Blue Jays fans knew it would happen at some point in the offseason, but the news became official on Tuesday: Ross Stripling’s tenure in Toronto is over.
Stripling, who spent part of the last three seasons with the Blue Jays, signed a two-year, $25M deal with the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday, according to Jeff Passan of ESPN. The deal includes an opt-out after the first year, allowing Stripling to potentially test the free agency market again next offseason.
It’s a hard, but not unexpected, blow to the rotation the Blue Jays put together last season on their way to securing the top Wild Card spot in the American League. The Blue Jays declined to offer Stripling a $19.6M qualifying offer, all but ensuring he would be pitching elsewhere.
Stripling didn’t become a regular starter for the Blue Jays in 2022 until June, but once he did, he made the most of the opportunity. He slid perfectly into the third spot in their rotation, providing a dependable arm behind Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman. He had a 2.69 ERA over his last 12 starts, 12th in the AL over that span. The team went 11-1 in those games. He gave up two or fewer runs in 18 of his 24 starts. Stripling had three starts of at least five shutout innings allowing no more than one hit, tied for the most in a single season in Blue Jays franchise history.
Stripling’s departure leaves some holes in the Blue Jays rotation that Chris Bassitt was brought in to help fill. But the Blue Jays shouldn’t stop there. Not with the uninspiring choice of either Yusei Kikuchi or Mitch White to trot out to the mound every fifth day in 2023.
There are still some intriguing options left on the market that the Blue Jays should take a look at. One is a familiar face. Nearly a decade ago, the Blue Jays included prospect Noah Syndergaard in a package for reigning Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey.
Syndergaard is no longer the “Thor” he was then and in his early career with the New York Mets, unleashing a fastball with the ferocity of a hammer strike from a Norse god. His four-seamer, which once averaged nearly 99 mph, was only 94 last season with the Angels and Phillies, his first full year back from Tommy John surgery.
Syndergaard began throwing more offspeed pitches in 2022. At the same time his percentage of fastballs declined from 29.3 percent in 2019 to less than 15 percent, his slider usage went up from 15.2 percent to 22.4. He’s a different pitcher than the Blue Jays once knew, but he proved to still be effective, helping the Phillies reach the World Series this October. A reunion nine years in the making could help the Blue Jays solidify that last spot in their rotation.
The Blue Jays are also familiar with two other pitchers that are looking for a place to play in 2023. Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Wacha made a combined six starts against Toronto last season when both were with the Boston Red Sox.
Wacha, entering his age 31 season, enjoyed a career renaissance in Boston in 2022. After three seasons in which he went 10-16 with an ERA above 5.00 for three different teams, Wacha made 23 starts after signing a one-year deal with the Red Sox and posted a 3.32 ERA. He walked just 31 batters over 127.1 innings as opponents batted only .231 against him.
Eovaldi, Wacha’s former Red Sox teammate, has a big arm and, just as important for a Blue Jays franchise hoping to make a postseason leap in 2023, big game experience. He comes at opponents with a 96mph fastball and a splitter that opposing batters hit just .181 off of last season. Eovaldi, who became a Red Sox legend with his heroic outing in the 18-inning Game 3 of the 2018 World Series, will be 33 by Opening Day and coming off two seasons in which he posted a collective 3.80 ERA and struck out more than nine batters per nine innings.
If the Blue Jays are ready to open their wallet for another high-priced free agent, and keep one away from the New York Yankees, then Carlos Rodón is a tantalizing option still sitting on the open market.
Just two years ago, Rodón's once-promising career seemed to be winding down. He threw just 42 innings across the 2019-20 seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The Chicago White Sox non-tendered his contract before 2021 and brought him back on a one-year, $3 million deal with a chance to compete for the fifth spot in their rotation.
And compete he did. Rodón has a 2.67 ERA in the last two seasons with the White Sox and Giants, no-hit the Indians in 2021 and led the league in strikeouts per nine innings in that year. He won’t come cheap, but the Yankees have reportedly been active in the market for the left-hander; prying him away could be just what the Blue Jays need to overtake their AL East rivals.
Stripling is gone. Bassitt is in. And the Blue Jays could potentially just be getting started in remaking their rotation for next season and beyond.