Knowing that they have at least three seasons left with Marcus Stroman shouldn’t be enough for the Blue Jays, and they should try to extend him sooner than later.
In a 2017 season that brought injuries and underperformance to the Blue Jays’ starting rotation, Marcus Stroman managed to have a banner season. The Duke university product finished 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA, good for fourth in the American League. He also surpassed the 200 inning mark for the second consecutive year, a badly needed area of strength he provided, and posted a 5.9 bWAR.
It was a major step forward for the talented right-hander, one that always felt like it was more than feasible, but hadn’t yet been fully realized. He was 11-6 with a 3.65 ERA in 20 starts for the Blue Jays in his rookie 2014 season. He also shined after unexpectedly coming back from major knee surgery late in the 2015 season, posting a 1.67 ERA across four starts, which were all wins. The knee injury and the rough start to his 2016 season had some folks questioning Stroman’s ceiling, but he’s been at his best since.
The native of Medford, NY took his 4.89 first half ERA in 2016, and brought it down to 3.68 in the second half. As his legs got stronger and he got back into the rhythm that made him a first round pick, the results came with it. Last year was his announcement that he should be back in the conversation as the ace of this staff, and one of the best of the American League.
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All of this and more leads me into why I believe the Blue Jays should consider offering Stroman an extension now. The former first round pick has three years of control remaining on his contract with the Blue Jays, and will earn 6.5 million after losing in arbitration this offseason. He also lost in arbitration last season as well, which brings me to my first point.
It’ll help avoid going to arbitration … again
As I just said above, Stroman’s contract negotiations have been taken all the way to the arbitrator’s table, and it’s likely that could happen at least once more under his current contract status. While it’s not the end of the world if that happens, it’s also not the nicest process, and the pitcher was clearly unhappy with the results of February’s decision.
Whether that’s been mended and put behind both parties is irrelevant, as it would behoove the Blue Jays to avoid the same scenario playing out again. It would also provide some cost certainty for the front office to work with, rather than waiting on an arbitrator’s decision. While the figures have been close the last two times, there’s potential for a wider margin in the future, and we’ve seen how even a million can make a difference in some potential free agent scenarios, at least in theory anyway.
An extension is not going to be cheap, regardless of how many years it’s going to be. However, there’s an argument to be made for trying to get things done now, especially if you believe that Stroman has yet to hit his ceiling, and I’d count myself among those that feel that way.
Allowing him to further cement himself as one of the best in the game only drives his price up, both for his last two arbitration decisions, and any possible years beyond that if they can go that far. I doubt we’re going to be looking at a Chris Archer level discount here, but Stroman might trade a little bit of potential earnings for some long term security. He’s expressed interest in the idea of an extension, so he’s not dead set on becoming a free agent as soon as he can at least.
The rotation needs him
With that in mind, the presence of a healthy and productive Stroman alongside Aaron Sanchez is crucial to any immediate success for the team. There are others like Joe Biagini, Ryan Borucki, Nate Pearson, and more than could fill the rotation spots sooner than later, but there could also be a great need in 2019 and beyond.
The Blue Jays system has a lot of talent, but there’s definitely more on the the hitter’s side of things than in terms of arms. A lot can happen between now and the end of the 2020 season, when Stroman is currently scheduled to be a free agent, but having a potential staff ace like him under control beyond then would be a great place to build from.
He’s been healthy/ A quick healer
It seems like almost every pitcher ends up with arm troubles at some point in their MLB career these days, but so far Stroman has had pretty good luck in that area. Granted, he missed almost all of the 2015 season due to injury, but that was because of a freak accident while fielding a bunt during a drill at practice.
Stroman did battle a bit of shoulder inflammation this spring, but it looks like he’s moved past that issue and will be fine in time to start the regular season, likely in it’s first week. The combination of a healthy arm and his ability to get back on the field in record time after an injury has to be appealing for his long term prospects as well.
Remember, he wasn’t expected to make it back in that 2015 season, but instead provided four huge wins for the team down the stretch and also became a trusted starter in the playoffs. He’s a notably hard worker both in and out of season, and that will bold well for keeping him healthy throughout his career. You can’t avoid the freak injuries, but he’s a great athlete who takes great care of himself.
Should be easily affordable
While the Blue Jays do have a lot of expensive contracts on their payroll for 2018, almost all of them will be gone by the time Stroman is scheduled to be a free agent. Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, Kendrys Morales, and of course Josh Donaldson, will all see their current contracts expire by then, so things will look a lot different in a few years time.
There’s also this whole youth movement that everyone is talking about in Blue Jays’ circles, including future stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette, Anthony Alford, and maybe several more. The future looks incredibly bright in Toronto, and if they are getting some high level production out guys on rookie contracts, that just gives Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins more room to play with.
Add in the fact that the Blue Jays have one of the biggest fan bases to draw from in baseball, and it shouldn’t be a question of whether or not they can afford him.
Message to the fans
I feel like I could go on here for awhile, and I haven’t even touched much statistical data. What I feel is even more important might be the message that it would send to the Blue Jays’ faithful.
After they’ve watched stars like Edwin Encarnacion, David Price and others leave for big money contracts elsewhere (yes, I know what happened in EE’s case), it would be a great reward for the fan base to know that ownership is willing to invest in their own stars. They’ll have that opportunity with Donaldson over the next year if they choose as well, but there’s an argument against it with him being 32, but at 26 that argument doesn’t stand up for Stroman.
I’m not suggesting they should hand him a decade long contract by any means, but locking up one of their most talented players for the next five years shouldn’t be out of the question.
If I’m going to make a prediction, I have a hard time seeing this happening in the immediate future. I would expect that the Blue Jays would let the Donaldson contract play out before signing any of foundational cornerstones. However, I would expect that once that situation has been resolved, whether it’s a year from now or sooner, than Stroman would be at or near the top of the list for who’s next.