Marcus Stroman: Cubs' ace for next playoff run or trading card?

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Stroman: Cubs' ace for next playoff run or trading card? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Is Marcus Stroman one of the Cubs’ answers for competing for something meaningful during his three-year contract?

Or is he one of the most valuable trade chips they carry into a summer trading season that already looks certain to involve another significant selloff?

If he keeps pitching — and fielding his position — like he did Sunday against the White Sox, it might be one of the most important questions the Cubs will have to answer leading up to the Aug. 2 deadline.

Especially if the Cubs keep looking more like a threat to catch the Reds for last place than the Brewers or Cardinals for a top-two spot in the NL Central.

Stroman pitched seven scoreless innings Sunday in what manager David Ross called his best outing of the season “by far,” getting a no-decision when the Sox tied the game at 1-1 in the top of the ninth and eventually won, 5-4, in 12 innings.

“We needed that,” Ross said, citing a short bullpen and Stroman’s impressive Houdini act in the seventh, when he pitched around and error and left the bases loaded by retiring the final two batters on a strikeout and line-out.

“Really nice outing.”

Stroman, who went 18 days between starts because of a stretch on the COVID-19-related injured list, was making his third start back from the weeklong bout and said he’s still not at full effectiveness.

“I’m still not there, body-wise, mechanics-wise,” he said, noting the down time. “It’s been tough to get my body in position. …I truly feel I’m not even in my rhythm yet or where I want to be.”

Heads up, Cardinals this week and the Orioles and Yankees after that.

The guy who’s “not there” yet has a 1.50 ERA in four starts, covering 24 innings with 21 strikeouts and five walks.

Maybe that's why he's also starting to show up on lists of players around the league who might be available in trades this summer.

“I feel I’m someone who’s always going to go out there and compete regardless of how I feel,” he said. “I just know I can be better, so that’s what’s frustrating, is that I know that I can be better each and every time out. I’m just trying to get to that point.”

He also made one of the top two defensive plays in the game, showing how he won a 2017 Gold Glove, when he pounced on a Danny Mendick bunt in the sixth and threw to third for the first out of the inning to help preserve a 1-0 lead.

“I don’t want to say you expect him to make that play, but when he makes it you’re not surprised,” reliever David Robertson said, “because he’s that good at defending the mound.”

Centerfielder Chris Morel had the only play in the game better, crashing into the wall to rob Jake Burger of extra bases for the second out of the eighth, then unleashing a strong throw to second to keep the runner from advancing.

Morel already is starting to take on the look of a rookie with a chance to play his way into a role for Jed Hoyer's "next great Cubs team."

Stroman said that was his expectation for himself when he signed that three-year, $71 million deal in November. And he still talks about big things for this team, even this year.

But it'll be the conversations on the subject in the upstairs offices that carry the most weight and that might become pivotal in the timeline for the Cubs' latest multiyear rebuild.

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