Marcus Stroman Discusses Whirlwind Cubs Signing, Working on Mental Aspect of Life

Marcus Stroman signing just ahead of the lockout may not have been on the radar Tuesday night, but his flight to Chicago sure was. That’s because he hopped on a plane as soon as he found out the Cubs were interested so he could take his physical in time to ink his three-year contract. I had written about a month ago that the only way Stroman would end up in Chicago was if he took a shorter deal because he really wanted to play for the Cubs, and it sounds like that’s exactly how things worked out.

“It was a bit of a whirlwind to be honest since last night,” Stroman said Wednesday during a Zoom call with media members. “I’m someone who was trying to stay out of it as much as possible, obviously letting my agent kind of do most of the work. He came to me last night, and once he told me the Cubs were in play, my senses were kind of heightened because I knew how much I would love pitching in Chicago and pitching in Wrigley.

“Thankfully, they were able to work the deal out and I kind of sprinted to LAX. Like literally sprinted to LAX and got on the last flight here. Because if I didn’t make that flight, the deal possibly couldn’t have happened. Thankfully, I made the flight.”

Beyond his haste to ensure the contract was finalized prior to the transaction freeze that went into effect just after midnight on Thursday, the details of his new pact prove how much he really wanted to be in Chicago. While nearly every projection had him earning nine figures over at least five years, Stroman signed with the Cubs for just three years and $71 million.

While that’s far from a pittance, it’s a fair bit less than his pitching peers Kevin Gausman (5 years, $110M) or Robbie Ray (5/$115M) got. Ah, but Stroman’s $23.67 million AAV outstrips both of them and he’s got an out-out that could see him forfeit the third year at $21 million in favor of a new deal that would likely take him past the totals of either Gausman or Ray. It’s such a great short-term deal I’m surprised Rachel Luba hasn’t tried to take credit for it yet.

What’s also evident in this signing is that Stroman is very comfortable with who and where he is and that he’s choosing personal happiness over the assurance of a little more money a few years down the road. That’s perhaps oversimplifying things, but a quick scroll through his Twitter reveals a person who is very online, very outspoken about current events, and very aware of who he is.

He spoke about that in detail during the same Zoom call and I think it’s important to share his comments on mental health and self-care because there is still so much of a stigma there. Sports can be a cesspool of toxicity, particularly when it comes to fans who are emboldened by the entitlement of a ticket or the relative anonymity of social media, so finding a way to stay centered through that is key.

“I think mental health is one of the most important aspects that people don’t focus on,” Stroman said. “It’s something I’ve put a huge emphasis on in the last three or four years and I’ve seen it allow me to have huge strides. I’ve never been more calm in my life, I’m able to find my calm through any adversity, through any turbulence. I wake up and meditate, I read a lot, I keep a very small circle of people. I try to find my time in nature always, whether it be grounding, going for barefoot walks on the beach [or] in the grass, being by the water.

“I do a lot of things to calm my mind because this world is a very…it’s just a lot. This world is a lot to contemplate sometimes and it can drive you to the place where you kind of want to go crazy at times. I’ve learned how to take a step back, I’ve learned how to really focus on my mental. I have a therapist that I talk to and I also have a mental coach who I speak to at least once a week and I also speak to him on every gameday that I pitch and it’s just been huge strides that I’ve taken.

“It wasn’t easy, you know what I mean, it’s not easy for someone to be this open with their mental and to have a therapist and a mental coach. It’s something that I was too prideful at first to even think about doing.”

This is great stuff and I hope Stroman can continue to be a real force for good when it comes to encouraging others to be aware of their mental well-being. He’s not going to shut up and pitch and I love that, though there will always be a vocal segment of the fanbase that objects to it. Alas, that’s part of what Stroman is talking about learning to deal with more effectively.

Evidence of the work he’s done off the field can be seen on it, as Stroman’s trademark consistency didn’t waver a bit following a trade from the more laid-back confines of Toronto to the pressure cooker of New York. He’s put up identical 3.4 fWAR totals in three of his five full seasons, one of which just concluded, and 3.3 in another. And though his career-best 3.9 fWAR campaign came in 2019, the year he was traded from the Blue Jays to the Mets, it could be argued that he pitched better in 2021 than ever before.

Whether that was a product of his mental skills or a tweak to his repertoire that saw him throwing more changeups, the result was a career-low .286 BABIP allowed. That comes from avoiding barrels, something he has done very well in the time since Statcast has been tracking them. Stroman was actually at 6.5% last season, his highest since the metric was introduced in 2015, but that’s well below the 8.2% average for starting pitchers in 2021.

According to Matthew Brownstein of MetsMerized, 30.5% of the hits against Stroman in the last two seasons — he opted out of the 2020 campaign — have been classified as poorly hit. That is the third-highest total among 57 pitchers who’ve allowed at least 300 hits in that span, which is pretty impressive. It also screams for the Cubs to improve their defense in order to prevent more of that poor contact from falling safely.

Stroman said he came to Chicago to compete and win, hence the shorter deal with a team many believed would spend the next 2-3 years rebuilding. Heck, some still believe that’s the case and that Stroman is just trade bait. Now it’s a matter of the Cubs making sure to surround him with the right pieces to accelerate their retooling effort. Provided they continue to spend intelligently and make the proper upgrades, a legit roster isn’t that far off.

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