I understand that trading within a division is tricky business. A team never wants to directly impact a divisional race with far-reaching effects they may not even understand, deals that could echo year after year. However, there are only 30 teams, and one-sixth of them happen to be in your locale. That means that, on occasion, you may be forced to trade within it.
I’m not going to argue here that Marco Estrada of the Blue Jays is anything more than he is: he is not a desired piece, and he is not an ace. He is no Sonny Gray, and thus he will not demand the same price nor will he create the same immediate reward. What I will say about Estrada, though, is that he is a decent backup option in the case where a Gray deal falls apart.
Imagine the Yankees, for some reason, can’t get that Gray deal done. That world is a pretty bad one, because they will have also missed out on Jose Quintana. They need starting pitching going into the second half if they have a shot at surviving, and there’s a small chance that whomever they acquire could be pitching deep into a divisional or championship series.
In this universe, I don’t mind Estrada pitching a game four for my team. Here’s what we know about him: he’s 34 years-old, was born in Sonora, Mexico, and was drafted by the Nationals in the sixth round of the 2005 draft. He was selected off of waivers by Milwaukee in 2010, and then traded to Toronto for Adam Lind in 2014.
The real story of Estrada is that it is a Tale of Two Careers, the pre-Toronto and post-Toronto periods. For the Nationals and Brewers, Estrada had a collective 93 ERA+, while in Toronto, he has a 112 ERA+ and has averaged 155 innings per season. He never significantly altered his strikeout or walk rate between the two eras, and he still lets up a ton of home runs, but he learned to induce weak contact to lower his allowed base runners. It’s something sabermetricians would have laughed off ten years ago, but we now know that weak contact induction is a real, learned skill.
The reason for this is two-fold. Firstly, he learned a consistent release point so that all of his pitches—fastball, cutter, change, and curve—all appear the same out of the hand. This is why when you look at before Toronto...
...and after Toronto...
...the change is clear. He learned how to deceive hitters by appearing like he’s throwing the same pitch every time. Secondly, he consistently amped-up the movement, both vertically...
And therein lies the trick. If you move from inconsistent release points to a single one with good command and moving pitches, the underwhelming velocity is made up for.
The issue is that his declining velocity, of course, continues to decline:
This is what makes Estrada a risk, combined with home runs. I don’t know if I trust him pitching in Yankee Stadium, home run prone and with stuff that will likely only decline in ability.
His contract probably isn’t prohibitive; it’s the second year of a two-year, $26 million deal, $14.5 million offloaded on to this current season. I’d imagine Toronto waives a decent chunk of that if they wanted to move him.
What is most prohibitive is what I have already mentioned; the Jays are unlikely to hand the Yankees Estrada without something decent in return, and the Yankees probably aren’t giving anything decent in return for someone like Estrada. They could throw them a bone if they feel Gray, and even Lance Lynn, are no longer options and they are desperate for something. There are also the aforementioned stuff-related concerns, and the fact that has manifested in a 82 ERA+ in the current year.
I don’t think Estrada will be in pinstripes, but there’s some alternative reality where he is, and it wouldn’t be the end of the world. With a better (comparatively) defensive team his numbers would likely regress, but he would be nothing more than a back-end starter. That doesn’t mean he’d be totally without value, because the Yankees need at least one more person to consistently get the ball every fifth day.