Ross Stripling big part of Blue Jays at Trade Deadline

The Blue Jays’ entered the season with a rotation that profiled as one of baseball’s best, but the depth beyond the big leagues wasn’t as sturdy. An injury or two, and things could get interesting. Stripling has stepped in and stabilized not just the rotation, but the roster as a whole.

In Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Tigers, Stripling looked like his classic self for most of the outing before finding trouble in the fifth. A controversial call on a ball that appeared to hit the knob of Jonathan Schoop’s bat but was later ruled a batter shifted the inning against Stripling, but for the most part, the right-hander has been a rock in 2022, owning a 3.16 ERA .

“He’s been huge. I think that guys like him are undervalued around the league,” said interim manager John Schneider. “What he’s done has been remarkable. Not even remarkable, because he’s good, but what he’s done has been really valuable for us. We’re going to continue to lean on him. The fact that he embraces that role, going back and forth, is awesome.”

Without Stripling, the Blue Jays would have needed to pivot to Triple-A depth very early in the year. That’s what we saw them do recently when Yusei Kikuchi and Kevin Gausman missed time, and the results weren’t always encouraging. If that search had started earlier in the year, this is a much different picture.

The starting pitching market burst open Friday when the Mariners acquired Luis Castillo, the top name available, from the Reds. The price was steep, of course, with the Mariners giving up their No. 1, No. 3 and No. 5 prospects as ranked by MLB Pipeline. The Blue Jays have their top arms settled with Alek Manoah, Gausman and José Berríos, who continues to rediscover his old form, but there is still a need for depth.

Thanks to Stripling, that’s a preference, not an alarming need. Stripling knows this time of year well, though. He was acquired by the Blue Jays in a deadline deal in 2020, and frankly, a similar acquisition might be what this club needs now.

“We all play GM, wondering if we’ve got a package to get Juan Soto,” Stripling said with a smile. “I’ve probably said that to each of you one by one here. We’re all in tune here. When I got done with my outing, I got in and the guys were like, ‘The Rays got [D-backs outfielder David] Peralta.’ One of the trainers said that, so it’s all of us are paying attention to. It will be a fun 72 hours down the stretch here.”

Stripling has lived a blessed life when it comes to team success, too. With the Dodgers, every season had the potential to be a World Series year. Now in Toronto, expectations are sky high not just in ’22, but in the years beyond.

“I’ve been a part of teams that usually go buy. The Dodgers would always buy,” Stripling said. “We got [Yu] darvish one year, [Manny] Machado one year and then last year we got José Berríos here. It’s usually A-listers. I’m meeting an A-lister almost every year around this time, which is always fun. I’m anxious to see what we do, but I’m also really confident in the team that we have, that we can beat anyone.”

Stripling’s emergence allows the Blue Jays to focus their resources more on raising the floor of the rotation, not upgrading the middle or top end. Doing so is still on the table, of course, but those same resources make much more sense when put toward a high-end reliever… or two… or three.

There’s also the possibility that the Blue Jays target is a depth upgrade for their position player group on the bench, but with Andrew Benintendi and Peralta already moved, those left-handed options are flying off the shelves quickly. Ian Happ is another, but with Cavan Biggio and Raimel Tapia stepping up recently, the new skipper is feeling just fine.

“We like our roster,” Schneider said. “I think that when you’re functioning properly, you’re utilizing everybody. Right now, we feel good. We feel good collectively, as a whole, about any additions that may come in any shape.”

It’s perfectly vague. This roster will have a new shape come Wednesday, but thanks to Stripling and several others stepping up, those efforts can be far more focused.

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