Marcus Stroman wasn’t the best pitcher in Blue Jays history.
He didn’t rack up all-star appearances, bring the team a World Series berth, or rank as one of the elite pitchers of his era.
Most years he was more “really good” than “truly great” and he tended to be dubbed an ace due to a lack of viable alternatives for that crown rather than his own transcendent skill. The 28-year-old will not be enshrined in the Level of Excellence.
Fixating on what he wasn’t rather than what he was would be unfair, though. After all, it was scouts around baseball who zeroed in on the inches he was missing as opposed to the stuff he had that allowed him to fall to the Blue Jays in the draft.
Stroman has his devotees and his detractors, but there’s no doubt that he was unique. When he first emerged in 2014 his unusual stature, deep repertoire, and penchant for showing emotion on the mound, he was instantly recognizable - something that can’t be said for many baseball players these days.
His rookie season might have been his best as a pro, while he was still figuring out how he wanted to pitch on the fly. He began the year as a four-seamer guy who spun an impressive curveball, by the end he was more of the sinker-slider specialist we see today.
In between Year 1 and Year 2, Stroman had one of the moments that would define his Blue Jays tenure. In spring training he tore his ACL, setting the stage for a remarkable comeback story.
Stroman overcoming that injury and returning to the Blue Jays at the height of his powers during their magical 2015 season will likely define his legacy with the team. It was so improbable and so neatly encapsulated his will to compete and refusal to allow anything to get in the way of his internal belief.
He was excellent by any standard down the stretch, becoming the team’s go-to pitcher in the playoffs as David Price faltered and he emerged in 2016 as the Blue Jays’ undisputed top dog.
That season, he reached the 200-inning mark for the first time, a milestone that’s rarer and rarer in today’s game - and one that clearly meant a great deal to Stroman. He repeated the feat the next year, but things were a little different.
By 2017 the Blue Jays had slid into irrelevance, so the high stakes that Stroman seemed to thrive on were nowhere to be found. It felt like if he was making headlines it was due to his fallout with Aaron Sanchez, or some old school type not taking a liking to his on-field antics.
Over time, Stroman’s fiery competitiveness began to seem out of step with the Blue Jays miserable seasons. He hadn’t changed, but his circumstances had and his act got tired for some. Although Stroman will be sorely missed by many Blue Jays fans, it’s clear that his natural habitat is on a contender. Whether the Mets can be that while he’s there or not is an open question, but with the Blue Jays there was no hope.
It didn’t have to end this way. The Blue Jays could have extended Stroman, something he explicitly said he was open to. He might have bridged a pair of competitive eras and become a true franchise icon. His claim is that the club never made him a serious offer. It’s one the Blue Jays have a hard time refuting, although it likely exaggerates their disinterest.
Stroman won’t be remembered for the debate about his departure, that’s far too mundane to define a player whose time with the Blue Jays was anything but. Instead he’ll be remembered for always doing, and arguably being, a little bit extra.
The right-hander rehabbed harder and more effectively than anyone at the time thought possible. He worked tirelessly on his fielding, taking grounders on the infield all the time and finally joining his friend Mark Buehrle as a Gold Glover. He excelled as a hitter in limited opportunities, and found his way onto the field as a pitch runner.
Even his controversial quick pitching and delivery hesitations were employed for the purpose of getting a small edge on his opponents. He never weighed the size of that edge against the blowback he got, he simply knew that he wanted whatever advantage was available.
That quality in Stroman made him irresistible to some and irritating to others, but his time in Toronto was nothing if it wasn’t memorable.
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