In the days approaching Monday’s 1 p.m. trade deadline, the consensus around the major leagues was that the Dodgers were seeking to bolster their starting rotation with a frontline pitcher. Speculation whirled about the Texas Rangers’ Lance Lynn, a workhouse that would’ve fit the role of Game 3 starter in October. It was one of the very few possible and realistic upgrades imaginable for a team with the best record in the sport.
But the Dodgers didn’t acquire a starter. They traded one, sending right-hander Ross Stripling, a mainstay the last five seasons, to the Toronto Blue Jays for two players to be named later.
“This was extremely difficult, moving Ross,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said in a videoconference with reporters. “It was a conversation that I was not looking forward to just at how uncomfortable and uneasy [it would be], just because of the respect level.”
In previous years, the Dodgers would’ve informed Stripling that he is a capable starter but there just isn’t room in the rotation and he could help in the bullpen. Stripling had become accustomed to the constant bouncing between the roles in his Dodgers tenure. He was often the odd-man out on rosters loaded with starting pitching depth.
This year was different. The Dodgers, not envisioning a rotation spot for Stripling, agreed to trade him and Joc Pederson to the Angels in February only to have the impatient Arte Moreno nix the deal in the 11th hour. Stripling, of course, found his way back into the rotation for the 60-game season once David Price decided in July not to participate this season.
The problem surfaced again over the weekend. The Dodgers recalled right-hander Tony Gonsolin on Sunday and decided he belonged in the rotation. With Walker Buehler coming off the injured list this week, they would have six pitchers for five spots. So, Friedman traded him.
“We have a ton of professional and personal respect for Ross, and believe that he is a major league starting pitcher,” Friedman said. “And, ultimately, [we] didn't feel comfortable putting him in the bullpen. Especially when as we look out to next spring training, we felt like it was going to be difficult then as well. And so as much as he's helped us through the years, we felt like it was in everyone's best interest with the depth that we have right now and also caring about him.”
The Dodgers drafted Stripling, 30, in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. He broke into the majors with the club in 2016. He enjoyed his best success as a starter over the first half of the 2018 season when he made the All-Star team, but dealt with a back injury in the second half and didn’t make the playoff roster.
He was informed this season that he was headed to the bullpen again, to his frustration, before the league shut down in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The circumstances changed when the Dodgers reconvened for training camp in July once Price decided not to participate this season.
Stripling filled Price’s spot and limited the San Francisco Giants to one run over seven innings in his first start. The next five outings, however, were a struggle. He had a 6.75 ERA in the six starts and failed to log more than 5 2/3 innings. In his final performance as a Dodger, he gave up three runs over four innings against the Texas Rangers on Saturday.
The Dodgers decided Gonsolin, who has allowed one run in 17 2/3 innings this season, was the better option for a rotation with questions behind Clayton Kershaw. Buehler is an ace-in-the-making but he’s on the injured list because of a blister on his right hand. Alex Wood remains on the injured list with shoulder inflammation after a recent minor setback. Julio Urías has recently stumbled. Dustin May and Gonsolin have shined but lack substantial major-league experience as starters.
“I feel very confident that we're going to have an extremely talented pitching staff come October,” Friedman said. “And exactly how guys are deployed remains to be seen.”
Lynn would’ve further solidified the rotation. The 33-year-old right-hander ranks sixth in FanGraphs' version of WAR among qualified pitchers since the start of the 2018 season and has thrown at least 100 pitches in 32 consecutive starts. He has a 1.93 earned-run average in eight outings for the struggling Rangers this season.
He wouldn’t have been a rental for the final month of the regular season and whatever the playoffs hold. He is under contract through 2021, when he is slated to make $9.3 million. That would’ve met the criteria the Dodgers were seeking in an acquisition. But they deemed the price for Lynn too high.
Instead, the only players the Dodgers acquired are two minor leaguers not currently in the Blue Jays’ 60-man player pool. Friedman indicated one is in the lower minors and “will fit in really well with our next crop of prospects.” The other player will be chosen from a list at a later time.
The Padres on Monday added Mike Clevinger, the best starting pitcher on the market, to complete a 48-hour renovation of their roster. The club also acquired catchers Jason Castro and Austin Nola; relievers Austin Adams, Dan Altavilla, Trevor Rosenthal and Taylor Williams; and first baseman Mitch Moreland.
The Padres began Monday five games behind the Dodgers in the National League West standings. The Dodgers, at 26-10, are currently the No. 1 seed in the NL. The Padres are No. 4. If that doesn’t change in the next month, the teams would meet in a five-game National League Division Series if they both survive their three-game, first-round series.
"They are a very formidable team,” Friedman said, mentioning Padres general manager A.J. Preller. “We knew and expected that A.J. would be aggressive and look forward to playing them in September — and, who knows, maybe in October as well."