Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman has one more year of arbitration remaining before becoming a free agent following the 2020 season. With his name increasingly popping up in trade rumors and the July 31 deadline quickly approaching, it's time to break down the team's options going forward.
Let's get the least sensible option out of the way first. There is absolutely no benefit to anyone involved if Toronto retains Stroman's rights through 2020 just to watch the right-hander sign elsewhere in the winter.
In the event the Blue Jays tender him a one-year qualifying offer, there's the increasingly realistic possibility Stroman languishes on the free-agent market as Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel did. Neither the Houston Astros nor the Boston Red Sox wound up with draft-pick compensation as a result of that whole mess.
Hitting free agency used to be a player's chance to get his hard-earned payday. That's simply not the case anymore. Further, Stroman will be entering his age-30 season. Even if the Gold Glove-winner sustains the level he's at now, there's very little guarantee he gets a deal commensurate with his value.
It makes a lot more sense to extend him now or trade him to a team willing to extend him.
Considering how well Stroman has pitched of late and that extensions are a growing trend in baseball - a fact that's made the future outlook for acquiring players far bleaker - this option makes the most sense.
But what would a Stroman extension look like?
The most fitting comparison would seem to be Kyle Hendricks' recent extension with the Chicago Cubs. Despite being one year older than Stroman, Hendricks was set to become a free agent at the same time as his fellow right-hander. Then the Cubs and Hendricks agreed to a four-year, $55.5-million contract that kicks in next year, increasing Chicago's team control by three seasons.
That seems kind of light for Stroman, but don't forget, Hendricks has previously won an ERA title and finished third in Cy Young voting. For their careers, they aren't that dissimilar:
That $55.5-million figure is just the base salary. There's also a $16-million vesting option for a fifth season if Hendricks finds his way back into the top three in NL Cy Young voting during the 2020 campaign.
Alternatively, Miles Mikolas could be a good comparison. After returning from Japan, Mikolas had a breakout season with the St. Louis Cardinals and promptly signed a four-year, $68-million extension.
Mikolas is already 30 and was set to become a free agent this upcoming winter, so the comparison is imperfect. But his numbers last year were eerily similar to those Stroman posted during the 2017 season:
Mikolas is coming off a sixth-place finish in NL Cy Young voting. Stroman finished eighth in AL voting in 2017.
Though Mikolas' age hurt his value, the fact he was much closer to free agency than Stroman currently is likely makes them relatively comparable. It's also worth noting that Mikolas has been underwhelming since signing his deal, authoring a 4.33 ERA and 4.47 FIP while posting a 5-8 record over 16 starts with St. Louis.
Keeping Stroman through the rebuild seems like the best option, especially considering the dearth of pitching talent in the Blue Jays' system. Of course, there's the chance Stroman wouldn't want to sign a deal similar to those of Hendricks and Mikolas, which brings us to the final option.
There will almost definitely be an impulse to compare Stroman's trade value to the recent deal the Tampa Bay Rays got for Chris Archer. Fight that urge.
Though Archer did it for longer and always seemed to have the higher ceiling, they're really not that far off. Let's look at Stroman's numbers to date alongside Archer's time with the Rays:
The trade that sent Archer to the Pittsburgh Pirates is less than one year old and already being talked about as one of the most lopsided in league history. Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows have bloomed into stars for Tampa Bay, while the prospect who came over - Shane Baz - has a 1.20 ERA over 30 innings with Single-A Bowling Green so far this year.
Even further, Archer is under team control through the 2021 season on a team-friendly deal that would pay him a maximum total of $20 million over the next two seasons. With Stroman heading into his final season of arbitration after qualifying for Super Two status, it's not impossible he lands a $15-million deal for 2020 alone.
Besides that, there have been very few pitchers like Stroman traded over the past few months.
The Red Sox acquired Nathan Eovaldi in a rental deal last year, giving up a pretty good prospect in Jalen Beeks to do it. And though Eovaldi has shown flashes of brilliance, comparing him to Stroman seems foolhardy at best.
In all likelihood, Stroman's true value lies somewhere between these two recent deals.