Stroman confident; prospects impressing

February 18th, 2021

NEW YORK -- The most confident man in baseball has returned. Marcus Stroman, who elected not to play in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns, says those issues are behind him. He’s no longer concerned about personal matters, or about his contract, having accepted the Mets’ $18.9 million qualifying offer back in November.

Stroman is now focused only on proving that the Mets’ 2019 Trade Deadline acquisition of him was the right move for a franchise with playoff aspirations. Since that deal, Stroman has appeared in only 11 games, posting a 3.77 ERA that he believes has created “this huge stigma.”

“I just kind of laugh at that,” Stroman said. “I know what I’m going to put in this year, going forward. … There’s no room to miss for me.”

Before electing not to play in 2020, Stroman offered similar sorts of assurances, saying he had “the best core in the league,” the best sinker, the best mental and physical conditioning, and so much more. Much of Stroman’s confidence stemmed from his first five-and-a-half seasons with Toronto, which saw him go 47-45 with a 3.76 ERA and an All-Star Game appearance in 2019. The Blue Jays traded Stroman two weeks later for pitching prospects Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods Richardson, who both factor heavily into Toronto’s future plans.

Stroman, likewise, has become a significant piece for the Mets. As recently as last July, team officials assumed that they would extend Stroman a qualifying offer, that he would decline it, and that they would consider pursuing him in free agency depending on their needs. Then the pandemic changed the equation. Facing an uncertain market, without a 2020 resume to sell to teams, Stroman decided to accept the one-year offer rather than test free agency. The Mets were likewise happy to lock up a proven starter on a one-year deal.

And so Stroman is back, forming the core of New York’s rotation with Jacob deGrom and Carlos Carrasco. The Mets could still add to that mix, but even if they don’t, Stroman is confident -- yes, confident -- in their chances.

“I think we’re unbelievable,” Stroman said. “I love our staff, one through five. I love our entire team, to be honest with you. If we’re nitpicking, you can nitpick with any team and say, ‘Oh yeah, it would be better if they added this, this and this.’ But let’s be real here. Look at who we added in the offseason, and let’s be thankful for that. Let’s get the fan base excited and ready to play baseball for this year.”

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Bottle opener?
In the early days of camp, Mets manager Luis Rojas has spoken frequently about his desire to explore creative pitching options. The most prominent of those surrounds the use of an opener -- a strategy the Mets have largely avoided despite its adoption by several big league teams.

One pitcher who knows something about that is Aaron Loup, who has never personally served as an opener, but who saw the strategy first-hand during his time with the Rays last summer. When asked about his interest in serving in that role, Loup replied that he’s “more than willing.”

“Who wouldn’t want to be the guy to start the game and then get to sit in the clubhouse and drink a few brews on the back end and watch the rest of it?” Loup said.

Whether Loup’s appearances come in the first inning or later, he’s happy to be on board with the Mets after signing a $3 million deal last month. Pitching in the World Series for the Rays, Loup said, made him only hungrier to join a contender as a free agent.

“Being 33, I’m definitely on the back end of my career, so winning is definitely a big part of what I wanted to do,” Loup said. “Getting back to the World Series is definitely something I’d like to try to do, and hopefully win one.”

Wave of the future
Unsurprisingly in the early days of Spring Training, Rojas’ eyes have drifted to some of organization’s top young prospects. Because there was no Minor League season in 2020, the Mets invited most of their best blue-chippers to Port St. Lucie, Fla., as a way to give them competitive reps in advance of Minor League camp.

That includes teenage catching prospect Francisco Alvarez, who has impressed Rojas during batting practice, and pitching prospect Matthew Allan, who threw a bullpen session Thursday.

“The ball looks really good coming out of his hand,” Rojas said of Allan. “We’ve heard great reports of our young prospects, but it’s good to see them in action, taking reps right now.”