Toronto acquires Ray, Villar, Stripling

September 1st, 2020

After acquiring left-hander from the D-backs along with cash considerations for reliever Travis Bergen, then infielder from the Marlins for a player to be named, the Blue Jays capped off a busy Trade Deadline day with a buzzer beater to add right-hander . The Blue Jays sent No. 13 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, Kendall Williams and a player to be named back to the Dodgers for Stripling.

This marks Toronto's third, fourth and fifth deals of the Trade Deadline season after acquiring first baseman/designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach and right-hander Taijuan Walker in separate trades from the Mariners. Entering Monday two games ahead of the Tigers for the final playoff spot in the American League, the Blue Jays are clear buyers for the first time since their playoff runs in 2015-16.

Blue Jays get: LHP Robbie Ray, cash considerations
D-backs get: LHP Travis Bergen

Blue Jays get: INF Jonathan Villar
Marlins get: PTBNL

Blue Jays get: RHP Ross Stripling
Dodgers get: RHP Kendall Williams and a player to be named

The Stripling deal stands out from the rest as the lone move that wasn’t for a rental, as Stripling is in his first year of arbitration and has two years of team control remaining. An uncharacteristically high home run rate has hurt Stripling in 2020, leading to a 5.61 ERA, but the 30-year-old has been valuable in multiple roles for the Dodgers.

“Ross Stripling is a guy who’s been reliable, really good weapons, incredible secondary options and he’s throwing harder this year,” said Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins after the Deadline. “He struggled a little bit against right-handed hitting, so hopefully we can help him there, but adding two very reliable arms -- and one of them that could be a member of our organization for an extended period of time.”

With 59 starts among his 143 career appearances for Los Angeles, Stripling gives the Blue Jays plenty of options. His best season came back in 2018, when he posted a 3.02 ERA over 21 starts and 12 relief appearances (122 innings). With some potential rotation openings coming in 2021, this move has long-term potential for the Blue Jays.

In Villar, the Blue Jays add some much-needed infield depth in a switch-hitter who also brings plenty of speed to the lineup. Toronto has worked to find solutions on the left side of its infield after Bo Bichette went down with a right knee sprain, but its internal options have underwhelmed. Bichette is expected to return this season, providing a major boost down the stretch, but Villar will allow the Blue Jays to weather his absence and be a better team coming out of it.

Villar is expected to see time at shortstop with Bichette out, which would move Santiago Espinal, who has defensive versatility similar to Villar’s, into a valuable utility role. Once Bichette returns, Villar could move to third base, where Travis Shaw has battled inconsistencies this season. Villar is also an option at second, which gives the Blue Jays the option to use Cavan Biggio in the corner outfield when that gives them a better overall lineup.

Atkins and the Blue Jays are comfortable with Villar playing all over, with Atkins even mentioning his ability to play center field. While shortstop is Villar's likely starting point, Atkins emphasized that he prefers to make those decisions with the player, which is a conversation that will happen when the Blue Jays reach Miami.

Now 29, Villar stole 40 bases on just 49 attempts with the Orioles last season, and he stole 62 in 2016 with the Brewers. The Blue Jays do far more damage with the long ball than on the bases, but this move noticeably improves the athleticism of a roster that’s been working to add more of that dynamic in recent years. Villar is a free agent at season’s end.

On the pitching side, Ray has struggled with the D-backs this season, but he comes with obvious upside as a high-strikeout arm who pitched to a 3.96 ERA over his five previous seasons in Arizona (2015-19). Ray has consistently struck out more than a batter per inning, but his control issues have gotten the best of him through his first seven starts of '20, in which he has a 7.84 ERA.

With 31 walks in 31 innings, Ray leads all pitchers in Major League Baseball by a comfortable margin, which has made it difficult for him to work deep into games. Depth of start has been an issue for the Blue Jays’ rotation, with no starter working into the seventh inning or reaching 100 pitches to this point in the season.

“With Robbie, the stuff is still electric and the stuff is there,” Atkins said. “It’s very public that the arm action changed. We believe he’s working back towards his arm stroke and arm action that he had a year ago, but the stuff is electric and the strikeouts [are] there. We’re optimistic we’ll be able to get him [over] the plate.”

Ray’s fastball velocity is back up to an average of 93.9 mph this season, according to Statcast, and he’ll pair that primarily with a slider and curveball. Pitching on a one-year deal, Ray will be a free agent at the end of the 2020 season.

Both Atkins and Charlie Montoyo indicated that they’re flexible regarding which roles Ray and Stripling will play. There’s an open rotation spot for the time being, which lands on Tuesday’s bullpen day in Miami, but the club should have a clearer picture of who will start or potentially slide into a hybrid, multi-inning role in the coming days.