Yankees Thoughts: Marcus Stroman a ‘Difference-Maker’ Four-Plus Years Later?

The Yankees added to their rotation by signing Marcus Stroman to a two-year deal.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. At the 2019 trade deadline, the Yankees desperately needed to add starting pitching. Masahiro Tanaka was having the worst season of his career, James Paxton had been inconsistent and injured, CC Sabathia had an ERA hovering around 5, J.A. Happ was ineffective in his second season with the Yankees, and due to injuries, Luis Severino wouldn’t be available until September. The Yankees’ starting pitching situation was a mess with a lack of organizational depth that would grow more shallow with the eventual suspension of Domingo German.

2. The Yankees had an opportunity to improve that rotation by trading for 28-year-old Marcus Stroman, who boasted a 2.96 ERA in 21 starts for the Blue Jays through the end of July. They didn’t.

“We were interested, but we didn’t think he would be a difference-maker,” Brian Cashman said at the time about not trading for Stroman. “We felt he would be in our bullpen in the postseason.”

3. Three years before making the same claim about Jordan Montgomery (who it turns out is a pretty good postseason starter), Cashman and his team failed to properly evaluate Stroman. The Yankees went into the postseason with a three-man rotation of Tanaka, Paxton and Severino, put Happ and Sabathia in the bullpen and turned to Chad Green as an opener when they needed a fourth starter. In the ALCS, Tanaka, Paxton and Severino couldn’t give the team length, Happ allowed a walk-off home run as a reliever in Game 2, Sabathia blew out his shoulder in Game 4 and Green’s opening act in Game 6 put the Yankees behind three runs in the first inning. A masterclass in roster construction by Cashman. After the series ended, the Yankees’ elite relievers, all of which were no longer effective by Game 6 complained of fatigue. You know who would have likely prevented that fatigue? Stroman, who gave the Blue Jays and Mets length for the entirety of 2019.

4. That season was either Stroman’s best (137 ERA+) or second-best season (he had a 145 ERA+ in 201 innings in 2017) in the majors depending on how you want to view or value each. He was in his prime and had done an excellent job combating the juiced baseball, and still, the Yankees didn’t want him.

Stroman is now 32 and will turn 33 less than five weeks into the 2024 season. He’s coming off back-to-back seasons for the Cubs in which he missed 20 percent of his starts due to injury. Apparently, now the Yankees consider him to be a difference-maker.

5. On Thursday, after failing to increase their offer for the Yoshinobu Yamamoto and after lowballing reigning NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, the Yankees signed Stroman to a two-year, $37 million deal.

So what changed in the four-and-a-half years since Cashman passed on Stroman at a time when the Yankees desperately needed him? The Yankees grew even more desperate is what changed.

6. Coming off an embarrassing 82-80 season in which the Yankees couldn’t qualify for the postseason in a format in which 40 percent of the league is eligible, the Yankees’ offseason plan was to trade for Juan Soto and sign Yamamoto. They used up every last starting pitching resource to acquire Soto, thinking the addition of Yamamoto would cancel out the lost starting pitching depth. When that failed, the Yankees were left without a plan, much like they were 13 years ago when Cliff Lee signed with Phillies, and the Yankees’ lack of a Plan B led to them replacing Andy Pettitte and the idea of Lee with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.

The Yankees’ rotation-enhancing options quickly went from penciling in Yamamoto as the No. 2 Carlos Rodon was supposed to be to either overpaying for Snell or Montgomery (who Cashman dealt in 2022 because he didn’t see Montgomery being a postseason starter for his team) or signing Stroman and all the baggage that comes with him. Knowing the cost of each, the Yankees made a “Hey, we tried!” offer to Snell then pivoted to Stroman.

7. Stroman has worn out his welcome at every place he has been: the Blue Jays, Mets and Cubs. The New York native, who was suspended in the minors for using a performance-enhancing substance frequently engages with critical fans on social media (which is always a good idea) and has spent the last four-plus years since Cashman made the “difference-maker” comment bashing the Yankees through social media. (Oddly enough, all past Yankees bashing done by Stroman has now been scrubbed from his social media accounts.) When Stroman pitches poorly, rather than be accountable, his first instinct seems to be to search for his name on X/Twitter and respond to anyone who has mentioned his most recent performance. Rodon blowing a kiss to heckling fans after he missed most of last season and then pitched poorly when he did pitch is minor-league softness compared to what Stroman is capable of.

Stroman has his issues, both on the mound where underlying metrics suggest his prime is over, and off the mound, where he will go off on fans when he doesn’t meet expectations. The Yankees had to fill their hard-to-root for quota somehow with the recent losses of Josh Donaldson, Domingo German and Jimmy Cordero, and by acquiring Alex Verdugo and signing Stroman, they are doing everything they can to fill those voids.

8. The Yankees’ rotation is now made up of the reigning AL Cy Younger winner (Gerrit Cole), the worst starting pitching in the majors in 2023 (Carlos Rodon), a starter who went down in the 2022 postseason with an injury and then made only 12 starts in 2023 because of injuries (Nestor Cortes), an oft-injured righty who just pitched a career high in innings to middling results (Clarke Schmidt) and Stroman, who again missed 20 percent of last season.

The Yankees still need to add another starter, whether it’s Snell or Montgomery. Bringing back Luke Weaver isn’t going to help me sleep at night, and the odds of Rodon, Cortes, Schmidt and Stroman all being healthy and available when the seasons starts at the end of March is a four-leg parlay I want no part of.

9. “Hope” should never be a word associated with the Yankees during an offseason. The Yankees have the ability to remove the idea of “hope” from their offseason plans every year, and yet, every year they continue to make that their organizational motto. You would think after 14 pennant-less and championship-less seasons, they would go back to their old way of doing business, signing and banking on sure-things rather than hoping and praying for bounceback seasons and Comeback Player of the Year nominations for members of their roster. But that’s all Yankees fans are likely left to do going into 2024 again: hope and pray that a group of oft-injured, over-30 players and pitchers somehow defy their individual injury histories and recent performance issues.

10. Hopefully, Stroman pitches well for the Yankees (as well as he would have in 2019 had they acquired him in his prime), and he doesn’t feel the need to search for his name on social media and wage a war with the largest fan base in the sport. If he doesn’t pitch well, or if he does come decide to take out any performance-related frustrations on fans, he’s at least in the right environment to do so where his new manager will be there to defend, support and lie for him to no end. Let’s “hope” Stroman is an All-Star again in 2024 like he was in 2023 and it all works out.