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Nobody was sure on what Marcus Stroman would do as far as his contract situation goes, but many expected him to return to the Cubs for the final year of his deal in 2024.
Instead, Stroman is opting out of that final season, leaving $21 million on the table to look for another contract. The New York Post’s Jon Heyman was first with the report.
Stroman, who signed a three-year, $71 million contract before the 2022 season, had been vocal about wanting to remain with the Cubs long term. He even posted on social media that he’d tried to engage the front office in contract extension talks.
The first half of his season certainly helped his case.
In his first 16 starts, Stroman looked like a Cy Young candidate. He went 9-4 during that stretch and posted a 2.28 ERA and a .191 opponent batting average, which both led qualified National League starters and ranked third in baseball. The gem of his first three months of the season was a one-hit, complete-game shutout of the Rays on Memorial Day, and performances like that helped earn him just his second-career All-Star Game selection.
“He was an All-Star in the first half,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said at his season-ending press conference. “He was exceptionally good and a candidate to start the game at that point.”
The second half of his year, though, made it feel much less likely that he would hit free agency again after the season.
Stroman started the Cubs’ finale against the Cardinals in London, where he gave up six runs (three earned) in just 3 1/3 innings. His season unraveled from there. In seven starts from June 25 to July 31, Stroman posted a 9.00 ERA and opponents hit .318 against him.
A hip issue played a part in his struggles, and the Cubs put him on the 15-day injured list in early August to address it. When he was set to be activated a couple of weeks later, though, Stroman was revealed to have suffered a right rib cartilage fracture. That injury ultimately kept him out until Sept. 15, before he returned to pitch twice out of the bullpen and started two more times down the stretch. Stroman finished his season 10-9 with a 3.95 ERA.
“He struggled in July, and then obviously was hurt for August,” Hoyer said. “I give him a lot of credit for working hard and trying to come back, but he never quite got back to where it was. I think that’s the only way to look at his season. He was really crucial for us in the first half. But then obviously, we certainly could’ve used him in the second half, but he was injured and unable to help us.”
Stroman never shied away from discussing potentially hitting free agency again this winter when asked about it, but that second half left doubt that he would opt out of his deal. Now, that question has been answered.
Stroman opting out doesn’t eliminate the possibility of the two sides working out a new deal this offseason, so he still could return to the rotation next year.
For now, in house, Justin Steele and Jameson Taillon are locks, and Kyle Hendricks (club option for 2024) would join them should the Cubs bring him back next year as expected. Jordan Wicks and Javier Assad performed well when needed and are solid options. Hayden Wesneski and Drew Smyly (player option) disappointed in the rotation, but both could potentially play their way back into the good graces of the starting pitching group.
With Stroman’s $21 million salary in 2024 now off the books, the Cubs have more money to float around in free agency. They also have the prospect capital to be players in the trade market. How they fill out their rotation will be one of the more interesting topics to follow this winter.
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