DUNEDIN, Fla. – Whatever you think of Marcus Stroman – and opinion on the lightning-rod 27-year-old polarized further Sunday after his remarkable castigation of the Toronto Blue Jays – he’s no dummy, and he wouldn’t at random incinerate the ground around him.
Consider that Saturday, after his first bullpen session at camp, he declined to speak with media, which is his prerogative. Then the next morning, he decided to speak with reporters after doing some promotional video for team use, so there was a degree of premeditation on his part.
The question then – after Stroman said his desire to remain with the club long-term is unrequited, insinuated that the front office hasn’t done all it can to field a competitive team in 2019 and pushed for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., to open the season in the majors – is to what end?
What did he hope to accomplish by swinging a wrecking ball at the place during 20 minutes of riveting fervor, ego and diatribe?
If Stroman wants to convince the Blue Jays to extend him – "There’s no one that embodies or loves pitching for the city of Toronto and the country of Canada more than me," he said – a power play through the media isn’t going to work.
See Jose Bautista, spring training 2016 for Exhibit A.
Intriguing is when Stroman’s asserted that "I’ve been waiting to sign a long-term deal – I’ve been offered nothing," an industry source soon refuted that to Toronto media, saying a multi-year deal had in fact come up.
But when asked directly for a yes-no response about whether that was true, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins said only that, "any negotiation, any discussion I’m not going to comment on. We’ve had lengthy discussions with Marcus’ representation."
Put the discrepancy in the semantics bin, the team likely categorizing an exploratory chat about parameters as an entreaty, something Stroman would justly see as nothing real on offer. Either way, it’s clear the sides had no meaningful engagement on an extension.
If that’s the case, then was Stroman perhaps trying to force the Blue Jays into accelerating their plans to trade him?
Maybe, but that’s checkers rather than chess, given that a public demonstration of the wedge between the sides only makes a deal more difficult for the Blue Jays, since they could have taken pennies on the dollar all off-season and didn’t.
You can bet rival GMs hit up Atkins as soon as Stroman’s comments went viral, and there’s zero chance their offers suddenly got better.
Still, in refusing to toe the rebuild line – Stroman said "we just need to mix in some pieces… to kind of bolster our roster," cited needs in each phase of the game, and added that "I want to make sure everybody in this organization is doing everything in their power to put the best product out on the field" – perhaps the front office will decide that keeping him until the trade deadline in the hopes of a bounce-back is more trouble than it’s worth.
See Josh Donaldson, summer of 2018 for Exhibit B.
Given all the front office rhetoric about culture and values, how can they carry a player who says, "I want it to be like ’15 and ’16. Those were the best times ever," as they prepare for a year of sifting through the sand to determine who’s worth keeping for 2021?
The divergence in interests between the sides is obvious, even as Atkins tried to minimize the scorching by saying, "I’m excited to have Marcus Stroman as a Toronto Blue Jay, extremely excited about his health, the way he has performed thus far, the way he looks, his energy. Been awesome in the clubhouse."
We’ll grant you that Atkins had to say something like that to try and de-escalate the situation, but is this drama really conducive to the new culture they’re trying to establish? Are these the kinds of conversations the Blue Jays want around the franchise?
"I agree with him that everyone in the organization needs to be doing everything we can do to put the best product out on the field. We’ll continue to do that," said Atkins. "We will look to continue to bolster our roster any way we possibly can. That doesn’t end the day the season opens… If we do look to add to our roster it will most likely be on the pitching side."
That’s a weak defence to repel Stroman’s rockets, and in speaking his truth and in speaking his heart, the man who started Game 5 of the 2015 American League Division Series and the 2016 winner-takes-all wild card game did what we implore all athletes to do – be real.
Stroman will be criticized for it, even though his comments, love them or hate them, will be the most filter-free words spoken at Blue Jays camp this spring. Certainly, a piece of his motivation was not more complicated than getting his message out, which he definitely did.
What’s clearer than ever is that just like with Bautista (who, quite fittingly, Stroman said he planned to visit Sunday) and Edwin Encarnacion and Donaldson, the Blue Jays and Stroman are headed for a divorce.
More so than the others, he isn’t going to hold back what he thinks on his way out the door.
"Just as long as the people know how I feel," he said. "That’s all I really care about."
Secondary to the turmoil is Stroman’s revelation that his shoulder bothered him throughout the difficult 2018 that turned so many on him – "I’d have to go out there and try at a 110 per cent sometimes to just be where I normally would be like 80, 85 per cent" – and insisted he’s far stronger this spring than he was last year.
"I’m excited to dominate," he promised.
Nothing would help the Blue Jays get him out of town faster than that, but whether they can wait for his stock to rise is another matter. We’re going to find out how much heat they’re willing to suffer in pursuit of a better return for someone who, quite literally, has Toronto tattooed on his abdomen.