Last week I was just thinking, “Hey, there hasn’t been much tension between Marcus Stroman and the Blue Jays lately”. What was once a contentious relationship seemed pretty cordial in recent months.
After all, the two parties came to terms on a salary figure for the 2019 season, avoided arbitration and at the same time, potential fireworks.
Those fireworks weren’t cancelled, they were just delayed.
Stroman came in hot during his session with the media on Sunday morning in Dunedin. His scrum spanned on everything from a contract extension, to lack of veterans in the clubhouse, to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and the Jays’ apparent disinterest in fielding a winning team in 2019.
Instinctually, the first reaction might be to side with the Blue Jays front office in this situation. Stroman comes off looking self-indulgent, a little entitled and brash. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, so it’s easy to chalk this up to “Stroman being Stroman”.
He could have been much more tactful in his approach, but that’s how Stroman operates. He says what he feels. At times, his sheer honestly is both a blessing and a curse.
But let’s play devil’s advocate and hear the man out. For transparency’s sake, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Let’s see things from his perspective to determine his endgame.
Many of the things that Stroman said made a lot of sense. Especially his point about the Blue Jays inability to sign free agents this offseason and the apparent lack of urgency from the front office to field a winning team in 2019.
From a player’s perspective in the Blue Jays clubhouse — particularly someone like Stroman who was there for the playoff drives of 2015 and 2016 — the 2019 season paints a bleak picture for the Blue Jays. That can’t be a fun environment to play in for someone who has experienced the pinnacle of competition already.
Not that every player should expect to contend every year, but it must not be fun going from the bedlam of the 2015 and 2016 seasons in Toronto to a 76-win season in 2017 and a 73-win season in 2018.
The working relationship between Stroman and the Blue Jays front office sounds anything but ideal. But if a player feels like they’re backed into a corner, this is one of the few recourses they have; sounding off in front of the media in the hopes things will improve.
Outspoken players aren’t a recent phenomenon, but it is something that’s gained traction this offseason. Justin Verlander and Evan Longoria are just a few of the names who have publicly decried the lack of activity in the free agent market.
Stroman is correct; since the departure of Josh Donaldson, there hasn’t been a player on the Blue Jays roster who has critiqued the front office publicly. In his mind, what if Stroman feels like he’s standing up for his teammates?
He’s also right about the Blue Jays doing everything in their power to field a winning team. It’s no secret the team is in the midst of a rebuild, dialling back their payroll significantly from last year, cutting back 30 percent compared to 2018.
To date, the Blue Jays’ biggest free agent signing has been the one-year deal to Freddy Galvis for a whopping $4 million. If there’s a team who could hemmorhage a free agent or two, it’s the Blue Jays. They have barely over $80 million committed to players on the 40-man roster.
Along with about two-thirds of teams across Major League Baseball, the Blue Jays could do a lot more to express an interest in winning ballgames in 2019. It just so happens that 2019 doesn’t jive with their timeline for contention, which is why they’ve committed a mere $10 million to free agents for the 2019 season.
The only curious quote was Stroman claiming that he hasn’t been offered a contract extension from the Blue Jays, while Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun and Shi Davidi of Sportsnet both report the team has, in fact, talked numbers with Stroman.
Maybe it’s just semantics. An “offer” could mean any number of things. Maybe the Blue Jays lowballed Stroman this offseason with a laughable offer for a player who’s two years away from free agency and two years removed from the best season of his career in 2017. In his mind, a lowball offer could qualify as “nothing”, or at least, nothing he or his would entertain at this juncture.
Four years and $40 million may not seem like much of an offer, but it was enough for Luis Severino to sign a contract extension with the Yankees. Four years and $45 million was enough for Aaron Nola to sign on the dotted line with the Phillies. Yet, both of those contracts are below-market value for two of MLB’s top tier pitchers.
Stroman isn’t necessarily in the same echelon as Severino and Nola, but if the 27-year-old puts forth a solid 2019 campaign, he won’t be far behind. If a contract extension was offered to Stroman, something in that four-year/$40 million ballpark would be reasonable to buy out Stroman’s final two years of arbitration and his first two seasons of free agency.
To me, Stroman’s comments are indicative of growing tension between the players’ union and MLB’s owners. Players are clearly frustrated and many have signed below-market deals in fear of not signing a contract at all.
If the players feel like they’re being backed into a corner, they’re being robbed of money in free agency and they aren’t being heard, they may take drastic measures to ensure their voices are heard.
Stroman, for one, made his voice loud and clear to the Blue Jays.