The Cubs are currently “not inclined” to extend right-hander Marcus Stroman prior to August 1’s trade deadline, according to Ken Rosenthal and Patrick Mooney of The Athletic. The report comes weeks after Stroman stressed his desire to sign a new deal in Chicago but indicated that the club had previously declined to begin extension talks, sparking trade speculation regarding the 32-year-old right-hander.
Per Rosenthal and Mooney, Chicago’s hesitance in inking Stroman to a long-term deal ahead of the deadline comes from uncertainty regarding the club’s path forward. The pair indicate that the club’s baseball operations budget in 2024 will be impacted by the club’s finish to the 2023 campaign, and president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has expressed a willingness to hold out on making a decision between buying and selling until the last minute.
If the club’s front office plans to hold off on deciding between buying and selling, it’s of little surprise that they would not be interested in extending Stroman. The righty is having a career season in 2023 with a sterling 2.47 ERA that’s 78% better than league average by measure of ERA+ across 102 innings of work. He’s backed that up with a solid 20.8% strikeout rate, 8.6% walk rate, and a phenomenal 59.3% groundball rate that would be his best since 2018 over a full season.
There are signs that regression may be in Stroman’s future. Most notably, just 8.3% of the veteran’s fly balls have left the yard for home runs this season, a mark considerably below his career 13.1% figure. Even in spite of that potential red flag, however, Stroman still figures to be one of the hottest commodities on the free agent market should he opt out of the final one year and $21MM left on his contract at the end of the season. MLBTR rated Stroman as the ninth best pending free agent in the most recent update to our 2023-24 MLB Free Agent Power Rankings, and the Cubs surely expect Stroman to be similarly coveted by rival clubs at the trade deadline if they decide to sell.
Of course, the Cubs deciding to sell is no guarantee at this point. The club is 4.5 games out of first place in a weak NL Central as things standing, locked in a virtual tie with a Pirates team they just swept twice last month behind the Brewers and Reds. Additionally, their +32 run differential is the fifth best figure in the NL and the only positive mark of any team in the NL Central. With a four game set against Milwaukee set to start on Monday, Chicago’s standing in the division could look very different by the time the All Star break rolls around, one way or another.
For Stroman’s part, the veteran right-hander seems largely unfazed by the swirling rumors. Asked on Friday if there had been movement in contract negotiations, Stroman confirmed on Friday that there was “nothing new” before praising the organization to reporters (including Mooney): “I have a great relationship with Jed and Carter. It’s been awesome here. I just don’t think they’re in a position right now for me to extend my (time here). Which, I don’t even care. I feel good here. I would love for them to be in play in the offseason. I would love to have an opportunity to sign back here in free agency after the year is done.”
Such praise certainly seems to leave the door open for Stroman to re-up with the club in free agency, or even sooner. As Rosenthal and Mooney note, there’s nothing stopping them from pivoting toward extension talks after the trade deadline in the run-up to free agency. Such a strategy would be risky, of course, as few players extend once they’re that close to hitting the open market and the Cubs don’t have the ability to extend Stroman a Qualifying Offer after the season after he accepted a QO from the Mets prior to the 2021 campaign.
On the other hand, the upcoming free agent class figures to be unusually deep in pitching. Even setting aside two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, interesting names such as Julio Urias, Aaron Nola, Lucas Giolito, Jordan Montgomery, and Sonny Gray all figure to hit the open market this winter, leaving the Cubs with plenty of options to replace Stroman at the top of their rotation alongside Justin Steele should he exit the organization by way of trade or free agency.