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How Cubs view the curious Marcus Stroman situation this winter

8 months agoTony Andracki

While Cody Bellinger’s future stands as the most important question facing the Cubs this offseason, one of the more intriguing situations is whether or not Marcus Stroman will be back in Chicago.

The veteran pitcher has a $21 million player option for 2024. He can opt into the contract and remain with the Cubs — a decision he has to make in the days after the World Series ends in early November.

For context, Stroman made $25 million each of the last two seasons and he is entering his age-33 season.

Coming into the year, the prevailing thought around baseball was that Stroman would opt out and make a bid for another nice payday in free agency.

That school of thought was solidified when Stroman went out and turned in a phenomenal first half, going 9-4 with a 2.28 ERA and 14 quality starts in his first 16 games. At that point, he was in the conversation to start the All-Star Game for the National League and he was clearly at the top of the Cubs’ rotation.

Here’s where Stroman ranked among all qualified MLB pitchers through June 20:

Games started — 1st (16)
Wins — 2nd (9)
ERA — 3rd (2.28)
WHIP — 6th (1.02)
IP — 4th (98.2)
AVG against — 3rd (.190)
HR/9 — 3rd (0.46)
WAR (FanGraphs) — 8th (2.3)

The second half of the season was a completely different story.

Stroman carried an 8.29 ERA and 1.87 WHIP with a .316 batting average against over his final 11 outings (which included 2 relief outings). The team was 3-8 in games he pitched in and he notched just 1 quality start in that span.

He also missed 6 weeks with hip and rib injuries before rushing to return in an attempt to help the team down the stretch.

“Certainly a tale of two seasons,” Jed Hoyer said at his end-of-season press conference Tuesday. “He was an All-Star in the first half, he was exceptionally good and a candidate to start that game at that point. And then, kind of post-London, he really never got back on track.

“He struggled in July and then obviously was hurt for August. I give him a lot of credit for working hard and trying to come back. But he never quite got back to where he was.

“I think that’s the only way to look at his season — he was really crucial for us in the first half. We certainly could have used him in the second half but he was injured and unable to help us.”

Now the Cubs await his decision.

Will Stroman test the market and bank on some team offering him more guaranteed money for 2024 or a long-term deal? Or will he run it back with the Cubs and look to recoup his overall value going into next offseason, where he would target one more big payday as he enters his mid-30s?

From the Cubs’ perspective, they have an ace (Justin Steele) and a pair of veteran pitchers (Jameson Taillon, Drew Smyly) under contract in the rotation for 2024. (Smyly can also work out of the bullpen but he has had success as a starter in the past and carries an $8.5 million price tag for next year).

There’s also the likelihood that Kyle Hendricks returns, plus a group of young arms already in the organization — Jordan Wicks, Javier Assad, Hayden Wesneski, Ben Brown.

The Cubs bullpen faded down the stretch but the rotation generally pitched well throughout September — thanks in large part to the contributions of Assad and Wicks.

The Cubs likely will want to add at least one arm to the rotation mix this winter and they could certainly benefit from another frontline starter.

If Stroman does return, it’s hard to see the Cubs making another splash in free agency to pour even more resources into the rotation. And if Stroman chooses to move on, the Cubs will have backup plans in place after his up-and-down 2 seasons in Chicago.

“He and his agent have a decision to make,” Hoyer said. “We’ll find out after the World Series what that is. But if he chooses to come back, certainly the second half of 2022 and the first half of this year were exceptionally good.

“He’s a really good pitcher and as we’ve learned, you can never have enough pitching.”

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