TORONTO – Justly or not, and there’s opinion at both ends of the spectrum on this one, the Toronto Blue Jays never had a chance when it came to the public relations over Marcus Stroman’s departure.
Really, since the right-hander’s remarkable 20-minute diatribe Feb. 17 at the beginning of spring training, he’s been in total control of the narrative, cleverly playing his I-love-Toronto-and-Canada-but-management-doesn’t-want-me message to an audience oh so eager to eat it up.
Then, as he pitched his way to the all-star game on a team in rebuild purgatory, the angst over his potential departure only amplified, the thought of him leaving a rotation with the second worst ERA in the majors too troubling to imagine.
Plus, as you might have heard, he loves it here. Does the front office not get that?
So, credit where credit’s due. That’s PR gold, and even en route to the New York Mets, there was one last twist of the knife from the social-media savvy hurler.
Toronto, I love you…forever!
— Marcus Stroman (@MStrooo6) July 28, 2019
Now, none of that is meant to imply it’s not genuine. Stroman literally got the Toronto skyline tattooed on his abdomen. Sure, he can theoretically have it lasered off, but that’s a lifelong marking, and in this day and age, things are real when you get it in ink.
Still, by posturing so publicly he ensured, intentionally some believe, that the Blue Jays would come out of this looking like villains. To get the public on their side, they would have needed to pull off a monster return like the false ask of Gleyber Torres and Deivi Garcia from the New York Yankees that was rumoured over the weekend.
Such a deal was never going to be out there, not for a year and two months of Stroman, not with no leverage in talks thanks to his public statements, not with teams increasingly reluctant to part with their prospect capital.
Enter the New York Mets, who are intent on … um … well … maybe … let us get back to you on that one.
They offered up Anthony Kay, a left-hander returning from Tommy John who has struggled at triple-A after performing well at double-A, and Simeon Woods Richardson, an 18-year-old right-hander who’s struck out 97 batters against 17 walks over 78.1 innings in low-A.
The offer was better than what the Blue Jays thought was out there, they liked the return, but in taking it they had to weigh being the market’s first movers (unless you’re counting Homer Bailey or Andrew Cashner, and we’re not). Maybe by playing things out a little further another team might have blinked and anted up more. But maybe the Mets move in another direction and a deal they liked goes away.
Given that they, quite obviously, never had any intention of extending Stroman, they took the bird in hand.
And so, they made their second Sunday swap – having earlier sent Eric Sogard to the Tampa Bay Rays for two players to be named later, whom they will pick from a group of four pitchers in the lower levels of the minors, according to an industry source.
Predictably, outrage followed, even though everyone paying attention knew this was coming. Twitter was a sewage inferno of hot takes, typo-ridden venting and run-of-the-mill bile. Fun.
Stroman, as expected, had won the public relations battle in a rout. But for the Blue Jays, the PR hit isn’t what is important right now. The only thing that matters is being right in their player evaluations, and on that front, we’ll find out.
The Blue Jays believe Kay, a 24-year-old selected 31st overall in 2016, has a chance to be a mid-rotation starter on the back of a fastball-changeup-curveball mix. He posted a 1.49 ERA with a 0.920 WHIP and 70 strikeouts in 66.1 innings over 12 starts at Binghamton, but has a 6.61 ERA and 1.628 WHIP in 31.1 innings over seven starts at Syracuse.
He’s expected to join triple-A Buffalo and barring a sudden turnaround, is likely to finish the season there, setting him up for 2020.
Woods Richardson, meanwhile, was the bigger get for them, despite industry consensus that Kay is the better prospect. The Blue Jays liked him so much before the 2018 draft, they were intent on selecting him until the Mets got him instead at No. 48, four spots before they ultimately selected Griffin Conine.
The six-foot-three, 210-pound Texan’s performance at Columbia has only further encouraged the Blue Jays, who like his mix of a fastball that sits 93-94, a plus changeup, and a plus-at-times breaking ball. With a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 5.71 in a league where he’s nearly four years below the average age, that’s a promising developmental arc.
Still, a few rival evaluators offered assessments that were less sunny.
“I thought they would have gotten more, to be honest, but who knows?” said one.
Another saw Kay pitch this year and “wasn’t all that impressed … decent arm but not exactly a frontline prospect that gets you excited.”
A third suggested the Mets had the pair as back-end starters, which isn’t nothing, as the current void the Blue Jays are facing shows, but is less than what some might have imagined in return for Stroman.
That’s why this won’t satisfy a restive fanbase already grinding through one of the toughest seasons in Blue Jays history. Bo Bichette’s big-league debut Monday may help in that regard, but thoughts and prayers for manager Charlie Montoyo and pitching coach Pete Walker as they try to find ways to cover innings without Stroman’s stability every five days.
Same for the bullpen.
Betting on two or three years down the line guaranteed the Blue Jays would have zero chance of winning this trade in the here and now. Vindication for them will only come in being right about not extending Stroman, and in settling on Kay and Woods Richardson instead.