Pros and cons of Blue Jays making Estrada a qualifying offer

Marco Estrada (Winslow Townson/Getty)

The case for making Marco Estrada a qualifying offer looked awfully similar to the case against making one: He just had the best year of his career by far.

Estrada’s 2015 season was as unexpected as it was productive, leaving the Toronto Blue Jays with a potentially tough decision. Ultimately the club made Estrada the $15.8 million qualifying offer before Friday’s 5 pm ET deadline, and the right-hander now has a week to consider his next move. He can either accept, negotiate a multiyear deal with the Blue Jays or decline and hit the open market linked to draft pick compensation.

Though the Blue Jays ultimately made Estrada the qualifying offer, there were arguments on both sides…

GLOSSARY & CALENDAR: Qualifying Offers explained

Reasons to qualify Estrada

If Estrada declines the offer and signs elsewhere, the Blue Jays would obtain a compensatory pick in next year’s draft. Those top draft choices are vital to a franchise’s chances of developing impact talent.

Even if Estrada accepts, you get a pitcher who thrived in Toronto. His 3.13 ERA ranked fifth in the American League this year and he led the league with just 6.7 hits allowed per nine innings. He pitched even better in the postseason, with a 2.33 ERA in three starts. Along the way he logged 200.1 total innings.

Look beyond the results and there’s a reason for Estrada’s success. His arsenal may be pedestrian at first glance, but his swing-and-miss change-up allows him to throw his 89 mph fastball up in the zone to induce strikeouts and all kinds of weak contact. At 32, he’s younger than many free agent arms.

The Blue Jays’ rotation needs multiple pieces, and signing free agent pitchers hasn’t always been easy given that Rogers Centre favours hitters. Mid-tier free agent starters regularly sign three or four-year deals for $10-16 million per season, so a one-year deal seems modest in comparison, even if few expected Estrada to merit a qualifying offer this time last year.

The Blue Jays’ decision to make Estrada the offer suggests they expect him to be in demand this winter.

AT THE LETTERS: Should the Blue Jays qualify Estrada?

Reasons not to qualify Estrada

Just because Estrada had one great season doesn’t mean he’s going to have another. He led the American League with a .216 batting average on balls in play this year and his typically high home run rate fell off considerably. If those figures return to his career norms in 2016 you might see Estrada’s ERA climb closer to his 4.40 FIP. Losing a little fastball velocity could have a similar effect. At that point you’re not looking at a $16-million pitcher anymore.

Then there’s the question of innings. Every starting pitcher to obtain a qualifying offer has a 30-start season on his resume. Estrada has never made 30 starts or pitched 200 innings in the regular season, so he’ll be in unchartered territory if asked to start for a full season.

None of this is a secret to other teams, who could be hesitant to surrender a top pick and a hefty contract for a player who just had what may end up being a career year.

It’s not as though the Blue Jays are playing with infinite resources, either. They need two starters, a backup catcher and bullpen help yet their existing salary commitments exceed $100 million when you account for arbitration-eligible players. If Estrada accepts, the Blue Jays can’t trade him without permission, limiting their flexibility.

Mark Shapiro declined to say Monday whether the Blue Jays are considering a qualifying offer for Estrada, but for what it’s worth, the Blue Jays’ new team president was disciplined enough to sell high on elite pitchers such as Bartolo Colon and Cliff Lee in Cleveland.

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