From his locker in the American League clubhouse, Marcus Stroman made a point of taking everything in Tuesday night. The 28-year-old had just spent the evening the watching the All-Star Game with his teammates in the AL dugout, and though an injury prevented him from pitching, the experience still made a lasting impression.
“It was awesome, man,” Stroman said. “It’s fun just to be around the guys to talk about pitching and life. To be around that level of talent is pretty special and surreal.”
In the course of the all-star festivities, Stroman caught up with the likes of Hunter Pence, Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. Those conversations were more social than technical, but Stroman also had the chance to talk shop with pitchers like CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.
“They’re all willing to help, too,” Stroman said. “Everyone wants to talk pitching.”
Stroman’s perhaps more willing to experiment than most all-star pitchers, so the tips he heard in Cleveland could soon work their way into games.
“For sure,” he said. “I can’t wait. I’m excited.”
Excited about what?
The Blue Jays hope to see for themselves as soon as Sunday, the third game back from the break. A left pec injury has sidelined Stroman since June 29, but he sounded confident that two weeks will be enough of a rest.
Stroman planned to play light catch Wednesday followed by a bullpen session Friday in advance of his start against the Yankees. Barring any setbacks, that outing will likely be one of his last with the Blue Jays, who will listen to trade offers ahead of the July 31 trade deadline.
“It doesn’t bother me at all anymore,” Stroman said. “I’m pretty aware that it’s probably going to happen, but it’s not taking away from what I’m doing in the moment. I love playing for Canada, I love playing for the Blue Jays. I’ve loved the organization since I was drafted in 2012 and whatever happens going forward happens. Whatever may happen won’t change the way I feel.”
And regardless of what uniform he’s wearing in 2020, Stroman hopes to be in Los Angeles for next year’s All-Star Game.
“It doesn’t stop here,” Stroman said with a smile. “I don’t want to be a one-time all-star. It doesn’t sound right.”
SOROKA NOW AN ALL-STAR, TOO
After posting a 2.42 ERA with 2.7 wins above replacement in 15 first-half starts, Canadian right-hander Mike Soroka earned the first all-star berth of his career. The 21-year-old Calgary native pitched a scoreless inning, retiring Daniel Vogelbach, Carlos Santana and Whit Merrifield in order.
“Now no one can take this away from you,” he said. “You’re an all-star. It’s no more low-A all-star or double-A all-star. Those are cool too, but once you’ve had a good half season with the best of the best it goes a long way.”
Soroka’s Braves begin the second half with a six-game lead over the Nationals in the NL East. They’re playing this well thanks in large part to the contributions of Soroka, Ronald Acuna Jr., Austin Riley and Ozzie Albies, all of whom are 22 or younger.
“This team has aspirations of winning the World Series,” Soroka said. “That’s awesome to know. It’s a lot of fun. (Elsewhere) a lot of rookies have come up and they’ve been given the full season to struggle and figure things out. We get here and we expect to win.”
APPLES AND ORANGES
All things being equal, Rob Manfred would like to see a flurry of signings at the Winter Meetings every year. Baseball could dominate the sports news cycle for a week, generating excitement in big-league cities.
Tony Clark went a step further, suggesting that baseball would benefit from the kind of hype that surrounded Kawhi Leonard as the NBA star weighed his options as a free agent earlier this month.
“Those midnight phone calls, those helicopter views of players going to and from the airport, that can happen,” said Clark, the executive director of the MLBPA. “Why can’t that happen? Wouldn’t it be great if it did?”
It would certainly be more entertaining. But both Clark and Manfred pointed to key structural differences between the two leagues. As Clark noted, NBA players are so coveted in part because the league’s salary cap underpays the best players. In baseball, there are far fewer market restrictions.
“We have the freest free agency that’s out there,” Manfred added. “When you negotiate that kind of market, the market’s going to play out how the market’s going to play out.”
STROMAN WANTS THE NEXT WAVE
If you ask Marcus Stroman, it’s time for top Blue Jays prospects Nate Pearson and Bo Bichette to graduate to the big-league level.
“I can’t wait to see Nate up here,” Stroman said. “I’m always for pushing it sooner than later. I hope I see him soon.”
Stroman worked out with Pearson in Florida during the off-season and came away impressed by the 22-year-old’s preparation.
“It’s one thing to have the talent and it’s another thing to work hard,” Stroman said. “Nate’s got the full package. That’s why I’m excited to see him perform at the next level.”
As for Bichette, Stroman believes it’s time to test the 21-year-old in the majors.
“I think he’s ready, man,” Stroman said. “He’s been ready. He’s one of those guys that’s just built for it – built for the spotlight. He’s going to step in and it’s going to be an easy transition similar to Vladdy. He’s not going to step in and be scared, so we’re waiting for you Bo.”
Bichette’s hitting .320/.380/.520 with 12 stolen bases at triple-A, so Stroman may get his wish before too long.