With full understanding that recency and confirmation biases are at play here, this lost Reds series feels like an inflection point for the Cubs. Or maybe it’s better to call it a litmus test, what with the acidic taste left from choking back bile while watching them play. With a series against the Rays followed by a 10-game trip to California, it was clear the Cubs needed to pick up some wins or risk falling too far behind.
As constructed, this team is capable of playing .500-ish baseball and even beating contenders if everything goes right. But whether it’s the late innings or the standings, the Cubs aren’t really built to come from behind. So even with the NL Central looking like a clown car of mediocrity, sitting in last place 51 games into the season is a bad place to be.
Though it’s still too early for the front office to start making definitive moves, it’s only natural that the brass would be evaluating which pieces they can sell ahead of the deadline. The most valuable of those right now looks like Marcus Stroman, who can opt out of the third year of his deal current deal and hit the free-agent market after this season.
That was a strong likelihood from the start because his 2024 salary is set to be $21 million after earning $25 million in ’22 and ’23. Opting out has become a near certainty given the way Stroman has pitched so far and the direction the Cubs are heading. As he told The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal, however, the preferred path might be to extend his deal to stay with the Cubs.
“I don’t know what they’re thinking, where they’re at as far as moving forward, but I would love to stay here and sign an extension and not even get to free agency, honestly,” Stroman said. “I’m very confident myself in free agency as well. I’m real big on just letting it play out. I’m cool either way.”
That quote was cherry-picked to fit the way the article was presented on social media, but Stroman was by no means setting this up to be a public invitation to a sit-down with Jed Hoyer. On the contrary, it felt very much like Rosenthal’s piece from a few weeks ago about Eric Hosmer wanting to pay it forward by serving as a mentor to Matt Mervis.
The earlier article came off as a matter of his agent reaching out to Rosenthal to generate a little good PR and emphasize what a good teammate Hosmer was ahead of an inevitable DFA. To a similar extent, this smacks of Stroman preparing himself for the strong possibility of a trade by saying the right things and keeping up a good image in order to set up another go at free agency.
Though he said more than once that he loves it in Chicago and wants to stay there long-term, this wasn’t so much a plea for a new deal as an acceptance of the situation.
“[A trade] would be tough, very tough in that regard,” Stroman admitted. “But at the end of the day, that’s out of my control. I’m sure I’d be happy going to play somewhere else as well.”
To me, that sounds almost exactly like what Willson Contreras said last year when he balanced wanting to stay with the idea that free agency would be a “dream come true.” Stroman is saying the right things because the Cubs have reached the point where other teams are going to start calling on their players and Hoyer may not tell his colleagues to wait a few weeks.
If things don’t turn around in a hurry, and the schedule for June provides little indication they will, expect the trade rumors to start ramping up in a hurry.