The Dodgers should go all in at the trade deadline. Or they shouldn’t.
There’s good arguments for both.
For about two months last winter, the Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins talked in circles about a trade regarding Brian Dozier, the Twins’ star second baseman. After bringing back Rich Hill, Kenley Jansen, and Justin Turner in free agency, second base was the biggest hole on a championship-caliber roster. Even though Chase Utley was a lock to re-sign to his second straight one-year contract, the 38-year-old’s biggest contribution to the Dodgers in the second half of 2016 was veteran mentor. Ok, and NLDS hero. Dozier was (and still is) a fantastic hitter with a 40 home run season on his resume, but more importantly to a team that hit left-handed pitching worse than any other in baseball last season, he was right-handed.
There was one problem, however: in return for Dozier, the Twins wanted a Dodgers prospect that had never appeared above double-A and had only fairly recently developed a home run swing. The Dodgers said no, they liked the prospects unfulfilled potential too much. Their second base hole went unfilled. Once again, Andrew Freidman’s run as the leader of the Dodgers’ front office was defined more by a trade he didn’t make as opposed to one he did.
Usually, when that’s said about Friedman and his analytics-leaning staff, it’s meant as an insult, twisting the knife into Dodgers fans’ hearts that their team hasn’t reached a World Series in almost three decades. It should be a massive complement.
That prospect the Twins wanted? His name’s Cody Bellinger. You may have heard of him. Here’s what he did to Dozier and Minnesota on Monday night.
Rookie sensation Cody Bellinger belts a go-ahead three-run homer in the 8th to edge the Dodgers over the Twinswww.mlb.com
The Dodgers’ staunch refusal to trade top prospects cost them a shot at aces Johnny Cueto, David Price, and Cole Hamels in 2015, which was seen as an unforgivable sin at the time. Never mind that the Rangers haven’t advanced past the division series with Hamels and Price’s track record in the playoffs is a disaster. Never mind that Cueto’s complete game for the Royals in Game 2 of the 2015 World Series masked an awful run in Kansas City until then.
The critics at the 2015 deadline refused to back down until the pitcher that the Dodgers actually got back then, Alex Wood, started dominating as an ace in his own right this season.
Wood and Bellinger’s breakouts are huge reasons why the Dodgers are currently 69–31, one of the best records through 100 games in MLB history. Corey Seager, another former trade chip turned untradable stud, is another. If the Dodgers finally reach the World Series for the first time in 29 years, those three will likely be at the forefront.
Hopefully, Clayton Kershaw will be there too, but there’s still no timetable for when he’ll return from the disabled list after his back flared up for the second time in as many seasons. The Dodgers’ secret to success is a ridiculously deep roster and next-man-up mentality to augment their elite talent. Obviously it’s been working, but there’s no substitute for one of the best pitchers to ever pick up a baseball.
Which gives the Dodgers another dilemma as Major League Baseball’s July 31 trade deadline inches closer: do they stick to the keep-elite-prospects-and-add-depth strategy that got them to this point, or do they fully take advantage of their best chance to reach the fall classic in almost three decades?
To be fair, it’s not an entirely either/or question. The Dodgers gave up three well-regarded minor league pitchers to bring Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to Los Angeles at the 2016 deadline. And they eventually solved their second base problem last winter by sending Jose De Leon to Tampa Bay in exchange for Logan Forsythe.
Now, with Kershaw out and the team’s middle relief growing more and more shaky (Bellinger only got to be the hero Monday because Grant Dayton and Josh Fields couldn’t hold a lead), the Dodgers have reportedly expressed interest in Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish, superstar Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton, and San Diego Padres reliever Brad Hand. Of course, it’s never that simple. There’s conflicting reports about whether the Rangers and Orioles consider themselves far enough out of playoff contention to start trading veterans. One report said controversial Padres GM AJ Preller is asking more for Hand than the Dodgers would for Kershaw (!).
The big sticking point here is Alex Verdugo, the team’s top minor leaguer, and the Dodgers haven’t been shy about the fact that they’ve elevated the outfielder to the place that Seager and Bellinger have occupied in years past. The same might be said for former first-round draft pick Walker Buhler and international signee Yadier Alvarez. Verdugo, however, has been the name that keeps floating up in trade rumors.
I don’t know what the Dodgers will do, except that they’ll probably do something. I’ve spent this entire piece trying to illustrate that there’s no easy answer to what they should do. It’s going to be fascinating to watch, and whatever they do will likely draw plenty of criticism. Given Andrew Friedman’s track record since he took over the Dodgers, however, he’s earned the benefit of the doubt.
If I had to guess… (PREDICTIONZ TIME)
Tigers trade Justin Verlander, Justin Wilson, and cash to Dodgers for Yadier Alvarez, Willie Calhoun, and Trevor Oaks
Andrew Friedman likes to kill two birds with one stone. He acquired both starters and relievers from the Braves and Marlins in 2015 and both pitching and outfield help from Oakland in 2016. In 2017, he gets both starter and relief help. Verlander is a future hall-of-famer who’s in his mid-30s, owed a bunch of money for a few more years, and has been mediocre at best this season. That said, I’m fully on team get Verlander on a contender and watch him catch fire. Justin Wilson is a Southern California native that helps the Dodgers’ biggest playoff need by giving them a wipeout lefthanded reliever to join Kenley Jansen, Pedro Baez, and Brandon Morrow in the core of the Dodger bullpen. The Dodgers still give up two prospects from the top of their system, but taking on the bulk of Verlander’s huge salary mitigates a huge part of the cost. Verlander helps cover for Kershaw until he’s healthy, then enters the postseason as an elite third starter. The Dodgers have shown a willingness to pay through the nose if they so choose. Here, they do it again to top off the best team in baseball without gutting their farm system.