Marcus Stroman is the sort of pitcher who will forever engender the trust of his managers and teammates because there has never been any question about whether he is invested in the moment. This is probably part of the reason why Team USA manager Jim Leyland picked Stroman to pitch the final of the World Baseball Classic. There might be days when Stroman doesn’t have the best stuff or the best command, but the man competes, his hat pulled low, seemingly to frame the hitters he attacks.
Stroman strangled the Puerto Rican team for six hitless innings in that game, and after Team USA's win, Stroman said: “I love pitching in these moments. I love the atmosphere. I feel like the bigger the game, the more I’m able to get up, the more effective I am. I truly try to pride myself on being a big-game pitcher.”
This intangible is part of the Stroman evaluation collected by other teams, part of the scouting report, and as rival executives sort through possible options in the trade market, some of them have paused to mull over his name. There is no indication that Stroman’s club, the Toronto Blue Jays, will dangle him this summer, but there is consensus among folks with other teams on this point: Toronto could extract a high return for him if it decides to drop him into conversations as a significant wild card in trade talks.
The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros are among the teams seeking someone exactly like Stroman: a starting pitcher under contractual control beyond 2017. Stroman, 26, won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2019 season. The Los Angeles Dodgers, stacked with talent, could also be interested.
For the Jays, there might be some logic in at least considering a trade of Stroman now. After Toronto’s 7-6 win against the Yankees on Wednesday, the Jays are 39-45, 9.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East and five games behind the Royals in the race for the second wild card. The perception of some high-ranking executives with other teams is that Toronto will be prepared to sell if its competitive position becomes untenable. The Jays certainly have assets to market: Josh Donaldson, their third baseman who can reach free agency after 2018; J.A. Happ, an experienced lefty who is under contract through next season; right-hander Marco Estrada; and outfielder Jose Bautista.
If Toronto takes this step and commits to a period of retooling or rebuilding in order to augment a farm system that was diminished in the effort to make the playoffs in 2015, that could mean Stroman will have four-plus or five-plus years of service time accumulated when the Jays are highly competitive again.
Some evaluators who like Stroman also believe he already is what he’s going to be as a pitcher: a gritty competitor who is never going to overpower hitters. This season, Stroman has a 3.42 ERA, allowing 107 hits and striking out 87 in 105⅓ innings.
“You’d feel good giving him the ball in Game 1 of a playoff series,” one AL club staffer said. “You’d feel good no matter where you lined him up in your rotation.”
The relationship between Stroman and the Jays hasn’t been seamless, either. When he and the team failed to reach a contract agreement before spring training, Stroman went to arbitration over the difference of $300,000 and won; he’s earning $3.4 million this year. After the decision, he posted a tweet complimenting the Jays for being “extremely professional throughout the entire process.”
If the Jays decide to restructure their team, they could treat Stroman and Aaron Sanchez as the starting pitchers they want to build around. But in a division in which the Red Sox and Yankees are loaded with talented young players, Toronto desperately needs a wave of position-player talent to follow Bautista, et al, and a swap of Stroman could fetch major league-ready players right now.
Sonny Gray is available; Jose Quintana is available, in what has been a season of inconsistency for him. Baseball executives are waiting, watching and wondering what will happen with the Pittsburgh Pirates' Gerrit Cole, and now Marcus Stroman.