As we hit the All Star Break, the Blue Jays, 2018 edition, seem very like the Blue Jays, 2017, which is to say rather disappointing and with little very significant to play for . (Like last year, getting back to .500 might be about the most realistic goal for them to achieve.) And once more, as is usually the case with teams running well behind the last wild card team come mid-July, there are lots of trade rumors swirling around the team as it’s assumed (in most cases correctly) that the General Managers of such teams will want to jettison any high-salary player not both signed on beyond the current year but essential to the team’s future as well. In the Jays case, while Steve Pearce has already moved onto greener monsters… err , pastures, and Curtis Granderson and Tyler Clippard’s names come up not infrequently the name it all seems to revolve around is JA Happ. Little wonder, as starting pitching is always at a premium and Happ, a free agent after this season, is the team’s sole All Star representative and being his usual reliable self, with 10 wins and well past 100 innings, even if recent missteps have driven his ERA up to uncharacteristically high levels (4. 29).
I say the Jays should be shopping around a starting pitcher actively and trying to get what they can that will help the team be more competitive for 2019. Only for me, the guy they need to ship out pronto is not JA Happ but Marcus Stroman. If I was Ross Atkins, I’d be talking to JA and his agent, doing my best to re-sign him for a couple more years at least. Granted,Happ will turn 36 not long after the team clear out their lockers at year’s end, but he’s a relatively low-impact, finesse pitcher, the type who usually is slow to lose form and quality. Thinking of him pitching when 37 or 38 is far from unrealistic. And while his ERA is up some this year, his strikeouts are up, he’s holding opponents to a lower batting average than last year and his ratio of strikeouts to walks is fairly consistent with past years. In short, there’s
little reason to doubt he’ll get back to the success of the past couple of years (30-15, 3.33 ERA) over the remainder of the season and next year.
Marcus Stroman is a different story. Younger, harder throwing, allegedly a higher upside than Happ… and under team’s control for the next two years. That, with his success in the past in the World Baseball Classic would make him an appealing addition to a number of teams, I’d think… despite his glaring downsides which are more apparent than ever. That is to say, he’s an immature brat who is inconsistent at best on the mound.
Stroman’s latest incident was Sunday, after the team lost to Boston. After initially smiling and saying the right things in the clubhouse, he eventually started screaming at reporters and called his teammates out for being F- rhymes with truckin’ – terrible. This all because of a question he didn’t like, which ironically enough had nothing to do with the day’s game or his lack of performance.
Of course, it’s not the first time Stroman’s gone off the deep end verbally (or in text). He tweeted his anger at the team this spring when he lost in arbitration and took jabs at management over not picking the same lineup he wanted to come north after spring training. He criticized John Gibbons for not giving him the honor of being opening day starter. Last year he made enemies with reporters as well, and according to the Toronto Sun had Jose Bautista trying to persuade him to talk to the media and act like a grownup. Then there’s the well-known hyper-emotionalism of Marcus on the mound, doing a virtual jig and yelling insults at players he strikeouts, something that’s embarrassed some teammates as well as fans and caused brawls in the past.
Now, I’m not suggesting the Jays have been as good as we hoped this year, or that their on field play has been spot on this month. They’ve made too many errors, left too many men on base and have 4 wins in 13 games this month to show for it. But, let’s recall the weekend losses came at the hands of the Bosox, a team which seemingly refuses to lose this year. The Jays did end the Boston 10-game win streak before allowing them to start a new one. There’s not that much shame in losing to a team which is a ridiculous 68 -30 and are speeding away from even the mighty talented New York Yankees.
More though, one wonders if Fenway Park, old as it is, has no mirrors in the clubhouses. It would be the only reason I can imagine that the conceited Stroman wouldn’t look in it before criticizing his teammates. After all, few players on the roster have under-delivered as much as he has this season. His 2-7 record isn’t helping the team contend, and no, this time the won-lost record isn’t a reflection of bad luck. He’s pitched well twice all year and has a rather atrocious 5.86 ERA. Opponents are happy to see him on the mound; they’re smacking balls off him at a rate of a .280 average. His ERA is 253rd best overall in the AL and he’s tied with Doug Fister of Texas for fewest starts (12) to hit 7 losses. Only five pitchers in the league with even 60 innings under their belt have worse ERAs, too bad for Toronto one of those five is Jaime Garcia at 6.10.
Yet for all that, I have no doubt there’d be takers for him. A young pitcher with a decent fastball and an ability (in the past) to pitch well in big games and entering this year, a 37-25 record and ERA around 3.60. It’s even possible the Jays could rope in more for him than they could for Happ, given the contract status and ages.
It’s a move Toronto needs to do. It’s getting reminiscent of 2006, in John Gibbons’ first stint managing the club, when Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly started openly criticizing the team and management. Gibby got mad and days later Hillenbrand was a San Fran Giant (one of 3 teams he’d play for in the year and a half left in his career as it turns out) in return for a decent enough reliever, Jeremy Accardo who had a couple of good years in the blue-and-white.
Sometimes the best addition is subtraction.