Estrada posted a 4.40 FIP this season. Hard to tell.
The market for Marco Estrada was going to be interesting even before he received the qualifying offer. That will just add another layer to his negotiating process. In the end, the Blue Jays will likely work to bring Estrada back on a deal similar to Francisco Liriano‘s three-year, $39 million deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Quite a raise for a player who had been passed over and overlooked for most of his career.