CLEVELAND — It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows him, but Marcus Stroman is not backing down from trade rumors.
“Would you like to pitch in the playoffs?” he asked reporters surrounding him at the All-Star Game in Cleveland.
After being met with nods, Stroman said, “Yeah. Playoffs are fun, man.”
Stroman went to the postseason with the Blue Jays in 2015 and 2016, going 1-1 with a 4.40 ERA as Toronto fell short of the World Series, losing in the ALCS both years.
“2015-16, we were rocking,” he said. “Rogers Centre (where the Blue Jays play their home games) was lit. It’s probably one of the loudest things I’ve ever been in in my life. I like pitching in the moment. I don’t shy away from those moments.”
If that moment comes this year, however, it won’t be with the Blue Jays. Toronto is mired in fourth place in the American League East, 24½ games out of first. They’re three times closer to being the worst team in baseball than they are to a wild card berth.
In other words, the Blue Jays will be a seller at the trade deadline later this month, and no piece is more valuable than the first-time All-Star out of Duke. According to rumors, at least two division leaders — the Yankees and Twins — have already reached out to Toronto to ask about acquiring Stroman.
“I mean, it’s all rumors,” he said. “But I hear the same rumors as you guys hear. But at the end of the day, it’s all out of my control. I’m very comfortable where I’m at. I’m trying to live in the moment, truly.”
It’s a challenge, but Stroman is trying to avoid getting caught up in what might happen.
“When I’m away from the field, I get away from the game,” he said. “I get away from following anything where I could pop up as being traded here or here or here. I spend time with my family, my friends, my dog. It’s good. I’m good with where I’m at. Rumors don’t bother me. I’m focused on Toronto and doing everything I can to win games for the Blue Jays. I love that city. I love that country. I’m doing everything I can to go out there every fifth day and win.”
What could his potential trade suitors expect to get, if they can consummate a deal with the Jays?
“I think that I’ve showed that I’m extremely passionate, extremely competitive,” he said. “Obviously, I want the ball in each and every moment. I’m scared of nobody. I’m ready for any moment. There is no moment that’s too big. I try to take it all in, to be in the spotlight. I’m looking forward to everything.”
That bulldog attitude comes, in large part, from the fact that, at 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, Stroman is currently the smallest starting pitcher in MLB. He’s one of just six pitchers shorter than 5-foot-10 to start an MLB game this century.
He feels a kinship to athletes who have had to battle the “too short” tag, regardless of their sport. He says he’s reached out to 5-foot-10 Kyler Murray, the 2018 Heisman winner and top pick in the NFL Draft.
“Guys like him, (5-foot-11 Seahawks quarterback) Russell Wilson, they continually defy the odds,” Stroman said. “It’s starting to become not even a stereotype anymore, because you’re seeing so many little guys with their athleticism take over.”
Stroman revels in being the plucky little underdog and beating bigger opponents. In addition to his athletic talent, Stroman gives himself the advantage by changing up his timing to keep batters off-balance, a tactic that has earned criticism from opposing players and managers that he’s violating rules. He’s also been criticized for his displays of passion — some would say showboating — on the mound.
Stroman, of course, shrugs it off. “I love being small,” he said. “I love being short. I’ve kind of got a lot punched into this little package. I’m strong. I work at it.”
He also notices young pitchers, large and especially small, who use him as a role model, copying his delivery and his fire.
“I love it,” he said. “I try to reach out to as many as I can. There’s a huge wave of young pitchers out there who are doing pauses, messing with tempo in their delivery, showing passion. I love it. That’s why we play the game. We work so hard. When we get out there we want to have fun and just kind of let loose, let our hard work show. That’s how we do.”
That’s how Stroman does things. The question of where he’ll be doing them by season’s end is still very much up in the air.