what should the toronto blue jays do when it comes to marcus stroman and the future of this baseball club?
|Sign him to an extension||27%|
|Go to arbitration again||8%|
|Consider all trade offers||46%|
|Prioritize dealing him||19%|
Sometimes it feels like Marcus Stroman exists specifically to keep an otherwise mundane and listless baseball team from boring us to tears. After all, how many times has this athlete lost his composure in the public eye, tweeted something controversial, and followed up with a predictable social media mea culpa that has become the very essence of what it feels like to live in 2018?
Unfortunately, it’s starting to get old. And for many, he’s already jumped the shark. This recent poll on my twitter feed reveals a stark reality that will eventually confront both the fans and the player himself; when nearly two-thirds of respondents express a desire to see Marcus traded, it becomes crucial that we put things in perspective before throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Through 100 career starts as a member of the Blue Jays starting rotation, Stroman has gone 38-31 with a 3.77 ERA. To contextualize, that’s sixth-best in franchise history and puts him in elite company with the likes of Dave Stieb, Roy Halladay, and Juan Guzman – pitchers who went on to have a lasting legacy in this market. He hasn’t simply been good as a starter, he’s been great.
We have this recurring tendency as fans to want to sculpt, mold, and shape an athlete based on our perception of what makes him accessible to our preferred sensibilities. Like the proverbial round hole facing a square peg, Stroman has always fought tooth and nail to avoid any such kind of conformity; it’s as abhorrent to him as it is banal. He’s simply not built to say or do the things we all expect him to do. If there was a singular Toronto player who marches to the beat of his own unique and time-honored drum, it’s this one. Naturally, that doesn’t sit very well with certain media types and old-school writers who expect a certain subservience in the “tact” and “decorum” associated with being a professional baseball player – but why should it?
Where is it written that Marcus must fit an archetype in order to make us all feel as though he’s on the same page with us? Why are we so quick to highlight his perceived arrogance and emotional disposition across twitter as if it were a totem of responsibility to scrutinize someone as inordinately and often as possible? Why does this organization insist on using Aaron Sanchez as a “corporate” poster-boy while Stroman is left to his own devices to presumably maximize his brand, profile, and playing career? Ignoring this kind of double standard quickly invalidates those who besiege me with the “fire and brimstone” approach of demonizing number six (and I don’t take kindly to one-sided diatribes).
On the contrary; I’d argue Blue Jays fans should be grateful that a star of this calibre has embraced his surroundings and become a quality pitcher in a game that’s starving for more identifiable stars and passionate figures. There’s no question that there will always be cringe-worthy moments of Marcus Stroman the egoist, the righteous, the maligned; but how is that any different from the cavalcade of former Bluebirds who tried plying their craft in this market and found ways to emerge (relatively) unscathed from the wrath of angry supporters?
Brett Lawrie, George Bell, Raul Mondesi, Cliff Johnson, and Jose Bautista were all larger than life, rambunctious personalities who were notorious for their foot-in-mouth disease with their unfettered flamboyance and ego-driven testosterone shenanigans, their capacity to make you scratch your head and wonder what’s really motivating them. But in those moments where they actually deserved our scorn, we’d invariably let them off the hook. In fact, I’d argue that they were spared much of the incessant criticism that Marcus Stroman has absorbed since joining the team in 2014. And yet his motivation has always been crystal clear; he wants to win. Really badly. And he doesn’t care if you don’t like how he does it.
But somehow throughout all the tumult of a soul-sucking digital era in which everything is feverishly magnified, horribly objectified, and instantly condemned, Marcus Stroman repeatedly ends up with the short end of the stick, finding himself having to apologize for every transgression; always ending with the all-too predictable barb that “he’s too emotional” or “he still has to prove that he’s an ace.” He didn’t do himself any favours with an absolutely horrific start to the season (7.71 ERA before hitting the disabled list on May 8th). Queue the cynical murmurings about his diminutive nature and unconventional mechanics; suddenly it becomes a baseball fait accompli and a fight with the faithful that he can’t possibly win.
Marcus is now 27 years old and still remains a controllable asset that the Blue Jays are content to keep auto-renewing through the taciturn wonders of arbitration (a fact that irritates this writer enormously and is only good for sending the wrong message to fans, the player, and a really worried Tony Clark). His days as a neophyte pitcher are effectively over, and patience has worn thin in many circles. Now is the time for Mark Shapiro to decide if this is precisely the kind of player he wants in the mix for the next generation of young, raw, and highly impressionable talent – a conclusion that could have a profound influence on the kind of baseball team you’re watching in the very near future.
In the best case scenario, he becomes an inspirational on-field leader capable of rallying the troops in 2019 (and beyond) as part of a group dynamic consisting of: Sanchez, Travis, and (possibly) Josh Donaldson. Or at least in my judgement, a collection of veteran leaders who know what it takes to win having tasted (fleeting) post-season success. In the worst case scenario, Marcus finds himself blowing in the wind as a spent force losing precious momentum during what will most assuredly be a lengthy rebuilding phase. He’ll continue to suffer through more self-induced criticism while going through adverse stretches and likely end up being traded for roughly half of his actual value.
And that would be a damn, crying shame.