Cubs right-hander Marcus Stroman was supposed to make his return from a hip injury today, but the 32-year-old righty experienced some soreness in his rib cage that caused the Cubs to delay his return. They’ve received unwelcome news after Stroman underwent testing, announcing to reporters that he’s now been diagnosed with a right rib cartilage fracture (Twitter link via Maddie Lee of the Chicago Sun-Times). There’s no timetable for his return at this point.
Although the next steps and the timeline for Stroman’s return are uncertain at this point, it’s unquestionably bad news for the Cubs. Stroman’s made 23 starts this year, allowing 3.85 earned runs per nine innings. He was even better earlier in the year, as he had an ERA of just 2.28 through June 20. With the Cubs floundering in the standings at that time, he was often floated as a potential candidate for a deadline trade.
But he then allowed 30 earned runs in his next 30 innings before landing on the injured list in early August due to right hip inflammation. That dip in Stroman’s health and performance coincided with the club getting hot and surging up in the standings. They ultimately held onto trade chips like Stroman and Cody Bellinger, as well as adding new players such as Jeimer Candelario. They are currently 61-58 and just a game out of a Wild Card spot.
They have been getting by without Stroman for a couple of weeks and will have to continue to do so. Four spots in the rotation have been taken by Justin Steele, Kyle Hendricks, Javier Assad and Jameson Taillon of late. With Stroman’s expected return this week, Drew Smyly was moved to the bullpen, tossing an inning of relief against the Blue Jays on the weekend. It seems he might get another shot at a starting gig, with manager David Ross telling reporters such as Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic that Smyly will likely get back in the mix.
Smyly’s season has been fairly similar to Stroman’s, as he had a 3.38 ERA through his start on June 19 but allowed 35 earned runs in his next 35 innings before getting bumped to the ’pem, inflating his ERA for the year to 5.01. Hayden Wesneski could be another option but he has a 5.51 ERA as a starter this year. They have other options on the 40-man such as Ben Brown or Caleb Kilian, but the former hasn’t made his major league debut and is walking 14.3% of Triple-A hitters this year while the latter has a 12.42 ERA in his limited big league work.
For the time being, it seems there are some moving parts here, with Stroman’s health and Smyly’s performance being two key factors to watch in the weeks to come. For Stroman personally, he’s facing an opt-out decision in the months to come, as he can walk away from the final season of his three-year deal and leave $21MM on the table.
Not too long ago, it seemed like a slam dunk that he would return to the open market, though that’s less certain now. He would likely still be able to top that figure on another deal even with this injury-marred second half, but it’s obviously a lesser platform than if he had stayed healthy and effective into October.