The Rays could use some starting pitching and apparently have some interest in Cubs right-hander Marcus Stroman. On the Onto Waveland podcast with Brett Taylor, Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney, they relay that the Rays aren’t currently in on Cody Bellinger but are “doing homework” on Stroman. (Discussion around the Rays starts around the 29-minute mark.)
It’s fairly logical that the Rays would be interested in Stroman, who has a long track record of big league success and is having an excellent season. He has a career 3.55 earned run average in 1285 2/3 innings dating back to his 2014 debut. This year, his ERA is down to 2.88 through 20 starts. His 21.3% strikeout rate and 8.8% walk rate are both close to league average, but Stroman’s always been a ground ball specialist and his 58.4% rate in that department is his highest since 2018.
Despite Stroman’s contributions, the Cubs aren’t having a great season overall. They are 45-50, putting them 7.5 games back of the Brewers in the National League Central with the Reds in between, and seven games back in the Wild Card race as well. Perhaps a hot streak in the next week or so could change the calculus, but it seems fair to expect the club to consider selling off some players who aren’t part of their long-term plans.
Stroman has one more year left on his contract, set to make $21MM next year, but has the ability to opt out and return to free agency after the current campaign. Given his strong results, it will be a fairly easy decision for him to trigger that opt-out and secure a larger guarantee on another multi-year deal. He has been quite candid about his desire to stick with the Cubs via a long-term extension, but the club reportedly doesn’t share his same enthusiasm to work out a new deal. All those factors seem to point to Stroman being traded in the coming days and he was placed in the #6 slot on MLBTR’s list of top deadline trade candidates.
The Rays could use another starter, given that they have dealt with multiple significant injuries to their rotation. Shane Baz had Tommy John surgery last year and was known to be a non-factor this year, but they have since lost Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs to season-ending surgeries with Josh Fleming seemingly set for a significant absence as well. They still have a solid front four in Shane McClanahan, Taj Bradley, Tyler Glasnow and Zach Eflin, but each of those pitchers except for Bradley has been on the IL this year, leading the club to deploy bullpen games at various points.
Getting another starter into the mix would strengthen the overall group for the postseason push, but acquiring a rental could be a logical move for the Rays. Each of their four current starters are still under contract or under club control for next year. Baz could rejoin the rotation going into 2024, with Springs and Rasmussen potentially coming back in the middle of the next campaign as well. Getting a short-term fix would require the club to send a lesser return the other way, compared to a pitcher with a longer window of control. The Rays have already been connected to impending free agents like Jordan Montgomery, Jack Flaherty and Lance Lynn, the latter of whom has a club option for 2024.
Stroman would also fit the bill, given his ability to opt out of his deal this fall. His ground ball tendencies would also be a good fit for a Tampa club that generally has strong defense. The Rays collectively have 16 Defensive Runs Saved from the shortstop position, the best mark in the league. Their 10 Outs Above Average at that spot are second only to the Cubs. Their tallies at second and third base are a bit lower but still above average. Their first base marks are subpar, but it’s still a solid group overall.
It’s worth pointing out, however, that Stroman’s opt-out does complicate his trade candidacy slightly. As mentioned, he’s currently looking like a lock to exercise that opt-out in a few months, given his good numbers on the year. But there’s always the risk of that situation changing after a deal. If the Rays were to acquire Stroman and he then suffered some sort of injury that would carry into next year, perhaps he would decide against triggering that opt-out, instead just taking the $21MM that he already has in hand.
Some clubs might be fine with taking that risk, but the Rays are one of the lowest-spending clubs among contenders. A $21MM salary might be a drop in the bucket to some clubs — but not to Tampa Bay. Their highest-paid player this year is Eflin, who’s making $11MM. They also have a big spike coming up next year, with Glasnow’s salary set to jump from this year’s $5.35MM to next year’s $25MM, a big financial outlay they made in order to push his free agency back by one year.
Per Roster Resource, the Rays have already committed $74MM to next year’s club, just shy of this year’s $78MM payroll. That’s before even factoring in arbitration raises for players like Randy Arozarena, Harold Ramírez, Jason Adam and others. The Rays often find ways to save money in the offseason by trading players with significant salaries, but they are currently trending to have a larger payroll next year. Although Stroman is likely going to be opting out, the Rays would be taking on at least some risk of an extra $21MM being added to that equation.
Any team acquiring Stroman would be in a similar situation, but most would have a bit more financial wiggle room. He is still likely to generate plenty of interest regardless and has already been connected to the Astros and Blue Jays. The trade deadline is on August 1, less than two weeks away.