Blue Jays: Stroman is the new face of the franchise
If Jose Bautista departs as expected, the Blue Jays’ torch officially passes to the next generation, with Marcus Stroman as the face of the franchise.
Sunday was a bittersweet day, as are most season finales when your team is missing the playoffs. However, this one was a little more significant, as it was likely the last time we’ll see Jose Bautista in a Blue Jays’ uniform. The front office is not expected to bring back the franchise icon of a decade next season, after a very difficult year for the long time slugger.
Throughout the course of the last few years, the Blue Jays have had several marketable stars including 2015 MVP Josh Donaldson, 2016 AL ERA leader Aaron Sanchez, Edwin Encarnacion, and more, but throughout it all Bautista has remained the “face of the franchise” if you ask me. As the team’s longest tenured player, and a two time MLB home run champ, he’s the name that most easily associated with the Blue Jays for a very long time.
If he does indeed play in a new uniform next season, it will be a big change for the Blue Jays in the lineup, and in the clubhouse. They are well equipped for the transition with veterans like Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, and more, but there will be a difference around the Blue Jays for sure.
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Despite the plethora of veteran names on the roster, I believe this is where the Blue Jays become Marcus Stroman‘s team, at least in terms of being the franchise face.
Stroman had arguably the best individual performance on either side of the diamond this season, but especially on the pitching staff. He finished the season fourth in the American League in ERA, and topped the 200 inning mark for the second season in a row. In a campaign where Aaron Sanchez missed all but eight starts, J.A. Happ spent time on the DL, and Marco Estrada was inconsistent, Stroman’s performance was crucial for the rotation and their overtaxed bullpen.
The “Stro-Show” also took an important leadership role with the team this year, consistently bringing a spark to the ballpark with every trip to the mound. He’s very outspoken, but he is consistently supportive and positive when asked about his teammates, and leads by example on the field and with his intensity in everyday life.
He’s the most active member of the team on social media, and whether we like it or not, that’s important in today’s world. Fans consistently interact with the budding ace, and he’s even been kind enough to retweet and ‘like’ multiple articles I’ve written about him this season. He’s accessible, intensely positive, and consistently motivated to improve. What else could you want from a team leader?
Another important factor is how he has responded to injury in his young career, and how durable he’s been overall. As many of us will recall, he tore up his knee while fielding a bunt in spring training in 2015, and missed nearly the entire season. At the time of the injury he vowed he would return to the lineup before the end of the year, and he did just that. He provided a tremendous boost to the rotation down the stretch and into the playoffs, proving what a big game pitcher he is.
He did the same for the team is 2016, despite struggling through much of the first half, and then was tremendously impressive in the World Baseball Classic during this past offseason. Being in Toronto, there are times that players go under the radar a bit in the media in the United States, but Stroman’s performance and personality draw attention naturally. He provided another great example on Saturday when he praised Aaron Judge‘s performance this season on Twitter, and talked about looking forward to competing against him for years.
His relationship with Bautista has also been endearing and significant to the team, especially as the the slugger’s career with the Jays seemingly coming to an end. The 36 year old has been held in high regard by the team, but especially by Stroman throughout their time playing together, and it’s definitely been a positive influence in a time that could have had potential for more public hard feelings.
Donaldson will become the de facto face of the offence next season, but until his contract is extended, it feels a bit awkward to hand the torch to the him, even if he’ll also take on more of a leadership role in Bautista’s absence.
Next: Donaldson wants to remain in Toronto beyond next season
Maybe the whole concept isn’t that important, but the bottom line is Stroman becomes an even more important figure for the franchise as Bautista departs. Fortunately for the team, he’s a natural leader, both with his performance and his charismatic personality. It may have been a disappointing season overall for the team, but for Stroman it was a confirmation that he’s a top of the rotation arm, and an exciting piece of the franchise both in the present, and hopefully for many years to come.