TORONTO – Marcus Stroman hears the rumours, too. With six weeks remaining before July 31, there’s really no avoiding them. They’re on Twitter, on Instagram and in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse. Even if Stroman wanted to escape, he’d have no chance.
Still, he says he’s in a good place right now. Not just physically, but mentally. He knows the rumours could be a distraction, so tries to keep his focus on the field. So far, it’s working. After pitching seven innings in a 3-1 loss to the Angels Tuesday, Stroman has a 3.18 ERA with the best ground ball rate in the American League.
But does he realistically expect to be a Blue Jay after the July 31 trade deadline?
“It seems like everyone’s saying I’m not going to be,” Stroman said. “I don’t know. I’m doing everything in my power to keep that out of my head. The more (time) I spend thinking about that, the more it’s going to take away from me on the field.”
“I’m starting to really, truly understand the business of baseball and the business of sports,” he said. “They’ve been throwing my name around in trade talks all the time. It doesn’t seem like I’m going to be signed here to a long-term deal. It’s just something you have to come to terms with.”
Over the winter when he was last available in trades, plenty of teams checked in hoping to buy low. At the time, the Blue Jays held on. But after a vintage first half performance Stroman ranks among the most interesting trade candidates on the pitching market along with Madison Bumgarner and Trevor Bauer. At this rate, plenty of teams will show interest once again. Maybe this time they tempt the Blue Jays with better offers.
With six weeks remaining before July 31, the Toronto front office has plenty of time to consider all the different possibilities. In the meantime, though, it’s worth appreciating what Stroman’s doing right now.
On a team with all kinds of questions on its pitching staff, Stroman remains Charlie Montoyo’s most consistent starter. Over seven-plus innings of work Tuesday, Stroman was at his best, allowing just three runs on four hits.
“He’s been really good,” Montoyo said. “Outstanding.”
While he struck out just three Angels, Stroman generated 14 ground ball outs. That’s a useful trait for any starting pitcher, and especially for someone as adept at fielding his position.
Contributing to Stroman’s value, he’s under team control for 2020 after earning a relatively modest $7.4 million salary this season. Success in the spotlight and against the AL East doesn’t hurt, either. Even if Stroman’s demonstrative on-field demeanour frustrates opponents at times, there simply aren’t many starters of his calibre out there.
As July 31 approaches, he’s working to keep his focus on the field.
“I love this team,” he said. “I love Toronto. I love everything about the country and I’m going to continue to go out there each and every start and just compete, compete, compete. Do everything I can to limit runs.”
Just imagine the Blue Jays’ rotation without him. Before the game, Toronto placed Monday starter Edwin Jackson on the injured list with a lower back strain that will sideline him for at least 10 days.
While the Blue Jays are still deciding who will replace Jackson, recently-acquired right-hander Nick Kingham’s not stretched out enough and Montoyo prefers to keep Sam Gaviglio in the bullpen. Jacob Waguespack’s an option after pitching two innings at triple-A Sunday, but it’s not yet clear if he can provide the Blue Jays with much length so soon after returning from his own stint on the injured list.
“It depends on how many pitches he could go,” Montoyo said. “If he could go 60 pitches, he could be an option.”
Jackson wasn’t the only player sidelined Tuesday, as the Blue Jays placed Justin Smoak on the injured list with a left quadriceps strain retroactive to June 15. That makes Rowdy Tellez the primary first baseman, though the recently-recalled Billy McKinney could also play first if needed.
In more encouraging news, closer Ken Giles will face hitters Wednesday after throwing off a mound with no issues Monday. If his upcoming live BP session goes well, he could return to action by Thursday or Friday.
By then, the Blue Jays should have more clarity in their rotation, but at this point the solutions they find seem more likely to be stopgaps than long-term fixtures. They have one of those in Stroman, who has provided distinctly above average innings for this team since 2014–back when Casey Janssen, Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind were still Blue Jays.
“I’ve seen the whole cycle,” Stroman said. “The ups, the downs. I love being a Blue Jay. There’s no other team that I would have traded to start my career. The things that we’ve been through since I’ve been here. I feel like I embody the city of Toronto and take that passion out there with me every fifth day.”
Week by week, a lot has changed since Stroman debuted here. Now, his tenure in Toronto appears to be coming to an end. And oddly enough, the more realistic a Stroman trade starts to seem, the more you appreciate what he’s doing.