The free agent starting pitching market has gotten off to a fast start, but there hasn’t yet been any movement among the top tier of arms. There’s surely robust interest in each of the class’ top starters, particularly given that the market for mid-tier options has already proven quite strong. Some clarity has emerged on the bidding for one of those top hurlers: right-hander Marcus Stroman.
MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes reports (Twitter link) that the Red Sox, Giants, Cubs, Angels and incumbent Mets are among the clubs with interest in Stroman. The Angels were already reported to be suitors, but the other four teams represent newly-known entrants into his market. Jon Morosi of MLB.com, meanwhile, adds the Mariners as another potential suitor for Stroman.
No one in that group is particularly surprising, as each of that quintet has been known to be seeking starting pitching. The Giants, Cubs and Angels have all made one or more notable rotation pickups already, but each reportedly remained in the bidding for Steven Matz even after landing other starters. The Red Sox and Mets were also known Matz suitors, and they’re both facing rotation uncertainty this winter. Boston has already seen Eduardo Rodríguez depart, while the Mets have lost Noah Syndergaard and would need to replace Stroman were he to sign elsewhere.
Stroman’s a sensible target for any team looking to bolster its rotation. The 30-year-old has been a reliable source of above-average innings for essentially the entirety of his career. He’s started 32+ games and exceeded 175 innings in four of the past five full seasons, with his 19 starts and 102 1/3 frames in 2018 the lone exception. (Stroman also opted out of the shortened 2020 campaign). Going back to the start of 2016, he ranks fifteenth in innings pitched, consistently shouldering a heavy workload in spite of his slight frame.
Over the course of his career, Stroman typically hasn’t had an approach geared towards missing many bats. He’s coming off a career-best 11.6% swinging strike rate, though, a mark that’s a hair above the 10.9% league average for starters. Generating an average or better amount of whiffs would be more of an ancillary bonus than anything, as Stroman’s calling cards are plus strike-throwing and plenty of grounders.
The sinkerballer has induced grounders on over half the balls in play against him in each season of his career, routinely surpassing 60% ground-ball rates during his time with the Blue Jays. His 50.8% rate in 2021 was a career-low, but that figure was still eight points above the league mark. That consistency in inducing ground-ball contact has allowed Stroman to remain mostly impervious to longballs, as he’s never allowed even one homer per nine innings in a season during his big league career.
Stroman played out the 2021 campaign with the Mets after accepting the club’s qualifying offer last winter. Players can’t be tagged with a QO more than once in their careers, so Stroman hit the market this winter unencumbered. Signing clubs won’t have to forfeit a draft choice to land the former first-round pick, and the Mets wouldn’t receive any compensation were he to depart.
Between Stroman’s consistently strong track record and the lack of a QO, he profiles as one of the more appealing options in this winter’s class. Stroman doesn’t boast the swing-and-miss stuff of some of this offseason’s other top options, but he’s also proven capable of thriving in spite of below-average strikeout numbers. The Duke University product has posted an ERA under 4.00 in four of his six seasons with 100+ innings pitched, and his 3.02 mark in 2021 was a personal best. Entering the offseason, MLBTR placed Stroman eleventh on the Top 50 free agents, forecasting a five-year, $110MM guarantee.