JUPITER, Fla. -- Marcus Stroman stood outside the visitor’s dugout, down the left-field line, at Roger Dean Stadium after pitching into the second inning of his first Spring Training start, against the Cardinals. And Stroman, who was 4-2 after the Mets traded for him last July, talked about the Mets’ starting rotation, which has a chance to be the best and deepest in baseball this season. If you don’t believe him, just ask. I did.
“Do you think you guys have the best rotation?” I said.
“Yes,” Stroman said, without hesitation. Then he smiled and said, “Is that gonna be a headline?” Then he shrugged, still smiling and said, “I don’t care. It’s the truth.”
He happens to be right. The Mets starters have a chance to be that good. A lot of teams think they have a lot of starting pitching in Spring Training, of course. Then the games start. Then things change, sometimes before the games start. The Yankees thought they were loaded this season after they signed Gerrit Cole. Now Luis Severino, once the Yankees’ ace, has right forearm problems. He was supposed to be Cole’s No. 2. James Paxton, sidelined after back surgery early this month, was supposed to be No. 3.
But on the other side of Florida from the Yankees’ camp, and the other side of New York City when the season starts, the Mets have a young, deep, intriguing rotation, one that absolutely can give the Mets a fighter’s chance in what might be the deepest division in baseball this season: the National League East.
Stroman went through everybody: Jacob deGrom, who has won the past two NL Cy Young Awards; Noah Syndergaard, whose stuff Stroman said was “beyond electric;” and Rick Porcello, who even coming off the highest ERA of his career with the Red Sox (5.62 with 14 wins) has an American League Cy Young Award on his resume. Then he talked about Steven Matz, a Long Island kid like Stroman, and Michael Wacha, who won 17 games with St. Louis when he was just 23. Porcello, Matz and Wacha, at least for now, will fight it out for the last two spots in manager Luis Rojas' rotation.
Stroman talked glowingly about everybody except himself. But he is Rojas’ No. 3 starter. He is the guy whom Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen acquired last summer as a way of signaling the Mets weren’t throwing in the towel, despite having been 40-50 at the All-Star break. For much of last season people thought Stroman would end up with the Yankees at the Trade Deadline. The Mets got him instead. He made 11 starts as the Mets finished strong, going 46-26 after the break. The Long Island kid made it to New York, even if he probably thought he was going to end up in the Bronx, not Queens.
Stroman seems made for the big city, with his personality, on and off the mound, and what seems to be a quite natural swagger for a guy just 5 feet, 7 inches tall. When Jack Flaherty got the strikeout that ended the top of the first on Saturday, Stroman was out of the Mets' dugout like a sprinter coming out of the blocks.
“He is a wonderfully modern athlete,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said from behind home plate.
Stroman got four outs, gave up three hits and a long home run to Tyler O’Neill, struck out two, topped out at 92 on his fastball, which is about right, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself. He seems made for the New York stage.
“I am so ready for this,” he said.
I asked him what he knows about playing in New York that he didn’t know before the trade from Toronto.
“Nothing!” Stroman said and laughed. “I’m from here. I know it’s the mecca of the world when it comes to sports. If you do well, you’re a king. If you don’t do well, you’re a villain. I’m fine with that. I’m a confident person. I’ve always been a confident person. Unconfident people might be uncomfortable around confident people. But I’m fine with that, too. The whole thing of playing where I’m playing and who I’m playing with just has me excited. And I think we have a chance to have a special team.”
Again: It is such an interesting group of starting pitchers. What makes them even more interesting is that not one of them is older than 31. deGrom is 31 and so is Porcello, even if it seems sometimes that he has been around forever. Stroman is 28. Syndergaard is 28. So are Matz and Wacha.
The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and now David Price. The defending World Series champions Nationals have Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. There are other strong rotations, for sure. The Mets, up and down their rotation, if blessed with good health, can go toe-to-toe with any of them.
“I’ll take us,” Stroman said.
It all started for him in Jupiter on Saturday afternoon. Four outs, three hits and two strikeouts over 1 2/3 innings in a 2-1 loss. A long way to Opening Day. A long season ahead, at the end of which he can become a free agent. In all ways, Stroman likes where he is.