The Blue Jays secured a significant piece of their offseason puzzle Friday when they re-signed righty starter Marco Estrada to a two-year contract worth $26 million.
The new contract was finalized on the same day Estrada faced a 5 p.m. ET deadline to accept the $15.8 million qualifying offer for a 2016 contract.
With free-agent lefty David Price likely to draw a great deal of interest, it was vital for the Blue Jays to hang on to Estrada, who is coming off his finest season and turned into a key piece for the team that won the American League East.
"We obviously identified Marco as a priority to bring back after the season he had," interim general manager Tony LaCava said. "He was a big part of our success and he was a free agent and we did try to speak to him before we had to make the qualifying offer. We tried to negotiate up to that point, weren't able to get there. Made the qualifying offer and then continued to talk and, obviously, we were able to make a deal with him today."
Estrada appeared in 34 games in his first season with the Blue Jays, including 28 starts. Overall, he was 13-8 with a 3.13 ERA over 181 innings while holding opponents to a league-low .203 batting average.
"Well we certainly think that he's going to be a quality Major League starter," said LaCava. "We think he can maintain that level of performance, maybe not to the level that he did this year. Certainly someone we can count on going forward that can help us defend the AL East title. We think he can definitely continue with the success that he had this year."
Before coming to Toronto, Estrada spent his entire career in the National League, breaking in with the Nationals for 15 appearances from 2008-09, and then pitching for the Brewers for the next five seasons.
A swingman for much of his career, Estrada has appeared to settle in as a starter.
While many pitchers struggle at first when going from the NL to the AL, Estrada thrived in Toronto, pitching in the offensive-minded East.
Estrada didn't make Toronto's starting rotation in Spring Training, but seized the opportunity once he got the chance.
The righty set personal bests in wins, innings, WHIP (1.044) and hits allowed per nine innings (6.7) during the 2015 season. Twice last season, Estrada carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning.
He also went 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in three postseason starts, including a gem in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Royals, in which he allowed just one run on three hits in 7 2/3 innings.
"I've got to admit, I think when we got Marco last year, we certainly felt [good about it], we'd asked about him in the past. We definitely had interest in him. But to say that we thought he would start the ALCS for us, I think that would have been something none of us would have expected," said LaCava. "He just continued to get stronger and stronger throughout the season and he earned his right to free agency through his time in the Major Leagues and he's earned his contract and we're really happy for him."
Toronto is expected to add at least one more starter to the staff. The club also will need to address a lack of organizational depth.
"Again, rotation is going to be the priority," LaCava said. "That being said, we're always open for business in other ways. We'll continue to monitor the other position players and relievers and see if there's any other opportunities for us, trade market as well. We're going to continue to look in all ways to improve the club."
The Blue Jays started the 2015 season with a payroll around $125 million. That number rose to $135 million following midseason trades for Price, Troy Tulowitzki, Mark Lowe and Ben Revere. Toronto has not publicly announced its budget for 2016, but if it's similar to '15, the club may look to deal Revere.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.