While the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans exited the postseason picture in 2015, they may have also saw the last of starting pitcher Marco Estrada. As two days ago marked the day that Estrada made his way to Canada in a trade for Adam Lind, the righty starting pitcher enters the free agent market, with many teams like the Boston Red Sox rumored to be interested in his services. However, their level of desire should be held in check until a few factors are assessed.
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Christopher Smith of MassLive.com speculated on Estrada and Boston’s chances of landing the free agent. Smith said, “[Estrada] should be on the Red Sox’ radar considering his success this year with Toronto and against AL East opponents. If Boston were to sign Estrada or someone with similar ability, they still would need to pursue a top of the rotation starter. Estrada isn’t a No. 1 or 2 starter. Maybe the Sox trade starter Wade Miley for a reliever, then sign Estrada (or someone similar) to replace Miley. It’s an option. The Red Sox need to get creative to fix their bullpen issues.”
There are a few issues with that assessment.
For one, Toronto may have seen the budding skill of an ace pitcher evolve out of the bullpen. Even though he wasn’t in the Blue Jays’ plans for being a starter in April, when given a chance, Estrada excelled and surpassed expectations. He went 13-8 with a 3.13 ERA in 28 starts. The native of Mexico struck out 131 opposing batters to walking just 55 in 181 innings. In this year’s postseason, Estrada went 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA and struck out 15 hitters in 19.1 innings, making him the most successful pitcher out of the Blue Jays’ four starters. Highly-touted youngster Marcus Stroman had a 4.19 ERA, former Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey had a 7.11 ERA, and the MLB-drool-covered David Price sported a 5.75 ERA. Compared to those illustrious names, Estrada looks like the unsung hero.
Much of that success comes from two factors: catcher Dioner Navarro and Estrada’s improved changeup. While the offspeed pitch bailed Estrada out of some jams, helping him to dominate over opposing lineups, his locations for the pitches were masterfully called by Navarro. Ever since working with Navarro, Estrada seemed in complete sync with his abilities and his catcher. The Toronto media circus repeatedly mentioned how they couldn’t remember the last time that Estrada ever shook off Navarro’s signs. The two men seem like a packaged deal of victories.
With Navarro also being a free agent, other teams may be in need of that combination; however, with a plethora of catchers on the Red Sox, including young studs Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez, Navarro’s presence would be superfluous.
If Estrada were to be split from his personal catcher, as the rest of the Blue Jays pitching staff used All-Star Russell Martin as their catcher, what guarantee is there that Estrada would find the same magic with another person behind the plate?
Estrada could be a future star for another team, or even back in Toronto where he found that stardom in the first place. Even if Price were to make his time in Canada a short one, most of the team is still in tact, meaning that the friendships made would continue if he decided to re-sign with the Blue Jays. Much of that would be determined by whether the team kept Navarro or allowed him to be a starting catcher somewhere else, something that Navarro has consistently said that he wanted, even during this season. If the Blue Jays, or another team, sign Navarro, maybe that could be the catalyst for Estrada to sign with that same club.
With all of those moving parts, and the extreme issues that Boston’s own pitching staff has, the Estrada idea may simply be a nice Plan B or C, nothing more. To align much of the offseason moves around a solid pitcher who could fall, again, off of the map of starting pitching status seems a big risk, even if his talent seems a good investment. A possibility, yet one still in the distance of any clear certainty. And, the Red Sox have no time for uncertainties, after the dismal season they just had in 2015.