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Photo Credit: © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

They’re Really Doing This: Estrada Deal Signals 2018 Is A Go

The Blue Jays have done a tidy piece of business in extending Marco Estrada for another year at just $13 million, locking in a rotation that looks like it once again will be a strength. Estrada, J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman, and Aaron Sanchez all have themselves roster spots locked down for 2018. And with Tom Koehler (if he’s tendered a contract), Joe Biagini, perhaps a guy like Brett Anderson or a similar low-cost free agent willing to spend some time in Buffalo if need be, and eventually Ryan Borucki and Tom Pannone entering the conversation, there probably isn’t a whole lot the club has to do on the starting pitching front to get read for 2018.

That’ll play!

Granted, the following year, with Happ and Estrada due to be free agents (along with Steve Pearce, Koehler, Aaron Loup, and some guy named Donaldson), still looks very much up in the air at this point. But that’s not necessarily even a bad thing. As much turning the page on this era of Blue Jays baseball would hurt, and as much as I’d like to see the core guys among that group (Happ, Estrada, Donaldson) stick around, there’s great flexibility in the Blue Jays having the ability to let 2018 dictate what 2019 is going to look like. And while it feels now that in all likelihood that will mean a step backwards at the big league level (especially with the Donaldson question still looming — although temporarily put aside, at least as far as the idea of trading him goes, because you probably don’t pay Marco Estrada $13 million if you’re going to turn around and trade Josh Donaldson), there are certainly things that could happen next season that might make all the rebuild chatter we’ve heard this summer seem awfully quaint:

  • Devon Travis could have a full, healthy year that looks like his first 163 games in the big leagues (split between 2015 and 2016), in which he was worth about five wins.
  • Troy Tulowitzki could look more like the three-win player he was in 2016.
  • Kendrys Morales, unless they find a taker for him in the winter, could look more like the guy he was in 2015 (130 wRC+), and the final four months of 2016 (135 wRC+ after a rough start), than he was this season.
  • Some of the hard-throwing youngsters in Double-A — Conner Greene, Jon Harris, Sean Reid-Foley — could take significant steps forward and start looking like genuine candidates for the 2019 version of the rotation. And perhaps even a T.J. Zeuch, who spent the bulk of this season at Dunedin, or even first-rounder Nate Pearson, could do the same.
  • Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette could continue to look like I-shit-you-not impact bats that are very fast approaching.
  • Teoscar Hernandez could claim a long-term spot in the Blue Jays’ outfield (maybe Kevin Pillar’s *COUGH*). Maybe Anthony Alford, too. And, if he’s able to get onto the field, maybe even Dalton Pompey enters that conversation.
  • Danny Jansen could pick up where he left off, get a full year of development in Buffalo, a cameo in September, and position himself to be the 1B to Russell Martin’s 1A for the final year of the Jays incumbent’s current contract.
  • The bullpen, with Osuna, Tepera, Barnes, Leone, Ramirez, Santos, Dermody, Mayza, Loup, perhaps Biagini, and whatever other pieces emerge or are found, could continue to evolve into a real strength.
  • Richard Ureña could make strides as a hitter and give the Jays a genuine option behind Tulo and Travis, and somebody who might even start to push the former for playing time in 2019.
  • Lourdes Gurriel could start to really get a feel as a hitter at the highest level and start to become the kind of versatile, multi-position bench piece that’s essential in the modern game.

Not all of those things are going to happen, of course. Maybe not any of them, even — they’re all best case scenarios. But if even just a few of them come to fruition, the notion of 2019 as an automatic write-off in which the club starts to position itself toward the Bo and Vlad years becomes quite a bit less certain.

As it stands right now, the club has just $54.2 million committed for 2019. Though by then there will be some relatively costly arbitration raises (plus Justin Smoak’s final option year) to go along with that, that number still will give the club a lot of flexibilty when it comes to adding dollars. And they barely have anything on the books for 2020, with the Martin and Morales deals ending, and Tulo entering his last year (with his salary going down to $14 million) — which is good, because that’s also the final year of arbitration eligibility for Stroman, Sanchez, and Osuna.

