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As the trade deadline approaches today, August 31, 2020, the Toronto Blue Jays are wheeling and dealing to bolster their pitching staff and infield as they contend for a playoff spot.
In addition for acquiring Taijuan Walker from the Mariners last week (for a Player to Be Named Later, who is reportedly a top-30 position-playing prospect who is not in the 60-man player pool), the Blue Jays have added lefty starter Robbie Ray from the Arizona Diamondbacks, infielder Jonathan Villar from from the Miami Marlins and right-handed pitcher Ross Stripling from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Ray has been pretty brutal this year, making him expendable for the Diamondbacks. He was very solid over the last several years, however, posting ERAs of 3.52, 4.90, 2.89, 3.83 and 4.34 in 2015 through 2019, making at least 23 starts a year and logging at least 12 2/3 innings for the Diamondbacks. He has a 7.84 ERA through seven starts and 31 innings this year, leading the National League with 27 earned runs allowed on nine home runs (so we’ll have to see how that plays in the AL East) while walking a league-leading 31 batters with a league-leading six wild pitches. So he’s not doing great. Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic also reports that the Diamondbacks will kick in $300,000 in cash to help offset the $1.42 million left on his contract.
The Blue Jays send back lefty reliever Travis Bergen to the Diamondbacks. Bergen was selected in the Rule 5 draft in 2018 by the San Francisco Giants and posted a 5.49 ERA with nine walks and 18 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings with the Giants before being returned to the Blue Jays. This year, Bergen appeared in one game for the Blue Jays, throwing an inning and two-thirds, walking one and striking out three and giving up a hit.
Later on, the Blue Jays have a reported deal in place to acquire infielder Jonathan Villar from the Marlins. Villar played 2019 with the Orioles, hitting .274/.339/.453 with 24 home runs but struck out 176 times and was worth a career-high 3.9 rWAR. So far this year, he has had a .272/.328/.360 slash line for Miami, with four doubles and two home runs in 29 games. He has some versatility, playing 14 games at shortstop, 11 at second base and two in center field.
Reports are that the Blue Jays are parting with minor league outfielder Griffin Conine in exchange for Villar. Conine is an interesting player who has a lot of pop in his bat, hitting a Midwest League-leading 22 home runs in 2019 after getting a late start, sitting out 50 games due to a suspension for violating the league’s drug policy (he tested positive for a form of Ritalin). In 348 plate appearances with Lansing, the former second-round pick and son of former Miami (Florida) Marlin Jeff Conine, also struck out 125 times, creating some concern about his tendencies to swing and miss, something he talked to me about when I interviewed him in 2019.
The Blue Jays made one more deal right at the trade deadline, sending two Players to Be Named Later to the Los Angeles Dodgers for righty Ross Stripling. Stripling, 30, has also not been great this year, giving up home runs at a prodigious rate, allowing 12 blasts in 2020 in seven starts totaling 33 2/3 innings. He’s got a 5.61 ERA and 1.455 WHIP, striking out 27 and walking 11 thus far.
Stripling has never been a full-time starter in the major leagues, breaking in to the big leagues in 2016 with the Dodgers and starting 14 of his 22 games while being mostly a reliever in 207 (49 games and two starts) and was more of a swing man in his 2018 All-Star season in which he threw 122 innings, making 21 starts in his 33 appearances with a 3.02 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, striking out 136 with just 22 walks. In 2019, he had a 3.47 ERA in 90 2/3 innings, making 32 appearances and 15 starts.
This gives the Blue Jays three more pitchers including Taijuan Walker to help bolster their beleaguered pitching staff. With Matt Shoemaker, Trent Thornton and Nate Pearson on the injured list (to say nothing of Ken Giles and now, Jordan Romano), the Blue Jays needed starting pitching for no other reason than to save their bullpen.
The addition of Villar gives the Jays a better solution at shortstop until Bo Bichette‘s return allowing guys like Brandon Drury, Joe Panik and Santiago Espinal (none of whom are hitting well) to play bench roles to which they’re more suited.
The Blue Jays look like they’re definitely trying to take advantage of their position after half of this weird season, and while we can’t say they’re going “all in” like the Padres are, they’re certainly adding pieces in order to keep things together in the final month.
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