The Toronto Blue Jays were pretty active last year at the trade deadline, acquiring some veteran players to help push the team into playing in October with the extended playoff format due to COVID-19. Ross Atkins and co. dipped into their prospect pool, trading away the likes of Griffin Conine, Alberto Rodriguez, and Travis Bergen (who they later re-acquired) for veteran players Jonathan Villar, Taijuan Walker, and Robbie Ray, with Ray re-signing a one year contract with the Blue Jays this past off-season.
One of the bigger trades made at the deadline last year was the Blue Jays acquiring pitcher Ross Stripling from the Los Angeles Dodgers with two ‘players to be named later’ being sent in return. The first name leaked in the trade was Kendall Williams, a starting pitcher who was recently drafted by the Blue Jays in the second round of the 2019 draft. The second name would be announced earlier this year, with outfielder Ryan Noda also heading to the Dodgers to complete the trade. Williams was the Blue Jays #11th ranked prospect in the organization when he was dealt to California.
At the time, this trade looked rather promising given the circumstances but seemed like an overpay given how highly ranked Williams was on the Blue Jays depth charts.
Stripling had experience in both the rotation and in the bullpen and was not just a rental player in that he still had two years of arbitration left when he joined the Blue Jays (he’s a free agent in 2023). He wasn’t able to find time in the rotation with the Dodgers potent starting five and top prospects coming down the pipeline.
Prior to joining the Blue Jays, Stripling was a pretty consistent pitcher with the Dodgers, throwing to a 3.68 ERA with 143 appearances (59 starts) while striking out 404 over 420.2 innings pitched. Since his arrival with the Jays, he has not found the same success, struggling to a 6.32 ERA last season over five appearances and a 7.20 ERA this year with 29 strikeouts over six starts and 25.0 innings pitched.
The reason this trade may come back and bite general manager Ross Atkins is because of who he gave up to acquire a struggling Ross Stripling.
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At the time, Williams had only half a season of professional baseball under his belt back in 2019 as the next season would be canceled due to the pandemic. In that one year alone, Williams pitched in the Gulf Coast Rookie League, making six appearances while crafting a stellar 1.13 ERA in 16.0 innings while striking out 19 and allowing seven walks. This season, the right-hander finds himself in Low-A ball, pitching well to begin the season with two appearances (one start) and surrendering one earned run with five strikeouts and four walks through eight innings pitched (at the time of this article).
While the walks/command is a bit high and will need to be polished as he moves through the farm system, I personally believe that the Blue Jays may have sold too quickly on Williams, especially considering he still has a few years of development left ahead of him and has the frame, arsenal, and projection to be a potentially lethal weapon in the starting rotation.
Not to forget that the team also gave up Ryan Noda, who is currently in AA with the Tulsa Drillers and sports a .216/.323/.490 line with seven walks, four home runs, ten RBI, and a .813 OPS through 14 games this season. While he wasn’t featured on the Jays’ top prospect charts in recent years, he was a solid depth option in the farm system and does have a good eye at the plate and solid power in the bat when he connects.
Looking back on this trade, losing Noda in the deal will most likely not come back to bite the Blue Jays, but losing Kendall Williams may be a tough pill to swallow in a couple of year’s time. Understandably the Blue Jays gave up some prospect capital to acquire Stripling, who had a few years remaining in control before free agency, it just seems like the front office may have undersold on Williams when it came to including him in this deal. What doesn’t help this scenario is that Stripling is struggling this season, with a potential move to the bullpen in his future with both Alek Manoah and Nate Pearson competing for a spot on the active roster.
As of right now, Williams is ranked as the #23 prospect in the Dodgers system, which I think is a bit low considering he has the makings of a starting pitcher and has performed well in the limited action he has in pro ball.
This trade may be one Ross Atkins regrets in the future, especially if Stripling continues to struggle and Williams fills out and fulfills his potential of being a dominant right-handed starter in a few year’s time. There is still time that Stripling will hopefully pitch out of the funk he is in, which will most likely be in the bullpen considering the prospect depth coming through the Jays farm system. If he continues to have issues keeping runs off the board later this season and into next year, this deal may fall under the category of being one of Atkins’s worst moves as the general manager of the Blue Jays.
This will be one trade to keep an eye on over the next few years to see who truly came out ahead when all is said and done.