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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Marcus Stroman

A union between the two sides is unlikely, but that shouldn’t stop the Yankees from doing their homework.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

With the recent reports that Yoshinobu Yamamoto may not sign until after Christmas if not in the new year, the Yankees have even more time to figure out further reinforcements to the starting rotation in addition to the NPB ace. They’ve been linked with most of the names at the tops of the free agent and trade markets, though understandably are not one of the rumored suitors for Marcus Stroman.

2023 Statistics: 27 games (25 starts), 136.2 IP, 3.95 ERA (113 ERA+), 3.58 FIP, 3.79 xFIP, 20.7 percent K%, 9.0 percent BB%, 2.7 fWAR

2024 FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections: 32 starts, 189 IP, 4.11 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 19.3 percent K%, 7.7 percent BB%, 2.6 fWAR

Previous Contract: Signed three-year, $71 million contract with Cubs. Declined $21 million player option for 2024, becoming free agent.

It’s necessary to address at the outset that a union between Stroman and the Yankees is highly improbable on account of the mutual dislike between both parties. When declining to trade for Stroman at the 2019 trade deadline, Brian Cashman was quoted as saying “We were interested in Stroman but we didn’t think he would be a difference-maker, we felt he would be in our bullpen in the postseason.”

Stroman — a noted feuder on Twitter — ended up with the Mets, but never forgot the perceived slight from Cashman. Even three years later, Stroman still hadn’t gotten over the episode, tweeting out “Besides Cole, there’s no current Yankee pitcher who will be anywhere in my league over the next 5-7 years. Their pitching always folds in the end. That lineup and payroll should be winning World Series’ left and right…yet they’re in a drought. Lol.”

Neither side appears to like the other, and it’s hard to see either reaching out to make contact this winter. Nonetheless, Stroman is one of the five best unsigned free agent starters, so it’s still worth profiling the pitcher his new team is going to get.

Since debuting in 2014, Stroman owns the 20th-highest fWAR (23.8) of any qualified starting pitcher. He’s a throwback starter in the sense that he won’t strike you out, won’t get you to whiff and won’t get you to chase, yet still records outs multiple times through the order. He’s your stereotypical groundball artist, as his 56.7 percent groundball rate seventh among qualified starters since his debut. He’s never been adept at limiting hard contact yet shows an aptitude for keeping the ball off the barrel — it’s therefore no wonder that his 0.83 home run per nine innings since 2014 places him 14th among qualified starters.

He achieves this with extreme downward movement on his pitches, a consistent ability to live in the bottom-third of the zone, and a legitimate six-pitch arsenal of sinker, slurve, cutter, four-seamer, curveball, and slider that keeps the opposition off balance. He throws his sinker almost 50 percent of the time and with good reason, the pitch exhibiting 92nd percentile vertical drop vs average. His slurve — basically a sweeper with slightly different spin axis and seam orientation — was a top-30 pitch in baseball in each of 2017 and 2019 and serves as his primary out pitch with a whiff rate in excess of 30 percent for his career. Interestingly, his least used pitch might be his best from a stuff standpoint. His traditional gyro slider has placed in the top-12 in downward movement vs. average in each of the last two seasons and has the lowest xwOBA of any of his offerings, yet he throws it just a hair over 5 percent of the time.

Stroman was looking like one of the new workhorse pitchers in the league after cracking the Blue Jays rotation full-time, becoming one of only eight pitchers to toss consecutive 200+ inning campaigns in 2016 and 2017. Injury issues have bedeviled him in the six years since, during which he has failed to cross the 185 inning mark. A torn left calf cost him all of 2020. He’s made 50 starts total and pitched just under 140 innings in each of the last two seasons thanks to shoulder, leg, finger, and rib cartilage ailments.

Despite missing significant stretches across the last two seasons, Stroman opted out of the final year and $21 million of his deal with the Cubs, as it is near-certain he can top that in both AAV and overall value even among a top-heavy starting pitching market. At that price, and given the bad blood between both parties and his recent availability issues, the Yankees are likely better served looking elsewhere for a starter to pair alongside Yamamoto as dual targets for the rotation.