How Blue Jays can move forward after Hyun Jin Ryu injury

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Hyun Jin Ryu's Blue Jays career could be over. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
Hyun Jin Ryu's Blue Jays career could be over. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

The Toronto Blue Jays were dealt a major blow to their starting rotation this week with Hyun Jin Ryu slated for elbow surgery.

It's currently unclear whether or not the big left-hander will require Tommy John or a less invasive procedure. What we do know is Ryu's 2022 season is over and his 2023 campaign is in jeopardy as well. It is very possible that the 35-year-old has thrown his last pitch for the Blue Jays after signing a four-year, $80-million contract ahead of the 2020 season.

So how can the Blue Jays address the hole in their pitching staff? Here are the three main options.

Stay the course and rely on internal depth

The Blue Jays are lucky to have Ross Stripling, who can seamlessly transition between a starting job and a spot in the bullpen. Stripling has been excellent as a starter this season, logging a 2.81 ERA over seven outings.

If Stripling were to continue his run of strong performances, there was already a case to be made that he deserved a rotation spot over a healthy Ryu. Now he'll have a longer leash to take the position and run with it.

The option to stay the course is a risky one since Toronto does not have a lot of appealing options behind Stripling should another starter go down with an injury. The next man up figures to be one of Thomas Hatch, Casey Lawrence or Anthony Kay. Former top prospect Nate Pearson remains a wild card, but is likely destined for more of a bulk role out of the bullpen in 2022.

Yusei Kikuchi has been frustratingly inconsistent in his first season with the Blue Jays, so adding another major question mark to the starting rotation is not ideal for a team with legitimate World Series aspirations.

Keeping with the status quo would allow the team to use its trade chips to patch up other areas of the roster. The Blue Jays could still use a productive left-handed hitter and relievers with more strikeout potential.

Go shopping for a rental

This is probably the safest option available to Toronto GM Ross Atkins. Picking up a veteran arm on an expiring contract wouldn't force the Blue Jays to surrender any of their upper-echelon prospects.

The list of players in this tier isn't flashy, with names like Wade Miley, Martin Perez, Drew Smyly and Jose Quintana likely available at the trade deadline. Perez in particular is enjoying a career-best season at age 31. The Texas Rangers are in the playoff conversation thanks to the addition of a third wild-card spot, but their window of contention isn't truly open yet and selling high on Perez would be a wise move.

Ryu was providing back-of-the-rotation production at this stage of his career, so Toronto wouldn't be asking someone to come in and anchor the staff. This rental option serves as a Band-Aid fix to see what Ryu's status is at the end of the season. The Blue Jays could then shift their focus to a more permanent solution in the winter.

Try to acquire a longer-term solution

Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, Alek Manoah and Kikuchi are all under club control for the foreseeable future, so the Blue Jays only have one spot to fill for 2023 and beyond. This option would require the front office to surrender some of its more highly coveted prospects, but the payoff could be enormous.

Atkins has shown he's not afraid to shop at the top of the trade market for starting pitching, landing Berrios from the Minnesota Twins last summer in exchange for Austin Martin and Simeon Woods-Richardson.

The two biggest pitching prizes at this year's deadline figure to be right-handers Luis Castillo of the Cincinnati Reds and Frankie Montas of the Oakland Athletics. Both are pitching at an all-star level in 2022 and have one more year of arbitration remaining.

If the Castillo and Montas sweepstakes are too expensive for the Blue Jays' taste, an under-the-radar pickup could be Arizona Diamondbacks veteran Merrill Kelly, if he's made available. The 33-year-old has been solid over his four major-league seasons and owns a 3.68 ERA this year. He is set to earn $8 million in both 2023 and '24, with a $7 million team option for 2025.

Reds righty Tyler Mahle would have fit into this category, but was placed on the restricted list for Cincinnati's trip north of the border earlier this season, suggesting he is unvaccinated against COVID-19.

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