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What will the Blue Jays do with Marco Estrada?

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The trade of Adam Lind provided more questions than answers, and the biggest is what becomes of the team's newest hurler.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Like many Blue Jays fans, when I first heard the team had trade Adam Lind for Marco Estrada I was incensed.

Lind's ability to be a difference maker against right-handed pitching is well documented, and Estrada is a guy with an 89 mph fastball who has struggled with the home run ball. It didn't seem to make sense that the Jays would get so little for a guy who can be a middle-of-the-order presence for you on most days.

However, upon further review the deal seems more and more reasonable, even if it is miles away from making perfect sense.

The first thing to understand is that Lind's modest trade value. If we begin with the premise that the Jays didn't want to pick up Lind's option in the first place, leverage was already out the window. Additionally, for all of his righty mashing Lind has only put up 3.4 WAR since his bounce-back 2013.

At times he looks like a star, but his limitations in the field and against southpaws really brings his overall value down. The fact he has consistently struggled with back problems is also more than a little scary for prospective buyers.

Jeff Sullivan described Lind as "a roll of the dice" at this point in his career and considering he hit only six home runs last season and his production was driven by a .369 BABIP, it's an understandable assessment. Questions about Lind's power and health going forward are enough to make him a far less desirable commodity than people who look at his .321/.381/.479 line last season might assume.

As a result of all of these factors and more the return on Lind was Estrada, who is a pretty interesting pitcher, despite his serious case of gopheritis. Although last year was a disaster for the Mexican hurler, he owns a career K/9 of 8.45 and BB/9 of only 2.43, numbers not to be sneezed at. In fact, over the last three years the 31-year-old has the 21st best K/BB ratio in baseball.

He wields an impressive changeup that looks like this:

And gets batters to whiff like this:

Ultimately, Estrada is a guy who can get whiffs and avoid free passes, but he seemingly can't avoid the longball, not an ideal profile for the AL East. So, what do the Blue Jays do with him? As it happens there are a lot of options.

1. Use him as a reliever

After the trade Alex Anthopoulos made it clear to reporters that this is Plan A if the season were to start today.

Right now, having exercised with Happ, we have our five guys based on how things ended last year with R.A., Buehrle, Stroman, Drew and Happ. We have five starters there. If the season were to start today, Marco would be in the bullpen.

For a variety of reasons it's lucky for the Jays that the season doesn't start today. It's not that Estrada would be a bad addition to the bullpen. Last season he posted a 2.89 ERA and 2.81 FIP in 43.2 innings as a reliever. In September he pitched 16.1 scoreless innings in relief holding hitters to a .113/.113/.132 line.

Estrada as a reliever works, but I'm not sure it passes the smell test. He made $3.3 million dollars last season and in arbitration and he can expect a modest raise to somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million. Considering the way this team is pinching pennies, that numbers seems a bit steep for a middle reliever. This is what Anthopoulos had to say about McGowan's declined option for $4 million dollars:

When we did that contract, the option salary for $4 million, I know there are relievers that make $4 million, but that was based on him as a starter. Right now, that number was just too high for us."

While Estrada is likely a better bullpen piece than McGowan, the phrase "I know there are relievers that make $4 million" doesn't make it sound like that's a price AA is keen on paying for a middle relief arm. That brings us to option two.

2. Use him as a cheaper J.A. Happ

For the first time in quite some time it appears that the Blue Jays have a surplus of MLB calibre starting pitchers, and they might try to deal from that depth. This makes sense in that Happ and Estrada have been similar pitchers over the last three years.

Pitcher

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

ERA

FIP

xFIP

WAR

J.A Happ

397.1

8.06

3.46

1.16

4.51

4.18

4.14

4.3

Marco Estrada

417.0

8.37

2.20

1.42

3.97

4.06

3.78

4.5

The concept is logical, but it's also risky because the three-year window display here is very kind to Estrada, who excelled in 2012. Comparing the numbers from last season, using only Estrada's work as a starter, paints an ugly picture.

Pitcher

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

ERA

FIP

xFIP

J.A Happ

158.0

7.58

2.91

1.25

4.22

4.27

3.95

Marco Estrada

107.0

7.74

2.94

2.27

4.96

5.73

4.25

You know what you're going to get with Happ, but Estrada has a wider range of outcomes. He's very unlikely to have this kind of trouble with home runs again, but he'll probably have some trouble. As a result, it's hard to know whether he'd be useful as fifth starter. For almost $7 million in salary relief and the modest return they'd get from dealing Happ the Jays might be willing to find out.

3. Trade him

Given that Estrada's only real problem has been giving up home runs he might be appealing as a starter to a team in a big ballpark. It would be very interesting to see what a guy with excellent K/BB numbers and fly ball tendencies would do in a place like San Francisco or Pittsburgh. Given his relatively low price tag he could be a steal for a club in a home run suppressing park as a 4th or 5th starter. He's even flashed 3rd starter potential in the past during his great 2012 season (3.2 WAR).

It's possible that the Blue Jays like where they're at in terms of starters and don't fancy Estrada as a reliever at his price. Perhaps the long term goal was to get Lind's contracts off the books and take on no salary whatsoever. It's crazy to think that Estrada might have more trade value on the open market than Lind, but he's probably a fit with more teams. He's almost certainly a movable asset, even if he's a depressed one coming off his poor showing last year.

4. Non-tender him

This would only be if option number three fails. I think it's unlikely that the team couldn't find a home for the 31-year-old right-hander if they were shopping him, but perhaps it's possible. After all, he was considered a non-tender candidate in Milwaukee. That being said, this is a pretty far-fetched scenario.

In theory, there are more options available to the Blue Jays, but these four are really the most likely. The team could try to ship out Mark Buehrle and go with some combination of Estrada, Happ, and Aaron Sanchez on the back end, but trying to move Buehrle's contract would be quite the ordeal.

If I were a betting man I'd say that Happ gets moved and Estrada begins the season as the fifth starter. He would provide an intriguing, albeit risky, option, at least until Sanchez is deemed ready to start. At that point Estrada could go back to the bullpen and provide some useful middle relief.

With his impressive strengths and one devastating Achilles heel, Marco Estrada is a pretty perplexing pitcher. For now though, the most compelling thing about him is the options he gives the Blue Jays going forward.