Stroman brings recruitment skills, 'good energy' to Cubs camp

Veteran righty sees ‘tremendous upside’ from Chicago’s young pitchers

March 12th, 2022

MESA, Ariz. -- Marcus Stroman signed with the Cubs with minutes to spare before the lockout arrived in December. Less than a half hour after the Collective Bargaining Agreement coming to fruition on Thursday, the pitcher started recruiting free-agent shortstop Carlos Correa again on social media.

"I'm just doing my little pitch on Twitter there, man," Stroman said with a laugh on Saturday morning. "Everyone thinks I have insider info. I have no insider info. I'm just trying, man. It's always good to just put that out there -- that good energy."

That energy was apparent on Saturday, when Stroman went through a workout and logged his first bullpen session as a member of the Cubs. And he spent time building rapport and gaining comfort with another free agent who did join Chicago, catcher Yan Gomes.

Over a 37-pitch mound session, Stroman and Gomes bantered back and forth. The right-hander gave a preview of his arsenal and the catcher made adjustments with his setup and studied the movement. At one point, a pitch hit the dirt and the veteran Gomes shifted to his right to keep the ball in front of him. 

"First block of the year!" Gomes rejoiced.

Back on Dec. 1, both Stroman and Gomes signed on the dotted line for the Cubs. The right-hander inked a three-year, $71 million deal, which included an opt-out clause after 2023. Gomes penned his name on a two-year, $13 million pact that has a $6 million team option for '24. 
Stroman joins a rotation that also features veterans Kyle Hendricks and Wade Miley filling out the top three spots. Gomes gives Chicago an experienced catcher who can help ease the workload of All-Star starter Willson Contreras
Stroman was asked if he hopes those last-minute deals before the lockout might portend more impact moves now ahead of Opening Day. Correa would obviously fit that description -- not to mention the Cubs' roster -- though the kind of long-term commitment required might not fit the team's transitional timeline.

"Yeah, I think everybody would love that," Stroman said. "I'm not sure [about] their direction. I think the group that we have can compete right now. It's an exciting group, a young group, and obviously when you add pieces, it can always be better. I don't think we need pieces, but if we add pieces, I think it can always help the squad."

In the meantime, the players arriving to camp and the staff on hand are trying to gain familiarity as swiftly as possible. 
The timing of Stroman’s signing and the start of the lockout made it hard for him to track down the phone numbers for new teammates. The righty exchanged some messages with Contreras, but still has not met the Cubs' No. 1 catcher. Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said he fired a text to Stroman before the lockout began, but the pitcher was on a flight to Chicago, and the first time they spoke was Friday.

"It's fun to finally get to see guys in person after watching so much video," Hottovy said. "It's fun to just sit back and watch, and watch how they go about their business, watch how they go through their routine and just try to drink it all in." 
Hottovy said there were younger Cubs players in camp telling him how Stroman was their favorite player. He encouraged them to head out to watch the pitcher throw. One of those pitching prospects, Aneuris Rosario, stood off to the side as Stroman went through his workout with Gomes. 
"Very humbling, man. It's crazy," Stroman said. "You kind of forget that, just because we haven't been around baseball for a while. ... I'm just here to help, man. Learn. Educate. Whatever knowledge I can help and give them, I'm all for it." 
That applies to the Major League rotation, too.

Going into the season, the main starting options behind the veteran trio include righties Alec Mills (238 2/3 career MLB innings), Adbert Alzolay (159 1/3) and Keegan Thompson (53 1/3), along with lefty Justin Steele (57). Stroman said he was looking forward to seeing who from that group might experience a breakout this year. 
"I think we're great, man," Stroman said. "I think me, Hendricks, Wade, I think we can carry it. And then I think we have a tremendous upside from the young guys. You just never know when some of these young guys could turn it on and have their best career years."

Stroman did not pitch during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but the 30-year-old righty has a 3.12 ERA in 65 starts in the '19 and '21 seasons combined. Last year with the Mets, he logged a 3.02 ERA with 158 strikeouts against 44 walks in 179 innings.

Statcast had Stroman's arsenal at six pitches in 2021, when he leaned mostly on a sinker and slider. Given his style, Stroman has posted a 57.4 percent ground-ball rate in his career (50.8 percent in '21). He also generated 3.9 WAR (per Fangraphs) in '19 and 3.4 WAR last season. 
"He's a tremendous pitcher," Gomes said. "Earned everything that he's done. So, I'm excited to get to work with him. He's a fun guy to catch. Moves the ball around everywhere, as you can tell from his 'pen. I'm just trying to get on the same page and go from there."