Marcus Stroman has been playing baseball since he was a kid. He starred at Patchogue-Medford High School, then Duke University. He was drafted by the Blue Jays in 2012 and was traded to the Mets in 2019.
This will be his ninth season as a pro — seventh in the majors — and after all that, at the end of the year, he finally will be a free agent.
For the first time, he will be able to choose where he wants to work and let the open market determine his value.
Just as the market is tanking.
Because of the financial havoc wrought by the corona- virus pandemic, nobody expects major league teams to spend as much this offseason as they did in recent years, when spending already was down enough and slow enough that it bothered players. The timing for Stroman and other marquee free agents — such as Mookie Betts and J.T. Realmuto, who both play positions in which the Mets are needy — could not be worse.
“It will truly play out as it will play out,” Stroman said Sunday. “I should be one of the top arms. I believe I’m one of the youngest. I’m extremely healthy. I’m coming off a great year. So however it plays out I think it will play out.”
What kind of contract he will end up with is anybody’s guess, particularly in this economic environment. But one pre-pandemic point of reference is Zack Wheeler.
Although they are different kinds of pitchers, Stroman will reach free agency at 29, the same age Wheeler did. And some of their career numbers are nearly identical — Stroman has a 3.76 ERA and 1.292 WHIP in six seasons, Wheeler has a 3.77 ERA and 1.294 WHIP in five seasons.
Wheeler got $118 million over five years from the Phillies. In a normal world, that could be a target for Stroman, but the world right now is far from normal.
However it plays out, Stroman is looking forward to having a long-term home.
“I truly believe that I’m going to be an untapped potential once I’m truly settled and know I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I think that’s going to do wonders for my mind, my body, my pitching ability, everything. I truly believe my best years are ahead of myself.”
In the meantime, Stroman is still in Queens, where there are more near-term pandemic considerations to deal with.
He acknowledged some anxiety about playing baseball during such a public health crisis but said he isn’t allowing himself to “think three days down the road.”
“I think everyone deep down has concerns,” Stroman said. “Obviously there’s a pandemic going on right now, so it’s hard to say that no one’s worried even if they say they’re not. I truly believe that here with the Mets, they’re doing their job, and it truly feels like a safe environment. So I feel safe here, I feel fine.”
During baseball’s shutdown, Stroman’s significance to the Mets changed. They lost Noah Syndergaard for the year because of Tommy John surgery, which effectively ended the spring training rotation competition, making it safe for Steven Matz, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha and unofficially moving Stroman up to the No. 2 spot behind Jacob deGrom.
Stroman, who frequently expresses the great expectations he imposes on himself, went to the animal kingdom looking for the right metaphor.
“I’m reliable, I’m going to be a dog, I’m gonna kind of be that horse, have that bulldog mentality,” he said. “There’s no one that’s going to step into the box that’s going to give me slightly any fear.
“I’m going to compete to the highest level every time regardless of how I feel that day. I’m going to hold myself accountable. There’s no one that puts more pressure on myself than me. I hold myself to the highest standard.”