In a move that is at least mildly surprising, All-Star starting pitcher Marcus Stroman has opted out of the third and final year of his contract with the Chicago Cubs, and will be a free agent this offseason, according to Jon Heyman of the New York Post.
Prior to the 2022 season, Stroman signed a two-year, $50 million deal with the Cubs that included a $21 million option for a third year.
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While the storylines early on in the season primarily revolved around Stroman's interest in staying with the Cubs amid his stellar first half performance, a second half downturn and injury immediately cast doubt on what Stroman would do this offseason.
Stroman was 9-4 with a 2.28 ERA through 16 starts prior to the Cubs' visit to London, when his season began to take a turn for the worst.
Initially dealing with a blister and later rib cartilage fracture, Stroman struggled to return to form and spent much of the final two months on the injured list.
Stroman returned in September for two starts and two relief appearances, finishing the year with a 10-9 record and a 3.95 ERA.
Though it was easy to picture Stroman picking up his option and factoring into a rotation that will at least surely include Justin Steele and Jameson Taillon, Stroman's decision offers the Cubs a bit more flexibility with how they will approach fortifying the rotation this offseason.
The Cubs are seemingly likely to exercise a $16 million option to bring back Kyle Hendricks, while also being left to find roles, or perhaps trade partners, for Jordan Wicks, Javier Assad and Hayden Wesneski.
It's also possible that the Cubs pursue Stroman in free agency, though the righty's decision to opt out more likely opens up the possibility that the Cubs pursue a different starting pitcher in free agency, with Aaron Nola, Jordan Montgomery, Blake Snell and Sonny Gray among the notable names available.
After encouraging results from both Assad and Wicks in a starter's role in 2023, the two young arms emerge as both competent back-of-the-rotation starters as well as potential trade chips in a pursuit for the Mets' Pete Alonso or the Padres' Juan Soto, both of whom are entering their final year of team control.
Though Stroman's decision to opt out is unquestionably surprising, it does give the Cubs' front office a few more options to address the pitching staff in a look ahead to 2024.