Earlier this week, it was reported that Yankees principal owner Hal Steinbrenner authorized the green light for the addition of a “significant rotation piece” and late Thursday night, we discovered the form that would take. New York made its first big splash in free agency of the winter, inking righty Marcus Stroman to a two-year, $37 million deal with an $18 million vesting player option for 2026.
The signing comes on the heels of the Yankees missing out on their top pitching target Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who turned down New York’s ten-year, $300 million offer to sign with the Dodgers for 12 years and $325 million dollars. Stroman should provide some much needed floor-raising support to a rotation that struggled behind ace and AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole in 2023. Overall, the staff placed in the bottom-half league-wide in ERA, FIP, and fWAR, but it gets even worse when you take Cole out of the picture, with all other starters combining to go 32-46 with a 5.06 ERA. Complicating matters was the loss of one of the few late bright spots, Michael King, in the Juan Soto trade.
The 33-year-old Stroman has excelled at run prevention for most of his career since breaking in back in 2014 with Toronto, posting a sub-4 ERA in six out of his eight full seasons as a starter. He is one of the preeminent ground-ball artists of the modern game, his 56.7 percent ground-ball rate seventh among qualified starters since his debut. Routinely sitting among the league leaders in the shallowest launch angle allowed, it’s no wonder that Stroman’s 0.83 HR/9 since 2014 places him 14th among qualified starters.
High ground-ball and low home-run rates should play well at Yankee Stadium, especially since Stroman also has a Gold Glove on his record as a testament to his own ability to turn two (let alone the capable defense behind him).
Stroman is also one of only eight pitchers to toss consecutive 200+ inning campaigns, having done so from 2016-17. Unfortunately, injury issues have robbed him of that workhorse ability and he’s likely no longer someone you can pencil in for a full season’s worth of starts. A torn left calf contributed to his decision to opt out of the COVID-shortened 2020 season. Stroman has 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 the time missed to injury, Stroman pitched well enough in his two seasons with the Cubs — 16-16, 3.73 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 3.64 xFIP in 275.1 innings — that he felt comfortable opting out of the final year and $21 million of his contract to test free agency. He’s the sort of mid-rotation starter who provides the sort of stability to hedge for uncertainty surrounding Carlos Rodón and Nestor Cortes. While there is always the worry that as ground-ball pitchers age and injuries mount, they lose the power to induce tilt on their sinkers, cursory looks at game-level data from Stroman’s two years in Chicago indicate that this is not yet a worry.
I’ll admit that I was conflicted the moment the pact was announced. On one hand, Stroman absolutely raises the floor of the starting rotation. On the other, there is well-noted ill-will — something I’ll add has probably been overblown — in the past between Stroman and Brian Cashman following the GM’s public comments about the pitcher in 2019 and Stroman’s responses on Twitter. For what it’s worth, Stroman did wipe any derisive mention of the Yankees from his socials over the last week, and Bob Nightengale reported a productive recent meeting between the two.
My bigger concern lies with this deal’s impact on potential future moves. The Yankees are more than one starting pitcher away from fixing their rotation, and Stroman falls in the tier below free agents like Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell and possible trade candidates Dylan Cease, Corbin Burnes, and Jesús Luzardo. That being said, as Sherman points out the price and term of Stroman’s deal should not take them out of the running for one of the other impact starters, and the team continues to be linked to Snell, having offered a five-year, $150 million deal in the hours leading up to Stroman’s signing (though Nightengale was less sure about a match still being possible).
Following Soto and Alex Verdugo, Stroman is the third impact addition of an offseason following the team’s first postseason-less October in seven years. That he is under contract for two years and both Soto and Verdugo just one seems to signal more of a go-for-it mentality from the front office than we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over much of the last decade. At the very least, the brief length of Stroman’s pact affords the team long-term financial flexibility to, say, pursue Soto on a megadeal in earnest once he hits free agency in November.
In a winter where the Yankees were one of three teams not to spend a cent in free agency, and especially with uncertainty in the starting rotation, Stroman’s signing feels like a minor but still important victory. Cashman caused a stir when asserting his confidence in the team‘s ability to contend for a title as it stood prior to adding Stroman, so it is certainly reassuring that decision makers have taken another look at the roster and determined that help was needed.