Alex Anthopoulos has already made several moves to add players from his former stops in Toronto and Los Angeles. Some have worked out like Charlie Culberson. Others haven’t – where have you gone, Scott Kazmir? He’s even added several former colleagues to his team in Atlanta, meshing trusted long-time confidants with some of Atlanta’s best holdovers from previous regimes. So, it would make sense if he targeted a former star under his watch for his first big deadline move in Atlanta. But should the Braves go nuts for Marcus Stroman?
Where’s this interest coming from? MLB.com Jon Morosi suggests in a recent column that, according to his sources, Toronto and the Braves have at least spoken about a possible deal. Morosi adds that there is no reason to believe the talks have progressed beyond just preliminary contact. With two more additional years of team control for Stroman, there is little need to deal the right-hander, though the market could pay handsomely for a starting pitcher of Stroman’s level – in each of the three seasons he has reached 20 starts, he has at least 3 fWAR.
Let’s push aside for the moment the cost. We’ll circle back, but it’s important to look at Stroman the player because there is some disagreement there. Similar to Chris Archer, there are people that see an ace and others than immediately label Stroman “another Julio Teheran.” And it’s worth noting that none of these comparisons have been helped by a 5.42 ERA in 73 innings this season – a full run higher than Teheran in nearly 40 fewer innings.
Stroman is a unique arm for these times. He can sit pretty comfortably in the mid-90’s, but he’s not going to rack up the kind of strikeout totals that are becoming common for “ace-level” arms. He’s focused on getting weak contact on the ground and when it comes to that, he’s very successful. Since his debut in 2014, only two pitchers have a higher groundball rate and Stroman is 44th out of 172 pitchers in contact that is rated “soft” by Baseball Info Solutions. He also has displayed better-than-average control during this time, walking just 6.8% of batters.
All told, that leads to an xFIP of 3.46. That ranks 24th since 2014 – just off the pace that other arms like James Paston and Gerrit Cole have been sitting at. His actual FIP of 3.64 ranks a tad lower at 39th while ERA at 3.76 is 52nd. Certainly, playing in the AL East will do you no favors when it comes to run prevention.
Is Stroman an ace? That all depends on your idea of what being an ace really is. Is he one of the Top 30 arms since his debut? According to fWAR, he’s just off the pace with 11.2 fWAR, good for 34th. Much of that is due to a lost season in 2015 where he made only four starts. Stroman is hardly in the pitching royalty level where arms like Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, and Jacob deGrom live, but is he in that second tier with Justin Verlander, Carlos Carrasco, Jon Lester, and Archer? Maybe. He’s at least close.
But is he better than anything the Braves have? Certainly not this year, of course. He missed over a month earlier this season, though outside of an unusual blow-up against the Mets, he’s been superb since returning on June 23. He’s definitely more of a proven force on the mound compared to Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb, Atlanta’s top two starters for most of the year. And he’s more likely to be good down the stretch than Anibal Sanchez, an arm that was left for dead this spring.
And Stroman is certainly better than Teheran, who though he has had his moments this season, continues to not progress as a pitcher. Rather, he has regressed.
But you could say the same about Stroman this season, right? Let’s get into that. Stroman’s strikeout rate is well-within his career norms, though his walks are higher at 8.8%, roughly two points over his career average. But according to Pitch Info, he’s still hitting the zone as much as he always has so it’s possible that his walk numbers are more a product of pitching in rougher circumstances over control leading to said rougher circumstances.
One of Stroman’s biggest issues is he both gets a lot of soft contact via grounders, but he’s also vulnerable to hard-hit contact when players can elevate the ball. Stroman’s Barrel% is up to 8.3% after being around 5% the previous two years. To put that into perspective, the MLB average is 6.1%. Stroman’s always going to have funky numbers as far as exit velocity and hard hit% go in Statcast, but he lives off the idea that players aren’t going to elevate the ball against him. However, they have a bit more this year than the previous two and that’s been a worry for him.
Again, that’s been changing lately. In his six starts since returning, the groundball rate has been at 65% or above in four of his starts. As a result, his Hard%, which routinely was over 40% for five starts before hitting the DL, has never climbed over 35% and has been notably lower. His SIERA in four of these six starts has been between 2.12 and 3.20. This is the Stroman that Blue Jay fans have become used to seeing.
I think we have circled around the subject enough – let’s talk cost.
In simple dollars-and-cents, Stroman will not be cheap in 2019. He made $3.4 million in 2017, his first of four seasons of arbitration as a Super 2 player. This year, he got a bump to $6.5 million. While his production down the stretch will help to decide how much he receives in 2019, let’s say he’s good for roughly $10 million. Don’t get bogged down in that projection – it’s just a placeholder without a lot of research. That would certainly put a big dent in next year’s payroll. You could also project closer to $15 million for 2020, his final season of team control should the Braves not lock him up.
But the money is the easy side. The Braves should have plenty of cash to spend after this season considering they currently only have three players under contract right now with several of the arbitration players likely to be non-tendered or receive minor paydays.
This comes down to prospect capital that Atlanta will have to pay to acquire Stroman and on this, it will be significant. Atlanta can argue that Stroman is having a down year until they are blue in the face, but Toronto knows two things – it’s a seller’s market and they don’t have to deal Stroman right now. They could wait until the offseason when teams that miss out on other high-level arms lose their nerve and offer something the Jays can’t say no to. Or they can keep Stroman and try to compete in 2019. After all, they are just two years removed from playing in the ALCS.
The Braves are going to have to woo the Jays. Our friends at Outfield Fly Rule recently compiled their list of trade offers and Andy Harris even put one together for Stroman. In his deal, the Braves would send southpaws Luiz Gohara and Kyle Muller, along with catcher Drew Lugbauer, to the Jays for Stroman, righty Ryan Tepera, and outfielder Curtis Granderson. I like the framework, though I think the Braves will have to add another high-value prospect to the deal – Bryse Wilson or Kolby Allard – to make the deal happen. The Jays could still balk and want Mike Soroka, a native son.
No matter the exact pieces, four of the names I just mentioned were in our Midseason Top 50. Another, Muller, was ranked #13. Even if you take two (Gohara and Allard), mix it with Muller and Lugbauer, you are taking our #4, #8, #13, and #30 players. That’s a big price. But the reward is also there. Stroman is a legit guy near the front of any rotation. He might not be an ace – and if the Mets are listening and would take a similar package for deGrom, that would be my preference. But Stroman’s a plus asset.
Will the Braves go deep into these negotiations? Chances are, we won’t know unless a deal happens. Alex Anthopoulos keeps things quite far more than the man he replaced. But Stroman is worth a considerable investment. The trouble is finding the deal that the Jays will accept that Atlanta can also accept. Anthopoulos has avoided selling off prospects for rentals to this point, but with the playoffs a real possibility, will Anthopoulos try to make a splash? I’m both hopeful he does and also scared about what the pending cost will be.