Entering the 2021-22 MLB offseason, there are not many long-term pitching options set to hit free agency. There are veterans who are still pitching at a high level like Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, and Zack Greinke, all of which are set to hit the market, but they’re likely to receive short-term deals due to their age. While guys like White Sox starter Carlos Rodon and Blue Jays ace Robbie Ray are set to receive big paychecks after their breakout seasons, Mets starter Marcus Stroman might be setting himself up to get a solid chunk of change as well.
Stroman had a career year with the Mets in 2021, posting a career-best ERA, FIP, and strikeout rate. Even though he only pitched 179 innings, he did not miss a single start, with the lack of innings primarily coming from having 9 of his starts be on days where the Mets played 7-inning double headers. Stroman will be turning 31 during the upcoming season, and it’s reported that he’s aiming for around a 6-year, 150 million dollar deal. While that might seem like a steep price for a pitcher of Stroman’s caliber, the starting pitching market is somewhat thin and is filled with plenty of question marks, so there may be a team out there that is able to meet Stroman’s demands. When it comes to finding his new club, Stroman would significantly benefit from a team with plus defense, like the St. Louis Cardinals.
While he had his lowest ground ball rate of his career in 2021, Stroman still ranked 8th in MLB with a 50.8% ground ball rate. All these ground balls are a result of his pitch arsenal and usage, as he heavily relies on the sinker, slider down and in to righties, and the splitter, which tend to produce weak contact on the ground. FIP tends to not like groundball pitchers due to the calculation favoring strikeout pitchers, but his ability to limit walks and keep the ball in the yard has led to him having a solid 3.49 FIP. Stroman barely outperformed his FIP in 2021, but pitching in St. Louis could potentially help him outperform even more.
The New York Mets infield was second in MLB in Outs Above Average (OAA) with 29, but they were far behind the Cardinals, who had 38. In fact, the Cardinals led all of baseball with 50 OAA as a whole, with 6 players ranking in the top 5 at their respective positions. Having an elite defender at each infield position would benefit Stroman’s pitching style, as it has done wonders for the 40-year-old veteran Adam Wainwright, who posted his best fWAR since 2014 this past season. Wainwright and Stroman’s production last year were nearly identical, with there being a 3 percent difference in ground ball rate, less than a 1 percent difference in K-BB%, and a .03 difference in ERA. And while they both get outs on the ground, they do it two different ways. Stroman throws more pitches with horizontal break, and Wainwright relies more on vertical break. Additionally, the size difference between the two will definitely provide variation in looks for hitters within a series. Having two great groundball pitchers on a team with outstanding infield defense with a big strikeout guy in Jack Flaherty sandwiched in between would likely give St. Louis one of the better rotations in the NL in 2022.
St. Louis is expected to cut ties with Matt Carpenter and Carlos Martinez, so there’s lots of money on the table for John Mozeliak to work his magic in the upcoming offseason. While there are certainly many directions he can head with that money, like signing one of the big free agent shortstops or adding to the horrendous bullpen, I think that adding a quality starter would pay major dividends in the long run. There’s no certainty that Wainwright can keep it going in his age 40 season, and there are question marks when it comes to Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas, so acquiring a guy you know can provide quality pitching would do nothing but help. With the Dodgers losing major pieces, and worries revolving around other contenders in the National League, the Cardinals could very well become the best team in the NL over the offseason, and Marcus Stroman would be a major part of that.