Marco Estrada says Blue Jays were always his first choice

Marco Estrada may have gotten more on the open market, but knew Toronto was his number one destination, and couldn’t pass up their two-year offer.

Toronto wanted him back and Marco Estrada was happy to return. For the right-hander, it was a win-win situation.

The Jays agreed, signing him to a US$26-million, two-year deal that made sense for both parties.

For the 32-year-old Estrada, who made $3.9 million last season, it’s a gigantic pay hike that should translate into lifetime security for his family. For the Jays, needing to bolster their rotation for the likely loss of free agents David Price and Mark Buehrle, it’s two more years of service from a dependable, quality arm.

Estrada is also low maintenance and a comfortable fit in the Toronto clubhouse.

"He exemplifies everything we’re looking for in a Blue Jay player," interim GM Tony LaCava told a Rogers Centre news conference Tuesday. "He earned this contract and we’re happy to have this day for him."

The new contract was announced last Friday, but Estrada and LaCava met the media Tuesday to discuss the deal.

After being acquired from Milwaukee in a November 2014 trade for Adam Lind, Estrada started this season in the bullpen after rolling an ankle in spring training but soon pitched his way out of it.

Befuddling batters with a devastating change-up, Estrada went 13-8 with a career-best 3.13 earned-run average and a career-high 28 starts.

Only Jake Arrieta (.185) of the Chicago Cubs and Zack Greinke (.187) and Clayton Kershaw (.194) of the Los Angeles Dodgers held batters to a lower average this season than Estrada (.203). And Estrada led the majors in that category after the all-star break, restricting opposition hitters to a .183 batting average.

Kershaw is due to make $34.6 million next season while Greinke will get $26 million. Arrieta made $3.63 million as an arbitration-eligible player in 2015, and isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2017 season.

Estrada had several options after the Jays made him a $15.8-million qualifying offer. He could have opted for the one-year pot of gold, tested free agency or made another deal to stay in Toronto.

He chose the last option, saying it was "smooth sailing" getting the deal done.

"I would have taken probably less for more years," he acknowledged. "But it’s just the way things worked out. Two years is plenty … I feel like it’s an extremely fair offer."

"Could I have got more years on the open market? Maybe. But I wanted to come back here."

Estrada said one big reason was that most of his teammates are also coming back. "And I feel it’s a pretty strong team to begin with."

He and his family, who make their off-season home in Arizona and were originally less than happy about having to shift their spring training base to Florida, had also grown to love Toronto.

"They loved it out here," he said. "They had a really good time, felt safe and comfortable. That means the world to me. Knowing that they liked it as much as I did here, I knew it was going to be an easy decision to stay here."

Estrada will join Marcus Stroman and R.A. Dickey in the 2016 rotation. Looking for outside starting help is Job 1 but the Jays can also move Aaron Sanchez or Roberto Osuna from the bullpen. Drew Hutchinson is another option, albeit an enigmatic one.

"Without being specific to any one guy, we’re engaged with a number of free agents and we’re talking to a lot of teams as well," LaCava said.

While not divulging the team’s possible payroll, LaCava said they have enough.

"We believe we have the resources to win a championship."

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