TORONTO — Right-hander Marco Estrada called his decision to return to the Toronto Blue Jays “a step in the right direction.”
Not surprisingly, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins felt the same way.
Estrada signed a one-year, $13 million deal Wednesday to remain with Toronto in 2018. The 10-year veteran and 2016 All-Star said it wasn’t a tough call.
“I guess I could have tested the market and tried to get more than one year, but right now I’m happy here and I want to come back,” Estrada said. “I think we’re going to have a really good team to go for it and I want to be a part of it. I didn’t want to miss out on that ride.”
Estrada is 9-8 with a 4.84 ERA in 31 starts this season, his third with the Blue Jays.
“From his standpoint, he’s thinking about, ‘This is a place I want to be, it’s a city I love, it’s a team I think is going to win,'” Atkins said. “For us, we were able to provide those things for him. It’s win-win negotiating.”
After reaching the ALCS in each of Estrada’s first two seasons, the Blue Jays have slumped to last in the AL East this season. Estrada is one of four veteran starters now under contract for next season, a group that also includes left-hander J.A. Happ and right-handers Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman.
“With those starting four guys, we definitely have a really good chance of going deep into the playoffs,” Estrada said.
Despite this year’s disappointment, Estrada said Toronto’s front office made it clear they intend to compete again in 2018.
“It was one of my questions to the GMs,” Estrada said. “I needed to make sure these guys wanted to win next season and they want to win. That’s all I needed to hear.”
Estrada went winless in 12 starts from June 1 to August 5, but has gone 5-1 with a 4.10 ERA in eight starts since. While declining to offer specifics, Estrada said “personal issues” were at the root of his midseason struggles.
“It was not about baseball,” Estrada said. “These things happen. It was unfortunate. Once I had a clear head, I think everybody has seen the results.”
Estrada said the Blue Jays first approached him about a new contract in July, when he was still mired in his slump. Talks were shelved until Estrada’s agent paid a late-season visit to Toronto, and the Blue Jays front office asked to renew discussions.
“I was ready to listen,” Estrada said. “I knew what I wanted and I knew I wanted to come back.”
A desire to bounce back from his tough season also influenced his thinking.
“I didn’t want to end like that,” Estrada said. “I’ve worked really hard for this team and I’ve battled through injuries and pitched probably at times where I shouldn’t have.”
Acquired from Milwaukee in exchange for first baseman Adam Lind in November, 2014, Estrada is a 10-year veteran whose career began with Washington in 2008. An All-Star in 2016, he is 54-51 with a 4.02 ERA in 248 career games, including 159 starts.
He’s made 94 appearances and 88 starts for Toronto, going 31-25 with a 3.81 ERA. He signed a two-year, $26 million deal with the Blue Jays following the 2015 season.
“He’s been one of the better pitchers in the American League,” Atkins said. “Obviously, pitching in the AL East, that’s hard to do, pitching in smaller ballparks.”
While he doesn’t have an overpowering fastball, Estrada is known for his effective changeup. He has struck out a career-high 170 batters this season, beating the mark of 165 he set in 2016.
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