DUNEDIN, Fla. – Already this week, Marcus Stroman has gone to Arizona for an arbitration hearing, unveiled a new sidearm delivery, expressed frustration with his employer on Twitter and apologized for venting.
So much for the idea that the Grapefruit League’s quiet. We’re three days in.
Stroman was contrite in conversation with the Toronto media Friday. Both he and GM Ross Atkins said the relationship between team and player remains strong, with all involved apparently eager to push the discussion forward.
But for part of Thursday afternoon, Stroman was truly frustrated. On Monday he had heard the Blue Jays argue, with the help of outside specialists, that he should earn $6.5 million in 2018 rather than the $6.9 million he requested. Upon entering the hearing room, Stroman was greeted with a booklet outlining the club’s case.
Stroman posted a 3.09 ERA last year while logging 201 innings and placing eighth in AL Cy Young balloting. Typically, those numbers play well in a hearing room. But the club would have had the freedom to point to the time he missed in 2015 or even to last year’s 3.90 FIP when making the case to the arbitrators — laypeople who specialize in labour relations, not baseball.
“The other side doesn’t say very nice things about you,” Stroman said. “Every possible statistic that they can bring up over your career that works against you.
Listening to those arguments was tough for the right-hander. It had nothing to do with the money, he said, but “hearing how bad you are for five hours” bothered him.
“I was upset. And I think (I had) every right,” Stroman said. “I think if I wasn’t mad, that’d be even weirder. To be able to sit through that with no emotion, that’s just not me.”
Once he heard that he had lost the hearing, he opened Twitter. “The negative things that were said against me, by my own team, will never leave my mind,” he wrote in a tweet that his since been deleted.
A day later, he acknowledges he made a mistake.
“I’m sorry if I took to Twitter to express my frustrations, but it’s an extremely tough process,” Stroman said. “I’m sorry if I vented my frustration in the wrong way … Your team is pretty much saying negative things about you and you have to be OK with it and deal with it.”
As the Blue Jays officially welcomed Jaime Garcia to the roster, GM Ross Atkins and manager John Gibbons both had to field questions about Stroman — a potentially frustrating shift in focus. “It’s just his personality. I’m sure there will be other times he’ll lash out again,” Gibbons said. In the meantime, both Atkins and Gibbons stressed that they have strong relationships with Stroman.
“We have a good back and forth,” Atkins said. “I would characterize (the relationship) as a very professional one and he’s a human being that I care deeply about.”
“I love him personally,” Gibbons added. “I’ve been his only manager here. We go way back. He’s done a lot of things for this organization, he’s done a lot of things for me personally. I don’t forget those things. But he’ll tone it down.”
Within the clubhouse, the focus will soon shift elsewhere.
“He didn’t get a pay cut, so he can’t be that pissed off,” Gibbons joked. “It’s not going to affect the clubhouse. Half of them aren’t even here yet anyways.”
Atkins and Stroman spoke Friday morning. Afterwards, Stroman said his relationship with the club remains “extremely strong.” So strong, in fact, that he’s interested in exploring a multi-year extension.
“I’m hoping to have talks soon,” he said.
To this point, the Blue Jays haven’t presented any type of formal offer, but Stroman said he’d love to stay with the organization long-term. The challenge of the AL East, the city of Toronto and the widespread support from Canada add to the Blue Jays’ appeal.
“I can’t express to you, honestly, how much I love the city of Toronto and how much I love the country of Canada. I know I’m not a Canadian citizen, but I truly feel like one,” Stroman said. “I love this country. I do, and I want to be here. That’s it. I want to be here and I want to be here long-term. I just want to feel like I’m wanted here.”
Given his productivity on the mound, the Blue Jays would presumably have interest in retaining Stroman beyond 2020, the last year he’s under team control. An extension would allow both sides to avoid arbitration hearings the next two winters, but more importantly the Blue Jays would extend their control of a valuable pitcher while Stroman would guarantee himself future earnings.
Curtis Granderson, who once signed an extension covering his arbitration years, said there’s nothing for Stroman to gain from looking back at the loss anymore.
“Hey, that’s happened. It’s done and over with, it’s time to go out and play some baseball,” Granderson said. “You’re one of the big guys on this team. Everybody’s looking forward to you going out there and doing some great things and we’re all ready to get behind you.”
Stroman has already started looking forward to opening day. “I can’t wait to pitch against the Yankees,” he said. When he does take the mound again, he’ll continue to pitch with emotion. That’s an essential part of his game.
But part of the arbitration process? Not so much, which is probably why everyone involved sounded eager to return the focus to the field.