Should the Dodgers Make a Trade After Clayton Kershaw’s Latest Back Injury?
The Dodgers are built to win both now and in the long-term, so they must approach the trade deadline with caution
If there is one MLB team built to withstand an injury to one of its most important players, it’s the Los Angeles Dodgers. Yet, after Clayton Kershaw exited Sunday’s start after just two innings because of a lower back strain, there was an understandable sense of panic brewing amongst Dodger nation. Dodgers fans and brass cringe each time “Kershaw” and “back” are uttered in the same sentence.
The truth is the Dodgers could easily make a panicky trade for any player available on the market. They have a prospect pool deeper than the depths of the ocean and could lure a team looking to sell at the trade deadline with a pipeline featuring names like Walker Buehler, Alex Verdugo, Yadier Alvarez, Mitch White, Willie Calhoun and Keibert Ruiz.
But they shouldn’t pull the trigger on a deal, at least not on a highly-coveted starting pitcher. The Dodgers currently own baseball’s best record at 70–31 and will sleepwalk to an NL West division title even though Kershaw is expected to miss four to six weeks with his injury. It helps that the Dodgers also own the best team ERA (3.15) in baseball.
The most notable starting pitchers being shopped by their respective clubs are Sonny Gray of the Athletics, Justin Verlander of the Tigers and Yu Darvish of the Rangers. All three pitchers are difference makers who would demand a king’s ransom in return.
Gray and Verlander are both controllable beyond this season, which makes them more enticing bets to land with the Dodgers should the team decide to trade for a starter. However, both Gray and Verlander should be treated with caution for different reasons.
While Gray has drawn interest from a slew of teams, his injury history is cause for concern. Per ESPN, Gray only threw 117 innings in 2016 because of forearm issues and began this season on the disabled list with a strained lat muscle. Trading for Gray would be a high risk-high reward proposition.
Verlander, 34, is a more proven pitcher but has struggled this season to the tune of a 4.54 ERA. His $65 million price tag through 2019 doesn’t help matters either. The Dodgers were one of the teams that scouted Verlander recently, but his hefty salary coupled with the probability that the Tigers would most likely demand high-end prospects in return to retool their anemic farm system may scare the Dodgers away from making a deal. Would the Dodgers be willing to pay the price and stick with a declining Verlander until age 36?
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Darvish, 30, is perhaps the biggest wild card of the trio because he would most likely just be a rental player due to his impending free agency in November. The four-time All-Star is 6–8 with a 3.44 ERA in 21 starts this year. According to ESPN, the Texas Rangers are only willing to move Darvish if the “right deal” is on the table from another club. The Dodgers, Cubs, Yankees, and Astros were amongst a handful of contending teams that scouted Darvish’s previous starts.
If general manager Farhan Zaidi and the rest of the Dodgers’ brass decide to make a deal, they would be better off investing their energy in acquiring a reliever to further bolster their prolific bullpen. Relievers generally don’t demand as much as starters in return and the recent trend amongst World Series-contending teams has been stacking the bullpen with versatile arms who can pitch in numerous situation across multiple innings.
While Zach Britton is the most notable reliever on the market, the Orioles would certainly look for a haul in exchange for his services. Britton set an American League record when he converted his 55th consecutive save on Sunday but has been dealing with a nagging forearm problem all season, which has caused his numbers to slip (6 saves, 2. 65 ERA) from last season’s Cy Young-contending campaign (47 saves, 0.54 ERA).
Left-hander Brad Hand of the Padres might be the best reliever available this season and he is controlled for two more seasons. However, the Padres may point to last season’s Andrew Miller trade that landed the Yankees four prospects and demand a similar return for Hand, who has not allowed a run in his last 16 appearances.
Adding Britton or Hand to pair with Kenley Jansen would certainly be a lethal combination at the back end of the Dodgers’ bullpen. But LA already owns the best bullpen ERA at 2.90 in the National League, making it hard to justify parting ways with top prospects for a big-name addition at this season’s non-waiver trade deadline (July 31).
The Dodgers’ farm system is loaded with talent and although it is unlikely that every prospect will pan out in the majors, there is little-to-no need to part ways with highly-touted talent for a mid-season addition. Not only are the Dodgers built to win now, but they are set up for success in the foreseeable future as well. If their approach in past seasons is any indication (not trading Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger for a short-term rental), the Dodgers will keep their top prospects and ride their current roster to a postseason run they hope culminates in a World Series championship.