The Jays are faced with a decision about arcus Stroman. Letting him play out his year-and-a-half of team control and then walk is not a good outcome. The Jays should either trade him, or extend him. Trading him might well be the better decision.
My colleague Tyson Shushkewich recently wrote an article outlining the advantages of signing Marcus Stroman to an extension. Good points, and a good article. But, just for fun (and because I *do* enjoy playing Devil’s Advocate!) let’s talk about the other alternative – trading Stro’ at or before the 2019 deadline.
Start with the obvious caveat: it is all about the price. If Stro’ were prepared to sign a reasonably team-friendly contract, the Jays’ decision could be very different than if he expects Corbin-esque terms. My own view (with no evidence whatever) is that the Jays have dangled some numbers but Team Stroman wants much more.
That said, let’s talk.
Toronto Blue Jays
Stroman is not an ace. He has a career 3.81 ERA (3.70 SIERA). Those are strong #3 starter numbers. Now, a good #3 who eats innings is valuable, but not a game-changer. So say that Stro’ has two years left at arbitration salaries aggregating $20m. Could the Jays tack on Eovaldi’s 4/$68m and get him to sign for 6/$88m-ish? I strongly suspect that Marcus is looking for more than that.
… but he is pitching like one (for now). Even after Thursday night, Stro’s 2.20 ERA is 6th best in baseball, and his WAR of 1.4 is 4th best among starting pitchers. But there are major red flags. His SIERA of 4.18 is 40th among 82 qualified starters (can you say #3 starter?). And his 2019 home run rate is … zero (career 13%). If he keeps this up, he will be a perfect example of a “sell high” candidate in July.
He has (had?) the sizzle. A famous 2015 fangraphs article once said that Stroman had Roy Halladay‘s sinker, Johnny Cueto‘s four-seamer, Jose Fernandez‘s curve, and Gerrit Cole‘s (or possibly Chris Archer‘s) slider. Holy cow Batman. With comps like these, it is entirely possible that a buyer could see a few months in early 2019 as the long-awaited Stroman breakout – and pay accordingly. But 2015 was a while back …
And none of us is getting any younger. Marcus will turn 30 in May of 2021, just after his extension would kick in (the Jays already have him under team control for 2019 and 2020 through arbitration). Ageing curves are not kind to pitchers over 30, on average. And Stro’ is a special beast. Quick trivia question: in the last 30 years, how many times has a MLB pitcher 5’8″ or less pitched 100 innings in a year? Answer – it has happened four times: Stroman in 2014, Marcus in 2016, Stro-Show in 2017, and the StroGnome in 2018. While we do not know how his stature will affect his ageing curve, there is a very real risk that his decline (when it does happen) will be more precipitous.
The market could be hot. Playoff berths seem more up for grabs than anyone anticipated, with the BoSox swoon, the Yankee injuries, and the decimation of the Cleveland pitching staff. So there may be many more teams who consider themselves contenders at the 2019 deadline, and who accordingly are buyers. Further, with injuries to pitchers like Severino, Clevinger, Eovaldi, Ohtani, Fulmer, Knebel, Kopech, McCullers Jr, etc, it looks like demand for good starting pitching might well exceed supply at the deadline. And that means …
The price might be right. When the Yanks acquired Paxton this offseason, they gave up a prospect ranked #27 by Baseball America (Justus Sheffield) plus an intriguing wild card (Erik Swanson) plus a lottery ticket. Right now, Stroman is pitching at a 7.0 WAR pace. Play the suppose game with me. Suppose Stro is still pitching at a 5.0 WAR pace at the deadline (which, in 2018, would have put him 11th in baseball, between Carlos Carrasco and Cy Young winner Blake Snell), and that he could get a similar package in return. Centred around a Chris Paddack (BA #27, exactly the same position as Sheffield) or a Taylor Trammell (BA #31) or a Kyle Wright (BA #41), say. Not tempting?
Intangibles are rarely tangible. We could debate whether Stro is a leader, putting the team’s interest ahead of his own. But that, as Kipling said, is another story. But regardless of your view, I would suggest that intangible clubhouse leadership should be a secondary factor for such an important decision.
The bottom line
My opening caveat still holds. It is all about the price. If Stroman will sign a team-friendly contract, do it. But if he won’t, and a Chris Archer / James Paxton / Shelby Miller – esque offer comes along, I would hope that the Jays would take it.