Last time we looked at a call Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins should make, to the Indians to try and land a top-flight starting pitcher. Today, another call, another pitcher. Eyeball your I-phone, or activate that Android, Ross and dial
to remind the Yankees of that Sheryl Crow song – “A Change Will Do You Good.” Why not flip bedeviled starters? Acquire Sonny Gray for Marcus Stroman. This would be very close to “six of one, half a dozen of the other”. Both teams shed a starter with star power who’s struggled of late and might benefit from a change of scenery. Stroman will be 27 next spring, Gray just turned 29. Both righties have had some excellent years in their young careers. Gray in 2015 (with Oakland) was 14-7 with a great 2.73 ERA over 200+ innings. Stroman, as recently as 2017 got some Cy Young votes, going 13-9, with a 3.09 ERA, 201 innings and received a Gold Glove to boot.
But things haven’t gone well of late. Gray was noted by Athlon sports pre-2016 as having an unusual (76.8%) rate of men left on base for him the year before and pondered if he could follow up that level of success. Answer: in Oakland, possibly, in the Big Apple no way. He’s been a big disappointment for the Pinstripers and from all accounts doesn’t like the pressure of the big city, big expectation fans. Since being traded there in 2017, he’s struggled. Last year, he was 11-9, but that was on a triple-digit win team. His ERA was bad – 4.90 – and his Baseball-reference WAR was 0.6 (with an ERA like that on a team of New York’s caliber, one wonders how he added any wins compared to a “replacement.”) His 2015 WAR, for comparison was 5.5. He particularly struggled in the Bronx, being 4-4 with a 6.98 ERA at home, compared to a decent enough 7-5, 3.17 on the road.
Stroman too struggled through 2018. He battled blisters on his fingers all season and was limited to 19 starts and 102 innings. His results were not wonderful, 4-9 with a 5.54 ERA and a not that good 77:36 K to BB ratio, well below his career norm of slightly better than 3:1. His WAR was a scant 0.2, compared to 5.7 the year before.
Both pitchers made around $6.5M last year and are going to arbitration this winter, in all likelihood bringing in about $7M for ’19. It won’t benefit or harm either team financially although Stroman won’t be a free agent until after 2020’s season, whereas Gray will be next winter.
WHY TORONTO LIKE THIS – It brings a new arm to the rotation, one who at worst is probably as good as any pitcher they already have in the #3 or 4 spot. At best, outside of the pressure cooker on the Hudson, he might relax and return to his better A’s form. Encouraging signs for Toronto for that to happen would include his better second half last year (he was 5-2, 3.63 after the All Star game) and his good results against Baltimore, Boston and Tampa last year. He had a collective 2.84 ERA against those 3 teams last year, and of course would see them a lot wearing the blue-and-white. As well, there’s not much difference in his fastball velocity over the past three years. What did change was he threw more “subpar” cutters in New York and he altered his stance a wee bit, holding his hands a bit higher as he went into the windup. Seemingly small things that could be easily changed by Pete Walker.
Getting rid of Stroman would irk some fans, but others would cheer. Little Marcus (one of the 6 shortest starting pitchers this century, at 5’8”) has had a big chip on his shoulder when it comes to the team. While, to his credit, he’s been a cheerleader for the city , he’s frequently publicly bashed the Jays management and fought them tooth and nail in arbitration.
WHY NEW YORK LIKE IT – they get a starting pitcher likely to be as good as, if not better than, Gray has been there and they get him for at least one extra season. As well, he’s more or less a hometown boy, being born in the suburbs. He’s a grinder, which might appeal to fans, and has a better than average ERA every year up to last. Unlike Gray, Stroman seems to like pitching in front of big,loud crowds.
The trade could backfire on either team, such being the nature of sport. But it could also rejuvenate both players’ careers and bolster both teams while being revenue neutral. It’s worth a ring-a-ding, Ross Atkins.