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Blue Jays: Waiting on Ross Stripling to prove me wrong

BUFFALO, NY - SEPTEMBER 23: Ross Stripling #48 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch against the New York Yankees at Sahlen Field on September 23, 2020 in Buffalo, New York. The Blue Jays are the home team due to the Canadian government"u2019s policy on COVID-19, which prevents them from playing in their home stadium in Canada. Blue Jays beat the Yankees 14 to 1. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NY - SEPTEMBER 23: Ross Stripling #48 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch against the New York Yankees at Sahlen Field on September 23, 2020 in Buffalo, New York. The Blue Jays are the home team due to the Canadian government"u2019s policy on COVID-19, which prevents them from playing in their home stadium in Canada. Blue Jays beat the Yankees 14 to 1. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images) /
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When the Blue Jays decided to add ahead of last year’s trade deadline, I was a fan of most of the moves. However, I still question the trade with the Dodgers.

The 2020 season was a somewhat pleasant surprise for Blue Jays fans, as the young squad went from a 67-win team in 2019, to making the playoffs the following year. Their cause was aided by the fact that it was a shortened 60-game season and the playoffs had an expanded format, but any way you look at it the Blue Jays were playing meaningful baseball all season long, and that’s a good thing.

One of the other pleasant surprises was that the front office decided to bolster the roster ahead of the trade deadline, which is a position they hadn’t been in since 2016. I was a pretty big fan of the work that was done as well, as they acquired Robbie Ray from the Diamondbacks, Jonathan Villar from the Marlins, and their best move in nabbing Taijuan Walker from the Mariners. However, there’s one decision that Ross Atkins made that I’m still waiting to understand, and that was making a deal with the Dodgers to acquire Ross Stripling.

That’s not to say that Stripling doesn’t have value, but there’s a lot that confuses me about this situation, and I’m genuinely curious how things will play out and why the Jays’ front office is so high on him. The biggest reason to question the deal is because we know that they sent a top-30 prospect from the organization in Kendall Williams to the Dodgers, so this wasn’t a bargain. Unlike the others, Stripling won’t be a free agent until 2023 (according to spotrac.com) instead of being on an expiring deal, but that only carries so much value.

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It would be easier to understand if the Blue Jays had a big role planned for Stripling in 2021, but here’s how I see the rotation depth chart at the moment, keeping in mind that I could easily be wrong.

1- Hyun Jin Ryu
2- Nate Pearson
3- Robbie Ray
4- Tanner Roark
5- Ross Stripling

Depth- Anthony Kay, Trent Thornton, Tom Hatch, Julian Merryweather, etc

I do think it’s possible or even likely that the Blue Jays could look to trade Roark, but for now he has to be considered part of the rotation plans. That said, it’s well known that the Jays are interested in adding another impact starter, as they’ve been linked to several free agents already, and they might even be in the market for two starters. That may only be the case if they were to trade Roark, so let’s assume it’s just one. It then looks like:

1- Ryu
2- Free agent*
3- Pearson
4- Ray
5- Roark
6- Stripling

Even if the Blue Jays elected to turn Roark into a long reliever instead, the best case scenario I see from Stripling is as the #5 starter in 2021. More likely, I imagine he’ll serve as the multi-inning guy out of the bullpen, make occasional spot starts, and serve as depth in the case of an injury. That all has value, but is it enough to make it worth giving up an arm like Williams?

The 2020 season wasn’t a representation of his finest work (6.32 ERA, 1.596 WHIP over five appearances), but there are upsides to point to. He made the NL All-Star team in 2018, and over the course of his 5-year career he’s 23-27 with a 3.77 ERA, and a 1.231 WHIP over 148 appearances, including 61 starts. However, he’ll also turn 31 on Monday, so I doubt there’s a plateau that we’ve yet to see.

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All that being said, I’ve grown to trust the Blue Jays front office a lot more over the last year or so, and that leads me to keeping a particular eye on Stripling for next season. Maybe there’s something I’m not seeing, and it’s more about his projected role than anything, but hopefully he’ll put my questions to rest in 2021.

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