The A’s announced Friday that they’ve acquired right-hander Ross Stripling and cash from the Giants in exchange for minor league outfielder Jonah Cox. In order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, infielder Jonah Bride was designated for assignment. Oakland also confirmed its previously reported one-year deal with lefty Alex Wood.
It’s a rare swap of players between the two Bay Area clubs — one that will add some direly needed pitching to an Athletics roster that’s largely devoid of proven big league arms. The 34-year-old Stripling is coming off a tough first season after signing a two-year, $25MM deal with San Francisco, though he did pitch quite a bit better as the season wore on. The veteran swingman opened the season with 32 1/3 innings of 7.24 ERA ball between the rotation and bullpen before hitting the injured list with a back strain for the next six weeks.
Perhaps Stripling was never at full strength to begin the year, because upon returning from the injured list he pitched much more like his typical self. Over the course of his final 56 2/3 frames, the right-hander notched a 4.29 earned run average with a pedestrian 18.7% strikeout rate and an elite 2.6% walk rate. That lines up far more nicely with Stripling’s broader track record; from 2016-22, he logged a 3.78 ERA in 672 innings split between the Dodgers and Blue Jays.
Stripling is owed $12.5MM this coming season. He had an opt-out opportunity following year one of his contract but unsurprisingly decided to forgo that right after his uneven showing with the Giants. Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic reports that the Giants are paying down $3.25MM of Stripling’s salary; the A’s will be on the hook for the remaining $9.25MM.
The A’s could opt to use Stripling in the rotation or in the bullpen. He has ample experience in both roles and has had success in each as well. Certainly, Oakland brass had hoped that by now, several of the young arms acquired in the trades of Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, Sean Murphy, Lou Trivino and others would have yielded some controllable cornerstone pieces in the starting rotation.
That hasn’t happened, however. Left-hander JP Sears, who posted a 4.54 ERA in 32 starts and 172 1/3 innings out of the rotation last year, is the lone pitcher acquired in that fire sale who’s had any semblance of sustained success with the A’s. Others such as Ken Waldichuk, Kyle Muller, Adrian Martinez, Luis Medina, Zach Logue and Adam Oller (among others) have struggled. Medina did pitch fairly well in the second half of the 2023 season and is likely ticketed for a rotation spot in ’24, but that’s a sample of only 50 innings (4.32 ERA, 21.3% strikeout rate, 11.1% walk rate).
As such, it seems likely that Stripling and Wood will be reunited as not only teammates but rotation-mates. Stripling’s experience oscillating between a starting and relief role could mean he ends up in the bullpen at various points while the A’s take a look at younger arms. His familiarity with that role is a benefit to a team in the Athletics’ situation. If either Stripling or Wood can rebound after posting shaky results with the 2023 Giants, it’s quite likely that a non-contending A’s team will flip them both for younger talent prior to this summer’s trade deadline.
Stripling’s acquisition comes at the cost of the 28-year-old Bride’s roster spot. Bride, a versatile infielder/outfielder who’s played just about every position on the diamond, has appeared in each of the past two big league seasons. He’s batted just .192/.296/.232 in 293 trips to the plate, but he carries a stout .322/.450/.533 line in 401 plate appearances in Triple-A, where he’s walked more often than he’s struck out. The A’s will have a week to trade Bride or attempt to pass him through outright waivers. He still has a minor league option remaining. Between that, his plus hit tool and defensive versatility, he’s a candidate to be claimed or flipped to another club in a separate, minor trade.
As for the Giants, they’ll acquire Oakland’s sixth-round selection from just this past summer’s draft. Cox, 22, batted .287/.366/.403 with a 28.3% strikeout rate and 6.2% walk rate in 145 plate appearances split between the Athletics’ Rookie-level Arizona Complex League and Low-A clubs. Baseball America ranked him 29th among A’s farmhands heading into the 2024 season, touting him as a plus-plus runner who can handle center field. Cox is years away from being a potential big league factor, but despite struggling with strikeouts in his debut season, BA praised his strong bat-to-ball skills and credited him with an above-average hit tool.
For San Francisco, the money saved in the trade is every bit as important as the player side of the return. Moving the bulk of Stripling’s contract dropped the Giants’ payroll to a projected $154MM, per Roster Resource, and they’re now just under $200MM in luxury tax obligations. That gives them $37MM worth of AAV to work with before they come against even the first luxury threshold.
There are any number of ways for Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi to reallocate those funds. The Giants have been linked to Matt Chapman throughout the offseason, and signing him would bolster the infield defense while adding some pop (but also quite a few strikeouts) to the lineup. Cody Bellinger looks like less of a fit than he did prior to the Giants’ signing of Jung Hoo Lee on a six-year deal, but it could conceivably work out if the Giants push Michael Conforto into more of a DH role (or trade Conforto or another outfielder such as Mike Yastrzemski). San Francisco also reportedly made a late offer to Rhys Hoskins before he signed in Milwaukee, so it seems there’s the possibility of adding a bat to the first base/designated hitter mix.
Just as notable is San Francisco’s lack of rotation stability. Ace Logan Webb is one of the game’s best arms, but the trade of Stripling leaves the Giants with zero established arms beyond him. Top prospect Kyle Harrison was solid in last year’s MLB debut, but that amounted to all of 34 2/3 innings. The Giants signed oft-injured reliever Jordan Hicks and plan to plug him into the rotation — a dicey proposition that would be more befitting of a team with only one rotation hole and several workhorse arms ahead of him. Younger righties like Keaton Winn and Tristan Beck could factor into things as well, but it was obvious even before trading Stripling that the Giants needed at least one more starting pitcher.
The Giants have the resources to pursue top-of-the-market arms like Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, though doing so would require deviating from the front office’s prior aversion to long-term deals for pitchers. Other yet-unsigned options include Michael Lorenzen, Mike Clevinger and Hyun Jin Ryu. The trade market features names like Dylan Cease, Shane Bieber and any number of Marlins hurlers (Edward Cabrera, Braxton Garrett and Jesus Luzardo among them).
Stripling becomes the second pitcher and third free-agent signing from last offseason that the Giants will pay to pitch elsewhere in 2024. San Francisco paid the Mariners $6MM in the trade sending Anthony DeSclafani and Mitch Haniger to Seattle. (DeSclafani has since been flipped to Minnesota along with a bit of additional cash kicked in from the M’s.) They’ll have to hope for better results in this winter’s crop of signees if they hope to avoid a fifth playoff miss in six seasons under the current front office.