Extensions for those three should be workable, if they still make sense by then. Filling in gaps with some exciting free agents the winter after this one isn’t entirely crazy, either. Backload those deals to get past the bottleneck that is the 2019 budget and you’re looking at a wide open payroll, with a sizable chunk of the club’s core due to be pre-arb players.

Of course, looking from this far out, it’s much harder to gauge than all that — ask any fan who remembers dreaming of the future glories of the Romero, Morrow, Drabek, Lawrie, and Bautista-led Jays of the early 2010s *COUGH* — but these are the things that Blue Jays fans ought to be thinking right now. Because 2018 is on.

Or… it’s on as much as it can be with a somewhat similar roster to this year! At least until the trade deadline!

So how do we expect it to be any damn better than this mess of a season? Health, for starters. Donaldson and Sanchez were the club’s two best players in 2016, and one made eight starts, the other spent half the year looking lost.

For two, a raising of the floor. I’m not sold on Richard Ureña just yet, but if he’s needed, or if Gurriel is needed, or maybe even if by the middle of next season Bo Bichette is needed, they ought to be able to give the club more than they got from their backup middle infielders this year. With a new backup catcher coming in, Danny Jansen waiting in the wings, as well as Reese McGuire, the Jays shouldn’t lose nearly as much behind the plate in the games Russell Martin doesn’t play as they have this year. (In just 260 plate appearances combined, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Luke Maile, Miguel Montero, and Mike Ohlman managed to be worth -2 WAR this year — 1) that is not easy to accomplish!, 2) Josh Thole’s entire Blue Jays career: -1.2 WAR). And we probably don’t need to talk about the addition-by-subtraction that will be taking place in right field.

And then there’s the financial picture, which with Estrada officially in the fold, is a little bit clearer (and not exactly hopeless, either):

The Jays now have eight guaranteed contracts on the books for 2018:

  • Russell Martin, $20 million
  • Troy Tulowitzki, $20 million
  • J.A. Happ, $13 million
  • Marco Estrada, $13 million
  • Kendrys Morales, $11 million
  • Steve Pearce, $6.25 million
  • Justin Smoak, $4.125 million
  • Lourdes Gurriel, $1.429 million

Add in a $500K buyout for José Bautista (*sadface*) and that’s $89.304 million.

Now let’s take some guesses at arbitration numbers for guys already into the arbitration process:

  • Josh Donaldson goes from $17 million to, like, $23 million.
  • Marcus Stroman goes from $3.4 million to maybe $6 million.
  • Tom Koehler, if they tender him, would stay around $6 million.
  • Ezequiel Carrera, if they tender him, would go from $1,162,500 probably up to north of $2 million, but likely not as high as $2.5 million. Let’s say $2.2 million.
  • Aaron Loup we’ll say goes from $1.125 million to $2 million.

Next it’s the first time arbitration eligibiles:

  • Aaron Sanchez, had he not missed most of this year, might have got something like the $4 million Carlos Martinez was in line to receive last year, but with the way this season has gone, let’s just say he gets $3.5, which is about what Stroman got last year as a first-timer.
  • Roberto Osuna won’t get the record for first-time arb-eligible relievers, which is the $6.25 million Jonathan Papelbon received in 2010, but I don’t think $5 million is out of the question.
  • Kevin Pillar, Ryan Goins, and Devon Travis would, I think, get between $1 million and $2 million, so let’s say, like, $4 million for the group.

Feel free to quibble with these, but they should at least put us in the right ballpark. And if we add them all up, it’s another $51.7 million added to the payroll, taking the overall total to $141 million for eighteen players.

Because Gurriel won’t be on the big league roster, though, let’s actually say that this roster has just 17 players on it, and so would be filled out by another eight players making, on average (judging by this year’s crop of pre-arb salaries on the Jays), a touch less than $550K. So that brings us to a little bit over $145 million in total.

That’s… not too bad. Their current spending — per Cot’s, as all these figures (apart from my arb guesses) are — is $163.4 million.

This is maybe not great news if you’re Tom Koehler, who the Jays could potentially cut in this scenario (and maybe fill his role with a minor league, or lower-cost free agent — maybe Brett Anderson, or maybe Koehler himself), taking the club below the $140 million.

