At least Marcus Stroman said goodbye.
That’s about the only comfort the Mets could take from Stroman’s shocking decision Monday to opt out of the remainder of this season, just as he was nearing a return to the rotation.
Only eight days earlier, Yoenis Cespedes ghosted the Mets, didn’t show for a 1 p.m. game in Atlanta, then had his agent inform the team of his opt-out around the eighth inning, according to general manager Brodie Van Wagenen. Since then, no one has heard from Cespedes, unless you count TMZ’s grainy photos of him salsa dancing at what was reported to be a Queens nightclub.
Stroman, let’s just say, took the more adult approach. He told Van Wagenen on Monday morning, then shared a Zoom call with the GM to speak to the media a few hours later.
“It ended up being a collective family decision for me,” Stroman said. “Something that’s been weighing on me daily. I just ended up sitting with my family, assessing all the possibilities, and realizing that there’s just too many uncertainties, too many unknowns right now to go out there.”
Pretty straightforward, right? Yes ... and no.
If Stroman cited those reasons much earlier, we’d have a little more clarity. It would have made sense to avoid immersing himself back in a clubhouse environment, especially with unproven protocols amid the invisible dangers of the coronavirus. A handful of prominent players already had done so, including Buster Posey, David Price and Ryan Zimmerman.
But Stroman, who began this 60-game season on the IL with a calf strain, diligently plowed through his rehab from Day 1, giving the occasional smiling update on his social-media channels. The Mets spoke glowingly of his return, and after Michael Wacha landed on the IL with shoulder trouble, they were more desperate than ever to have him back in the No. 2 spot behind ace Jacob deGrom.
Stroman was almost there, too. Manager Luis Rojas confirmed that he was scheduled for another simulated game Tuesday, likely to be his last before getting activated. So roughly 24 hours before his final tuneup, Stroman suddenly chooses to officially bow out? Rojas said he was “blindsided” by the decision, and the timing had to be especially painful for Van Wagenen, who was counting on some sort of payoff from Stroman after dealing two prospects for him at last year’s trade deadline.
“He’s such a big part of who we are, both in terms of not only his talent but also his energy,” Van Wagenen said. “We’ll miss him.”
That was the design, anyway. The trade to the Mets was supposed to be a triumphant homecoming for Stroman, the former Patchogue-Medford star, but now he leaves for free agency after making a minimal impact: 11 starts, 4-2 record, 3.77 ERA for a team that finished in third place.
Since Van Wagenen had no intention of paying Zack Wheeler, he used the Mets’ prospect capital to acquire Stroman from the Blue Jays as his replacement. Now that’s quickly turned into another one of his more regrettable deals as lefty Anthony Kay, formerly of Ward Melville, already is a solid bullpen piece for Toronto and righthander Simeon Woods Richardson, only 19, is the Jays’ No. 4 prospect.
You can’t entirely blame Brodie here. His grand plan got sabotaged by a once-a-century pandemic. But if Kay and Richardson continue to progress, it’s going to look particularly lousy on his resume, right up there with the Cano-Diaz swap.
And Stroman? Aside from the top priority of his family concerns, I’d be surprised if his pending free agency didn’t also factor into the decision. There’s too much at stake for him professionally now. By this year’s prorated schedule, Stroman reached his service-time requirements by the end of July — while on the IL — so why jeopardize his first big payday after waiting six years to get here? Just for eight starts that probably wouldn’t inflate his value much?
Stroman not only risked potential lasting complications from COVID-19, he also could suffer more conventional damage, such as shoulder or elbow surgery. Maybe the percentage chance is small, but it’s not zero. Remember, Red Sox ace Eduardo Rodriguez is gone for the season after developing myocarditis (heart muscle inflammation) from his own bout with the virus. As for sitting out, Stroman doesn’t see it negatively affecting his free agency.
“I’m not worried about it, to be honest,” Stroman said. “I still consider myself one of the youngest starters in the market. I’m fully healthy. It was such an incredibly long time to get to this point, so I’m just going to see how it plays out and go from there.”
All the Mets can do now is try to move on. Again.
“We’re not going to quit,” Van Wagenen said, without a hint of irony.