Elliott: Estrada, Liriano, Smith available ... for now

Blue Jays Mariners Baseball

Toronto Blue Jays RHP Marco Estrada in the dugout after the seventh inning of a game at Safeco Field last year, is being checked out by opposing scouts. Photo: Ted S. Warren, AP.

By Bob Elliott

Canadian Baseball Network

Tim Conroy scouts for the Kansas City Royals.

He pitched for the Oakland A’s and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Yet, there he was this weekend following around his old team? No, not the Royals, the A’s or the Cardinals. 

His old team, the one he followed for the final 40 games of the 2015 season is the Toronto Blue Jays. And Conroy was at Progressive Field in Cleveland to see Marco Estrada work Friday night for the Jays against the Cleveland Indians. 

Conroy arrived at the Rogers Centre Aug. 28, 2015, when the Detroit Tigers were in town, saw the Jays final 35 games or the regular season and the five game American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers. So he had a 40-game book on the Jays before Game 1 of the AL Championship Series against his Royals.

When we tweeted the fact Conroy was in on Estrada before Friday’s game Jays fans quickly jumped on it. Sean Lamb asked if he was the one who picked up on David Price’s breathing patterns before certain pitches? and Richard Penn asked if he was the guy who provided the strong overview of Jose Bautista’s throwing tendency?

Included in the book were nuggets on Price, Bautista and others.

The Blue Jays have made it known that lefty starter Francisco Liriano, reliever Joe Smith and Estrada -- all eligible for free agency -- are players that Toronto management is ready to move, according to two scouts from National League clubs.

“All those names you read -- Josh Donaldson, Marcus Stroman, Roberto Osuna -- we’ve been told that those players are not available,” said a National League scout in the know. “The only people they have on the table are those who will be free agents at the end of the year.

There are less than 10 days remaining until the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

“We have nine days to go so on one hand it could be early, things may change,” said another NL scout, “Our team has been told that they are only wanting to move free agents.”

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The Royals for one have interest in Estrada and Conroy has a big enough book on the right-hander as he saw his final seven starts in September of 2015: facing the Indians, Baltimore Orioles and the Yankees at the Rogers Centre and at Yankee Stadium, at Atlanta, at Baltimore and Tampa Bay. Five times Estrada worked 6 2/3 innings or more and four times allowed two or fewer runs.  

Estrada was 2-0 with a 2.96 ERA, walking 12 and fanning 26 in 45 2/3 innings. He beat the Rangers 5-1 in an elimination Game 3 in Arlington, Tex. allowing one run in 6 1/3 innings, lost Game 1 against the Royals (giving up three runs in 5 1/3) and beating the Royals in Game 5 allowing one run in 7 1/3 innings).


If that, or the 2016 post-season when Estrada dominated the Rangers (one run in 8 1/3) in a Game 1 win, seems like a long time ago it is because it was. 
 
Only Conroy knows how the Estrada of the past, the Estrada of earlier this season when Conroy saw him pitch against the Yankees compares to the Estrada of Friday night. Estrada allowed five runs on six hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings.

In his nine starts since June 1, Estrada is winless with a 9.52 ERA walking 29 and fanning 40 in 40 2/3 innings.

Estrada, who earns $14.5 Million US this year, was 0-2 in two starts at Kauffman Stadium during the regular season, allowing five earned runs in 13 2/3 innings (3.29) and giving up one home run.    

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Liriano, who earns $13.67 Million, starts Monday night for the Jays at the Rogers Centre against the Oakland A’s. Liriano was acquired by the Jays a year ago from the Pittsburgh Pirates at the deadline.

He has made 16 starts and six times, including his last two starts, he has failed to go five innings either due to injury or ineffectiveness. He is 5-5 with a 6.15 ERA walking 40 and striking out 65 in 71 1/3 innings.

Last year the Jays sent Drew Hutchison to the Pirates for catcher Reese McGuire, Harold Ramirez and Liriano. Hutchison is 5-5 with a 3.70 ERA in 19 game -- 17 starts -- at triple-A Indianapolis. McGuire has caught 16 games at double-A New Hampshire batting .216 with two homers, eight RBIs and .694 OPS, while Ramirez is hitting .284 with four homers and 33 RBIs in 84 games for the Fisher Cats with a .660 OPS.    

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Smith came off the disabled list on this trip. After pitching in 16 games with the Chicago Cubs last year, Smith was 3-0 with a 3.41 before going down with shoulder inflammation. He had walked eight and struck out 47 in 31 2/3 innings.

He’s available as well. 

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The point is if the Jays maintain this stance -- of only moving those about to be free-agents -- fans can only expect a secondary prospect in return from a contender.     

The Jays said at the end of last season that their goal was to get younger and more athletic. They then brought in Kendry Morales, Steve Pearce and JP Howell; all 34 years of age.

They brought back Jose Bautista, 36, and brought back Jason Grilli, 40. 

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And Conroy and other scouts will be at the Rogers Centre on Monday to see if the Jays alter their stance before the deadline as their chance of making post season dips to 9.7%, according to Fangraphs.com.