Note: This article was originally written back on March 11th, but with today marking the first anniversary of the Marcus Stroman trade, it seemed like a good idea to publish this piece.
When the Toronto Blue Jays traded Marcus Stroman last summer, the consensus reaction to the return seemed to be: “That’s it?” The New York Mets parted with two prospects, Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods Richardson, which, at the time, was deemed to be a light return for the Blue Jays.
Marcus Stroman was pitching like a top-ten pitcher in the American League at the time, and he wasn’t a mere rental for a contender. With an additional year of team control, Stroman was an attractive trade chip for a team with a two-year window of contention.
There was a belief that the Blue Jays would net at least a top 100 prospect in exchange for their veteran right-hander, but the Blue Jays pulled the trigger on a pair of prospects with very little pedigree.
My, how things have changed since the 2019 trade deadline. As he battles for a spot in the Blue Jays rotation, Kay has been one of the most impressive arms in spring training camp for Toronto.
Meanwhile, Woods Richardson landed inside Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list, ranking as high as 61. The 19-year-old finished his second season of pro ball in the Blue Jays organization, pitching to a 3.80 ERA with 126 strikeouts in 26 games split between single-A and high-A ball.
The Blue Jays did in fact land their top 100 prospect in exchange for Stroman. It just took six months for Woods Richardson to cross the threshold into that illustrious top prospects list. And now he’s the organization’s number three ranked prospect, behind Nate Pearson and Jordan Groshans.
Kay was a depth starter for the Blue Jays down the stretch, appearing in three games in September for the big club. His MLB debut on September 7, 2019 against the Rays was one of the most impressive rookie pitching performances in recent Blue Jays memory, as Kay fanned eight batters over 5.2 innings.
The 24-year-old’s peripheral spring training numbers this year don’t look great, but his 7.36 ERA and 7 walks across four games don’t tell the entire story for Kay. Nearly half of those walks came in a disastrous outing when he failed to escape the first inning and walked four batters.
At the time of the trade, the Blue Jays got raked over the coals for the light return they received for Stroman, but in retrospect, it was a smart move to make. If the Blue Jays weren’t keen on extending Stroman anyway, it made sense to trade him at his high point and gamble on a young, high upside arm with Woods Richardson, and someone who was on the doorstep of the big leagues like Kay.
The team that used 21 starting pitchers last year suddenly has a wealth of starting pitching depth, to the point where Kay and Pearson will be one of the first arms called into battle.
Some folks might not see it this way, but the Blue Jays also pulled off a savvy piece of business by making the Stroman trade and following that up by signing Hyun-Jin Ryu to a four-year, $80 million dollar contract. The Blue Jays essentially signed Ryu to the dollar figure they would have earmarked for a Stroman extension, plus the team got a bonus in the form of Kay and Woods-Richardson.
Even though he didn’t crack the opening day starting rotation, Kay will impact the Blue Jays roster in some fashion in 2020 and he will be called upon to eat some innings for the big club this season.
At 20-years-old, Woods Richardson is at least two more years away from climbing the organizational ladder and earning a promotion with the Blue Jays. Due to his sudden rise through the prospect rankings, Woods Richardson even might be worth more to the Blue Jays as a trade chip soon, rather than as star pitching prospect.
It’s only been one year since the Stroman trade, but in retrospect, it was a tidy piece of business for the Blue Jays. They have a back-end starter in the form of Kay, a top-end prospect with Woods Richardson, and they freed up some money to ink Ryu long term.