That number, assuming payroll stays flat (which it might not), likely won’t allow them to go after a really big free agent this winter. But could they adequately fill their needs and make up a whole lot of marginal value pissed away this year through back backups and a healthy right fielder? While also getting more out of core pieces like Donaldson and Sanchez? And thus being quite a bit better in the overall? I sure think so.

Some cheap starting depth? Maybe another reliever or two for cheap? A backup catcher? A versatile piece that could provide cover for Travis and Tulo while playing regularly in the outfield? Crazy as it may sound to fans who are absolutely through with the 2017 version of this team, they really don’t need a whole lot more than that to look like they could win a whole bunch of games. It wouldn’t make them World Series favourites, but it doesn’t take much to be in the playoff conversation these days. And staying competitive, staying in that conversation, keeping revenues up — all of that makes the task of the years to follow that much easier (because they’ll have that much more financial flexibility to work with).

Plus, with potential late-season reinforcements coming in the forms of Vlad and Bo, 2018 could actually be alright! There’s even the ability to move a little bit more money around — find a taker for Pearce, cut Carrera, eat some money to move Morales (if you can find a taker) and free up a roster spot and a bit of cash in the process — and maybe do something bigger. A free agent, or even taking on money in a sizeable trade. With over two years having now elapsed since the prospect-depleting deals of 2015, the system is built up again to the point where, though they wouldn’t decimate it with a blockbuster or consider moving their biggest or best names, they could certainly make a pretty significant trade and have plenty left over. They moved a prospect to get Koehler, after all — the notion isn’t entirely off the table.

Hey, and though it’s a total pipe dream, I can think of a Japanese guy who’ll be playing on an artificially suppressed salary next year but will require big payouts down the road when the Jays books get a whole lot clearer!

All of which is to say: things can be done. And while the fact that Estrada’s deal is only for a single year is maybe telling us something about how the team views 2019 (though it’s also surely about Estrada liking this situation enough to be amenable to a “pillow” deal to help him recoup value and hit the market again next season), there are all kinds of interesting ways that this can go. Good ways! Ways that don’t include the horrific rebuild so many are much too desperate for!

2018 is on! Let’s see where it takes us.

  • Just Jeff

    I think the pitching is a virtual lock to be improved for next year. Even if the same sort of issues were to the occur in the starting rotation, the depth will be a lot better so we shouldn’t get the Mat Latos’ of the world making appearances for the club next season. The bullpen has lots of good arms and optional arms at that. So that’ll be fine too.

    Will the defense be better? Not having Saltalamacchia or Montero catching will certainly help, as will replacing Bautista in RF with somebody like Teoscar. So too will avoid playing the likes of Rob Refsnyder and Chris Coughlin at infield positions.

    The big question is: Will they hit better? That is all about heath. Tulo is a better hitter than Ryan Goins, but he needs to stay on the field for that to matter. Devon Travis is a WAY better hitter than Darwin Barney, but he needs to stay on the field for that to happen. Was the injury Josh Donaldson that derailed his first half a fluke, or a sign of things to come? Finally, can Justin Smoak repeat or come close to repeating his production from this season?

    The offense, I think will determine if this club is battling for the 2nd wildcard, or for the division title next year.

    • Regulator Johnson

      I don’t really see how you can assume that the pitching depth will be better? I also think the pitching will be improved just from having Sanchez not miss the whole season, but I think there’s lots of red flags there.

      • Just Jeff

        Sure, and maybe a lock was too strong, but I think the floor will be a lot higher for next year’s group. Keep in mind that the following guys got starts for the Blue Jays this season:

        Bolsinger – 5 starts
        Latos – 3 starts
        Tepesch – 3 starts
        Valdez – 3 starts
        Lawrence – 2 starts

        That’s 16 starts right there that they should be able to avoid with better depth. And that doesn’t include the 3 starts from Rowley, 1 start from Koehler and 5 from Anderson (so far) as it’s possible that they’re in the rotation again next year.

        I’m assuming that the Jays go out and get a competent 5th starter. Whether that guy just ends up being Anderson (last night notwithstanding), or someone else remains to be seen. That would likely push Biagini to Buffalo where he’ll likely be in a rotation with Rowley, Pannone, Borucki and Santos. Biagini is a significant upgrade over those names I posted above coming up from Buffalo.

