If the 2020 season was the Mariners’ dating stage with their various prospects and the idea of actually making the playoffs, the 2021 season has the potential for marriage. Breakouts from several players indicated that perhaps the team was ahead of schedule in its much-ballyhooed reset. Plus, with Oakland’s shoestring budget rendering them incapable of paying any of their impending free agents and the Astros due for a karmic smackdown any day now, the Mariners may have fallen into a very palatable situation.
But, as the organization has demonstrated with great aplomb for nearly two decades now, there is a great difference between having a good team and having a playoff team. The 2020 Mariners were okay, bordering on good when all cogs of the machine aligned. For the 2021 Mariners to be a playoff team, they’ll need some reinforcements. Jerry Dipoto has spoken candidly about setting his targets on relievers this winter, but relievers’ values are diminished if the starting pitchers don’t hand over a lead. Sure, proven pitchers would be a welcome addition to the bullpen, but so would a B-list, affordable starter to solidify the rotation.
Marcus Stroman is a beautiful candidate for this job. The diminutive right-hander owns a 3.76 career ERA and has averaged just over 3.0 fWAR in his five full seasons as a starting pitcher. Stroman is also fresh, as the 29-year-old opted out (smartly, in my opinion) of the 2020 season. He would have missed the beginning of the shortened season with a non-serious calf tear anyway and chose to avoid further injury in his contract year by keeping a safe distance from all things Mets. As such, he has 140 career starts and 849.1 innings on his odometer, almost exactly the same as Alex Wood, less than Jake Odorizzi, and significantly less than Julio Teherán, all of whom are roughly the same age as Stroman and also available this offseason.
Despite the fact that he hasn’t summited an MLB mound since September 27, 2019, Stroman is still a ready and able top of the rotation presence. Given Marco Gonzales’ contributions in recent years and stranglehold on the Best Pitcher on the Team title, Stroman would likely slide in behind Marco in the hypothetical 2021 rotation. Featuring one of the best sliders in the game and a whole crew of pitches that pair nicely with it, Stroman is the fully actualized version what we hope Justin Dunn will become. Here he is showing off those pitches – and a fun change of pace delivery – at the Mets’ alternate site in August.
If the raw stuff doesn’t get you excited, first of all, rude, and second of all, can I interest you in some objectively sexy numbers? In addition to the aforementioned 3.76 career ERA, Stroman keeps a 3.64 career FIP on the shelf, right next to a 58.6% ground ball rate, 1.29 WHIP, and 19.6% strikeout percentage. The highest walk rate he’s ever posted as a starting pitcher was 8.0% in 2018; the lowest is a dazzling 5.2% in 2014.
He’s thrown over 200 innings in two different seasons and has a fairly mild injury history, with a 2018 case of shoulder fatigue as the only arm trouble. That injury held him out for less than two months, a much shorter period than the one he missed in 2015 after tearing his ACL during a freak Spring Training injury. For a 5’7” pitcher, the relative lack of wear and tear injuries is a major success for Stroman, as well as other pint-sized pitchers looking for a chance. Of course, the flip side of that is the lingering idea that he’s due for a major arm debacle at some point, and the Mariners should be cautious in their pursuit. To that I will remind you that scared money don’t make none.
For what it’s worth, Stroman also has a boatload of experience pitching in big games. In addition to the five postseason games he’s started, Stroman was also MVP of the 2017 World Baseball Classic, where he helped Team USA capture gold with three massive starts. In the tournament’s championship game, the Duke graduate spun six-plus masterful innings, allowing just one hit and zero earned runs against Frankie Lindor, Carlos Correa, Javier Báez, Eddie Rosario, and a stacked Puerto Rican lineup.
Those were the baseball reasons for signing Marcus Stroman. Now, for the non-baseball reasons. Marcus Stroman is one of the most likable players in all of Major League Baseball. In addition to the lack of height lending a classic underdog status, the boisterous joy he pitches with makes watching Stroman feel like riding a jet ski through a hurricane of espresso.
Marcus Stroman, 86mph Slider/Pitching with Emotion (You can hear his Scream). Love this. pic.twitter.com/emOniv8ExM— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 29, 2017
Marcus Stroman, Nasty 89mph Slider/Pitching With Emotion (you can hear the yell). pic.twitter.com/I74vLcGeQR— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 24, 2017
Born on the first day of May in 1991, Stroman would immediately become the oldest member of the Mariners’ rotation. For a team piling years upon years of heartache on young pitchers like Justin Dunn and Justus Sheffield, and eventually Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, and Emerson Hancock, a veteran presence like Stroman’s could be instrumental. Remember what Ketel Marte and Guillermo Heredia said of sharing a clubhouse with Robinson Canó and the influence he had on their careers. That’s not nothing. While impossible to quantify and even harder to understand as an outsider, having an adult in the room seems to be a decent strategy when building around a team of novices.
Think about David Ross in Chicago keeping things loose while the team faced unbelievable pressure to deliver the Cubs’ first title in over a century. Remember how Howie Kendrick put together professional at-bat after professional at-bat in a lead by example way for the 2019 Nationals. Oh to be in the dugout with Carlos Beltrán as he explained proper acoustics and trash can banging technique to the viciously corrupt Astros. The point is, these guys can only learn so much from their peers. At some point a seasoned professor, or even just a wizened grad student, can come in and raise the collective education level. Someone as gregarious and excitable as Stroman would be a perfect ringleader for the merry pranksters on Seattle’s staff.
They also may need to act swiftly, as Stroman, regrettably, has been engaging with Angel fans on Twitter.
If you’re reading this, please take immaculate photos of Washington’s fall foliage and tag Marcus Stroman in them. The future of the AL West may depend on it.