Blue Jays: Make the effort to settle with Marcus Stroman before arbitration

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 27: Marcus Stroman #6 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches against the Chicago White Sox during the ninth inning on July 27, 2018 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JULY 27: Marcus Stroman #6 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches against the Chicago White Sox during the ninth inning on July 27, 2018 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) /

Marcus Stroman is scheduled to be arbitration eligible again this winter, and hopefully this time the two sides can work out a deal before the deadline.

The Blue Jays shouldn’t have any issue with their payroll for 2019, especially as they expect to lose high salaried players from the books like Josh Donaldson, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, and others.

The front office isn’t expected to be chasing any big contract free agents either, mostly because they’re on the cusp of a full on rebuild, and making sure there is playing time and experience for their developing players is a much bigger priority. With that in mind, the front office won’t be looking to squeeze every last penny out of the payroll that’s been given to them, which certainly takes some of the pressure off of Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro as they build their roster.

What it should also do is give them the freedom to be a little more generous with the salaries offered, and hopefully avoid any potential conflict at the arbitration table.

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One of the players scheduled to go through that process is Marcus Stroman, who is elgible for arbitration for the third time in his young career. He could also theoretically go through it all over again one last time before the 2020 season, and so far it hasn’t been an easy process for the franchise, or the player and his agent.

Determining a player’s value is never an easy task, and it’s even more complicated when the team retains control of their asset regardless of whether there’s an agreement on value. That’s exactly how things have played out for Stroman as he’s gone through the process the last couple of years, with him winning the first time, and the Blue Jays being chosen by the arbitrator the second time around. On the first try the team offered Stroman 3.1 million while he was seeking 3.4 (he won), and last year the team offered 6.5 million while the former first round asked for 6.9 million and lost.

It wasn’t a pretty scene last winter, as Stroman admittedly “let his emotions get the best of him”, and sounded off on Twitter about his displeasure with the results, and the process.

Stroman later apologized and things were quickly smoothed over, but it was a good reminder about how contentious those contract discussions can be, and the potential for negative or hurt feelings. Everyone has to be professional about it, but the reality is, it’s a process where the team is basically arguing with their own player about how valuable they are. That’s never an easy thing to do when you’re trying to drive down the contract value without hurting any feelings, or worse, the relationship with the player.

This time around will be even more interesting as Stroman is coming off of arguably the worst season of his career. He was very, very good in 2017, but he struggled with shoulder and blister issues this past season, and never found the rhythm that made him the staff ace the year before. He finished the year with an ERA of 5.54 ERA in just 19 starts, posting a WHIP of 1.476, and a bWAR score of 0.2. Considering he was worth 5.7 bWAR the season before, it was a pretty big disappointment.

That makes determining his next contract a little more difficult. With all due respect to Stroman, he didn’t really earn a raise last season. That said, he arguably earned a lot more than the 6.5 million he got last year with his performance in 2017, so it’s not as simple as “what have you done for me lately?” in arbitration. The first several years of his career will be factored into the equation, and he’ll earn a raise, that much we know for sure.

According to a tweet from Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith, it’s estimated that his raise will go to just 7.2 million next season. While that’s nothing to sneeze at, it’s a far cry from what the Blue Jays were likely expecting to have to spend, and there’s a very good chance Stroman turns that into an excellent bargain for his employer. However, that’s just an estimate, and there’s a very good chance that Stroman asks for more than that, even if last year wasn’t his best.

As long as the ask isn’t too aggressive from the 27 year old and his agent, my hope is the two sides can come to an agreement before they hit the arbitration process again. Given the way Stroman performed last year, it’s doubtful that a multi-year deal would be discussed, both because the pitcher would want to re-establish his true value before agreeing to a long term pact, and the club likely wants to make sure he’s the guy they saw from 2014-2017 rather than the struggles he endured last year.

That said, finding some common ground and avoiding the arbitration process will allow Stroman to focus on what’s most important, his performance on the mound. If he pitches like he’s capable, it’s also possible the Blue Jays could be interested in offering him an extension to stick around beyond 2020, and avoiding another hearing would certainly be helpful to that end as well.

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In the past it has made sense to try and keep his salary down, both for the sake of longer term control of spending, and in order to be able to add other pieces to a potential contending roster. Without the latter as a factor last year, and with just two years left of contract control on the talented right-hander, there’s no reason why they can’t get things done this time around and avoid any potential drama. Hopefully that’s exactly how it plays out.