        Also, here is who will be in the bullpen mix coming into next year (barring a FO move): Osuna, Tepera, Leone, Barnes, Loup, Dermody, Mayza, Ramirez, plus whoever they go out and get in free agency (I’ve said in another post I think they should go get 1 impact lefty) and plus a long man (Koehler?). Not all of those guys are going to make the team, but almost all of them have options, so in the event of heavy usage, it’s not going to be difficult to shuttle competent arms to and from Buffalo. We will be starting 2018 from a pretty good place in the bullpen.

        • Barry

          I would lean towards the pitching being improved next year. With so much of the offence locked in, there’s less opportunity for improvement on that side of things and I suspect the Jays will be most active on the pitching front in the offseason — depth starters, bullpen.

  • Sammy the Bull

    So Josh Donaldson turns 32 in early-Dec, and is eligible for arbitration for the final time. He can play out that final year at a rate likely in the $20 – 22m range and then hit the open market going into his age 33 season, or he and the Jays can come to an agreement on a longer-term deal to keep him in Toronto.

    So what’s the right deal for both parties? I think the Cespedes contract from last winter – 4 years and $110m ($27.5m AAV) – might be sufficient to get an agreement. Jays buy out his final arb year and first three seasons of free agency, and have Josh locked up through his age 32 – 35 seasons. Who says no to this proposal – the Jays or Josh?

    • The Humungus

      Using Adrian Beltre as the comparison, as his 6yr/$96M deal with the Rangers was signed prior to his age 32 season, and his production at 3b is the only legit comparison for Donaldson in this economic era, and then inflating with the increase in Qualifying Offer as the inflator, I figure 6yr/$140M is fair for Donaldson.

      If he says no to that after this season, then it’s on him. If the Jays offer less, then it’s on them. You have to assume while he might fall off at age 37, that’s the last year of the deal anyway. He’d be worth it until then, you would hope.

  • Teddy Ballgame

    I’m all for this – management issuing rational contracts that act as a bridge to 2020 while doing their best to make sure the intervening years aren’t depressing as fuck.

  • BlueJayWay

    Stoeten says this:

    “Aaron Sanchez, had he not missed most of this year, might have got something like the $4 million Carlos Martinez was in line to receive last year, but with the way this season has gone, let’s just say he gets $3.5, which is about what Stroman got last year as a first-timer.”

    I’m no arbitration expert, so I’ve been wondering how the Sanchez case would go down. He was really good in 2016 but missed virtually all of this year. Stroman was a lot more productive last year than Sanchez was this year, so would Sanch really get about the same amount as Stro in arb?

  • Kristen Sprague

    I happened to listen to PTS last night when Morosi was on. I get that everyone has there own opinion but can Damien Cox just sounded like such an ignorant dick last night. Just shut up because You don’t know baseball.

  • Matty

    A fair deal for the Jays and Estrada. I was thinking along the lines of 11MM on a 1 year but I can’t really complain at a 1/13MM for Estrada. Healthy pitching is hard to come by and only committing to the 1 year makes nothing but sense for the Jays.

    IMHO the Jays won’t be extending Donaldson at some of the numbers that have been floated here and elsewhere. I could see a 4 year deal including his last arb year but anymore term than that with the best 3B prospect in the game in the system coming quick would be detrimental long term. 33 year olds hitting FA should not be expecting anything longer than 4 yrs in todays non drug enhanced game. 4/105 is the max JD should expect

  • rfl22

    I still think that trading Donaldson should be on the table and that 2018 should be a transition year so the Jays can compete with a younger, better team in 2019 and beyond. As you said in the piece the Jays as currently built aren’t a World Series contender but merely “competitive.” In my opinion it is a waste of Donaldson’s current value to keep him just to be competitive when he only realistically has a couple more years left of being capable of being the best player on a legit contender. By the time the Jays are ready to make a title run Donaldson won’t be able to be relied upon to carry the team but will be taking up a large chunk of salary. Plus the Jays miss out on acquiring valuable, perhaps vital, pieces necessary for a quick turnaround. I want to believe that the Jays are just 1 or 2 players plus some luck away from greatness but I don’t think that’s likely, even in a best case scenario.