TRANSACTION: The Chicago Cubs and free-agent starting pitcher Marcus Stroman agreed to a three-year, $71 million contract.
– Keith Law, The Athletic: “The Cubs had been quiet this offseason, which, coupled with their sell-off at the trade deadline, seemed like more evidence the Ricketts (ownership family) weren’t going to spend and the team wasn’t going to compete this year. That changed in a flash with the signing of Marcus Stroman — my pick for the top free-agent starter on the market this winter — to a surprisingly short, three-year deal with an AAV that could reach $25 million a year if he hits some achievable innings targets. Stroman offered the best combination of upside and floor of any starter on the market.”
– Chicago Sun-Times: “Stroman is a big boost for the Cubs’ rotation … the 30-year-old has been one of the best defensive pitchers in baseball and has a knack for inducing ground balls with an eye-popping 50.8% rate. Cubs president Jed Hoyer came into the offseason with pitching as the team’s top priority, and grabbing one of the best arms on the market accomplishes that goal. Stroman now joins Kyle Hendricks and Wade Miley at the top of the rotation with Alec Mills, Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson in the mix.”
– Patrick Mooney, The Athletic: “Skeptical Cubs fans wondering when the big-market franchise would make a splash after years of cost-cutting moves finally got their answer. This represents a major step forward for a team that tore apart its roster at the trade deadline last season, collecting prospects, moving on from the 2016 World Series and trying to build what president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer calls “the next great Cubs team.”
– Bernie Miklasz, Scoops With Danny Mac: “What the hell? I thought the Cubs were entering a painful rebuilding project that would frustrate and turn off their fans. I thought the Cubs would step back for a while, maybe at least for just 2022, and concede the NL Central to the Cardinals or Brewers.”
Well, this sure is interesting.
Hours away from the MLB lockout the Cubs made the best free-agent signing of the offseason, at least so far. They didn’t have to give Stroman a five-year, $110 million deal – the price Toronto paid for free-agent starter Kevin Gausman. The Cubs didn’t have to hand Stroman $115 million over five years, the tab for Seattle’s contract with free-agent starter Robbie Ray.
As Law wrote: “He uses his sinker to get quick outs so he can work deeper into games and maintains his conditioning so he can throw more innings year after year. He’s consistently shown he can make adjustments, adding or altering pitches and improving his body to take advantage of his incredible athleticism. I’d have been very comfortable giving him five years, more so than with Kevin Gausman or Robbie Ray, who were both more productive in 2021 but don’t have Stroman’s track record of production or durability.”
Stroman is a tremendous value for the Cubs. He would have been a fantastic value for the Cardinals. But the Cubs secured Stroman’s services for an average of $23.6 million per season with a chance to reach $25 million annually. The deal would be two years and $50 million if Stroman chooses to opt out of his Cubs contract after the 2023 season.
Now, $25 million per season is a lot of money. But that’s offset by the short commitment – at least two years, with a maximum of three seasons. The risk factor would be much higher with a lengthier contract – say, five years at $125 million. But a shorter term lessens the risk and sets up nicely for a team that’s interested in making a run over the next two or three seasons.
You know, a team like the St. Louis Cardinals.
I don’t know if the Cubs can indeed make a deep postseason run over the next two-three seasons. But if the North Siders were planning to take a dive into the tank, they wouldn’t be in the business of pursuing Stroman to go with Wade Miley, their first offseason addition to the 2022 rotation. Miley went 12-7 with a 3.37 ERA for Cincinnati last season. If the Cubs were in the process of an even modest rebuild, then why pay a hefty salary to Stroman, who can leave after two seasons? You don’t do that unless you’re trying to win.
Hoyer tried to downplay the angle when he spoke to reporters on Thursday night.
“When you try to ‘do something,’ that’s usually a bad idea,” Hoyer told reporters on Wednesday night. “I do understand that there’s been a level of frustration or consternation or whatever about sort of the lack of big moves. It hasn’t been through lack of trying to do some of those things, but obviously they haven’t come to fruition, so I understand that. Certainly, you never make a move to ‘send a message’ or something like that. You do it because you think it’s the right thing for the baseball team.”
If Kyle Hendricks bounces back from an off-form 2021, the Cubs will have a good top-three component at the top of their rotation. Stroman and Miley had a combined 6.3 WAR last season.
Stroman’s engaging personality is already at work on behalf of the Cubs. He went on Twitter to give a shout-out to All-Star free-agent shortstop Carlos Correa: “Need you in Chicago my dawg!”
Is that possible? Considering the Cubs’ unexpected aggressiveness so far this offseason, we can’t rule it out. And Correa would push the Cubs closer to contention. Last season for Houston he had 34 doubles, 26 homers, 92 RBI, a 131 OPS+ plus, and a Platinum Glove award for his defense. Correa ranked 8th in the majors last season with a 5.8 WAR.
The Cubs have money to spend after the lockout and plan to use it. They’ll be adding more players.
Question: Will the Cardinals’ front office try as hard as the baseball operation at Wrigley Field?
This remains to be seen, and after the lockout Cardinals will show us how serious they are about making the most of 2022. Signing lefty starting pitcher Steven Matz for four years and $44 million was the opening move. But will it be their only significant move?
If the Cardinals could have signed Stroman to the same kind of deal that he went for in Chicago and took a pass on it, then it’s a missed opportunity.
At least in my opinion.
“I love how he pitches. The aggressiveness. The passion is fantastic,” Hoyer said. “Super athletic pitcher. And I really like the fact that he can manipulate the ball in so many different ways. You watch him pitch. I think he’s evolved a lot as a pitcher.”
Stroman has a 3.63 ERA over seven seasons with the Mets and Blue Jays, including an All-Star selection and Gold Glove in 2017. He’s averaged 175 innings over his last five full seasons (excluding 2020) and has a 3.12 ERA over his last two full seasons.
The NL Central instantly became a lot more compelling when Stroman went on Twitter to announce his plans to sign with the Cubs. And in a media conference late Wednesday, Stroman said the Cubs were serious about winning. Soon.
“I think them going out and getting me kind of speaks to that point,” Stroman said. “They’re definitely not in a full rebuild. I think they definitely want to win now. This city has an incredible fan base and baseball’s a competitive sport. You never know what you’re going to get going into any year. I truly don’t think you can go into any year and necessarily say it’s a rebuild because you can have a bunch of young guys play to an incredible level. You can kind of outplay how you’re predicted to play. I’m excited to compete here. I’m coming in here to win.”
Meanwhile the Brewers jumped into action, giving up two OK prospects and dumping outfielder Jackie Bradley’s salary by sending Bradley back to Boston for corner outfielder Hunter Renfroe.
This was a terrific deal by the Brewers, who saved around $10 million in the Bradley-Renfroe exchange. In 2021 Bradley had a ghastly offensive performance for Milwaukee, and Renfroe slugged 31 homers for the Red Sox. In six MLB seasons Renfroe hasn’t been much of an onbase percentage guy, but he blasts baseballs – as evidenced by his career .490 slugging percentage.
It’s the Cardinals’ turn again. But not until the end of the lockout.
Thanks for reading …
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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.