After failing to settle on a contract for the past two offseason, the Blue Jays had to go to arbitration with Marcus Stroman. The two sides quickly reached an agreement this winter, leaving me to wonder what we can glean from the process this time around.
Before I even start, let me just outright state that this entire article is purely my speculation. I do not work for the Blue Jays in any direct way, nor am I employed by Marcus Stroman. I have no insider information on this, I’m just simply looking at what’s happened over the past couple of years in relation to what’s taken place more recently. Cool? Cool.
Now that we’re officially one month away from when pitchers and catchers are set to report to Spring Training, we’re starting to get a better idea of what the Blue Jays roster is going to look like. With a pending rebuild there were all kinds of rumours about trades and releases, and some have come to fruition with the likes of Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, Aledmys Diaz, Yangervis Solarte, and more. One rumour that never turned into reality was the idea that the Blue Jays were going to trade Marcus Stroman, at least it hasn’t yet.
The ‘Stro Show’ remains in Toronto and will be part of the leftover group on the roster that also includes Kendrys Morales, Aaron Sanchez, Justin Smoak, Kevin Pillar, and only a handful of others. The team has gotten very young and also very inexpensive this winter, and it doesn’t look like any significant free agent signings are imminent at this stage of the offseason either.
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Last week Stroman was among the group that avoided arbitration, and it’s the first time that he won’t take the Blue Jays all the way to the arbitrator’s table to resolve things. He ended up settling for a raise up to 7.4 million dollars for 2019, and will have one turn left in arbitration before becoming eligible for free agency at the end of the 2020 season. He made 6.5 million in 2018, so it was a modest raise for the 27 year old.
There are a number of reasons why he didn’t get his contract to eight figures, which I think we all expected would be the case by this point in his career. That said, he had a difficult 2018 campaign that saw him make just 19 starts while dealing with shoulder and blister issues. The results when he was on the field weren’t great either, as he pitched to a 5.54 ERA, and a 1.476 WHIP, and had a record of 4-9 in 102.1 innings pitched. After being one of the top starters in the American League a year prior, it wasn’t how Stroman or the Blue Jays had envisioned things going. Naturally, all of this factored into the minimal raise. Our own Richard Birfer recently made a case that it wasn’t as bad as it looked though, which is worth checking out.
As I’ve said above, I think there’s more to it, and I’m wondering if Stroman isn’t doing his best to make a positive impression on Blue Jays management right now. That sounds silly for a club that doesn’t have many established MLB players, but the former Duke University product has repeatedly expressed his love for the city of Toronto, for Canada, and for being in a Blue Jays uniform, even through a rebuild. Depending on what rumours you choose to believe, it’s possible the front office doesn’t feel the same about their top starting pitcher.
There have been rumours that the Blue Jays don’t want his influence on the next generation of this team, which seems pretty absurd to me. However, there’s definitely been enough smoke around rumours connected to him to believe there could be validity to the desire to trade him, at least earlier in the offseason. It sounds like things have calmed down now, perhaps because Ross Atkins didn’t get the kind of offers he was looking for, but it’s still interesting that he would potentially look to trade the right-hander at a time when his value is at a perceived low.
It’s also interesting that Stroman would make things so easy for the front office right now, especially because he knows that ownership is looking at a reduced payroll already, and could realistically afford to pay him more than he settled for. As mentioned, in the past he’s taken the team all the way through the process, and he even reacted poorly when things didn’t go his way last winter. He tweeted his displeasure with the arbitration results, but quickly backtracked later and expressed his love for the team and excitement for the upcoming season.
This time around, there was no proclamations of his value, recent mentions of wanting an extension, or any comments about his contract status on social media, which I believe to be a good thing. He’s always going to be a vocal presence on the field and on social media, but this time he didn’t comment on the situation, let alone cause any drama.
Stroman is smart enough to understand that his performance last year wouldn’t earn him much of a raise, but I’m surprised that he and his agent didn’t look for more because of past performance. However, if he’s looking to repair any damage there might be between him and the current Blue Jays’ front office, having a quiet settlement this time around doesn’t hurt at all. It also makes me believe that he really does want to stick around in Toronto and be a part of the next generation of this team. There are a ton of talented prospects on the horizon and a lot of good reasons to believe Toronto could be a competitive team in the future, and Stroman also has lucrative ties to Toronto and across Canada with his branding opportunities. There are good reasons for him to want to stay.
Like I said at the top, I don’t know any of this for sure, but I’m willing to bet that Stroman wants to change whatever negative narratives there are around him right now, and put up the best season of his career. That’s obviously in his best interest whether his future is in Toronto or elsewhere, but something tells me he’s going to have his chip on his shoulder this year, and it might be respectfully directed at Ross Atkins and the rest of the front office.