Last Wednesday, Marcus Stroman officially announced that he will return to the Mets in 2021.
Instead of testing the free agency waters, Stroman accepted the team’s one-year, $18.9 million qualifying offer, representing the first major domino to drop this offseason.
Shortly after Stroman announced his return to New York, he tweeted at new owner Steve Cohen, whom the team introduced in a presser last Tuesday. Stroman shared his excitement to return to a new era of Mets baseball:
After watching the presser, I’m beyond excited to play for you sir. I could feel the excitement and passion you’re going to bring daily. Let’s go be great! @StevenACohen2— Marcus Stroman (@STR0) November 11, 2020
Cohen, who, since acquiring the team, has been quite active on Twitter, responded to Stroman, expressing his delight with the righty’s decision:
Marcus , That is great news . Looking forward to meeting you soon.I will call you over the next few days to thank you .— Steven Cohen (@StevenACohen2) November 11, 2020
Stroman will come back to an already-formidable Mets’ rotation. Anchoring the staff, as usual, will be two-time Cy Young award winner Jacob deGrom, and with the return of Noah Syndergaard potentially by the start of next season, New York should be well-equipped to match up with any rotation in baseball.
Under the new ownership of Cohen, who has committed to spending like a major-market team (what a concept, as the Mets are a major-market team!), the Mets could be in play to sign Trevor Bauer this offseason, a move that would clearly give the team the best projected starting staff heading into 2021. With Bauer unsigned, the Mets are tied for most projected WAR among current starters.
Stroman himself did not pitch in 2020, dealing with a calf injury to start the year that kept him sidelined beyond Opening Day. He was set to make his first start of the season in mid-August, but decided to opt-out of the season at that point, likely at least in part to favorably manipulate his own service time.
Many, including managing editor Kenny Kelly, viewed this decision through that lens, since Stroman had accumulated enough days on the roster during the 60-game season to reach free agency before opting not to play. In a sport where service time is manipulated against the players every single year, it was refreshing to see this turned on its head for once.
That decision likely did leave Stroman in a somewhat more precarious position in free agency, however. Since he has not pitched in over a year, his new contract this offseason likely would’ve come in much lower than under normal circumstances with a strong 2020 behind him.
Between teams’ aversion to spending during the COVID-19 offseason, the draft pick compensation attached to the qualifying offer, and his 2020 absence, Stroman seemed like a prime candidate to possibly miss the mark. MLB Trade Rumors had projected a four-year, $68 million deal for him, citing Nate Eovaldi’s exact contract as an appropriate comp.
But rather than explore his options, Stroman took the guaranteed one-year, $18.9 million — a decision that makes a lot of sense. He’ll only be going into his age-30 season in 2022, so a big contract very well could still be in order. While there are some exciting names at the top of the next starting pitching class — including Noah Syndergaard, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke — Stroman’s relative youth compared to that field will make him a much better long-term bet than many of the other arms on the market.
Of course, if Stroman pitches well in 2021, he will be much more likely to get something better than a four-year, $68 million deal. Many of the conditions potentially limiting his earnings upside will be eliminated. Teams will undoubtedly still be dealing with the financial fallout of COVID-19, but Stroman will no longer be a year removed from pitching, and also will not be attached to draft pick compensation. With fewer reasons to balk at signing him to a long-term commitment, teams should be much more likely to engage.
And, yes, there’s every reason to think that Stroman will continue to be an effective starter. Though he doesn’t fit the mold of today’s frontline power-arm, Stroman has been one of baseball’s better starting pitchers in recent seasons. In a four-year period from 2016 through 2019, Stroman produced a total of 12.0 WAR, ranking 22nd among starters. Though he has never struck out more than 20.5 percent of hitters in any of those four seasons, Stroman’s 3.86 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 3.68 xFIP and 3.97 SIERA all suggest that he was a formidable number two.
In a rotation that already has a clear ace in deGrom, and a number two in Syndergaard who has number-one stuff (though the results, unfortunately, have never been there consistently), Stroman’s talent should continue to play. Hopefully for him, another solid season in the Big Apple should translate to a well-earned payday. Considering how solid he has been in the past, there’s every reason to think that it will.
Devan Fink is a sophomore at Dartmouth College and a Contributor at Beyond The Box Score. Previous work of his can be found at FanGraphs and his own personal blog, Cover Those Bases. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.