Dodgers: What to Focus on at the Trade Deadline
By Evan Shin
In baseball, Christmas comes in July. The non-waiver trade deadline is approaching in the coming weeks. The Dodgers are looking down at the rest of major league baseball with the best record. Does this team even need to shop at all?
It’s hard pointing out any holes on this Dodgers team. With the best pitching staff all-around in baseball, a high-powered offense, and solid defense, what else is there to improve? Going into the 2017 season, there were two main concerns. First, will they be able to hit left-handed pitching? Second, can the starters go deeper into games? With a 20-9 record against lefties, the best in baseball, and second in both OPS and runs scored, it’s fair to say that is no longer a primary concern now. The starters are going deeper into games as well. Dodgers starters are ninth in the majors in innings pitched, effectively limiting the bullpen’s innings to the middle of the pack.
Fast-forward to the end of May. The Dodgers started slowly but caught fire in May. Led by Yasmani Grandal‘s hot bat and the resurgence of Alex Wood as a starter, the team started to click. The only ones lagging behind were Logan Forsythe, Joc Pederson, and Rich Hill. However, now Forsythe is stinging the ball all over the field, Pederson is hitting above .300 with eight homers, and Hill has a sub-2 ERA going seven innings in three of his last four outings.
Even players who’ve been lost the last couple of years are contributing. Yasiel Puig is finding his place in the team again, as the most fearsome eight-hitter in the league. Hyun-Jin Ryu is still a concern as his numbers aren’t the best and he’s currently rehabbing another injury. However, his weight has been carried by Brandon McCarthy, who’s surprised many by becoming the consistent right-handed starter in a left-dominated rotation.
Despite the success of McCarthy, his health history raises questions about whether he can sustain it. Many think the Dodgers need a front-end, right-handed starter for the stretch. Links to Detroit Tigers’ Justin Verlander have emerged since last season. Though Verlander was the game’s most dominant right-hander at one point, that certainly isn’t the case anymore.
He owns a 4.66 ERA, with 103 K’s, and a 1.50 WHIP. Let’s compare that with McCarthy’s 3.38 ERA, 61 K’s, and 1.17 WHIP. Verlander holds the advantage in strikeouts and innings pitched, but a 1.50 WHIP is not something to buy. Kenta Maeda is also averaging about a strikeout an inning with a 4 ERA, just with fewer innings pitched and a 1.19 WHIP. So it really makes no sense to go after Verlander, unless he’s given cheap, which is unlikely. That’s because the Tigers are trying to rebuild and his contract inhibits that from happening. However, Verlander isn’t doing a remarkable job of selling himself so the Tigers would have to attach him to a player that’s more wanted.
Those players are J.D. Martinez and Justin Wilson. Martinez would offer a powerful right-handed bat, who can also play outfield. He’s hitting .308 with a 1.025 OPS and 16 homers. It’s enticing for the Dodgers considering Puig can’t hit left-handers and Joc Pederson is left-handed.
Wilson is the piece that is especially attractive towards the Dodgers. A power, back-end of the pen, a lefty is the one thing the Dodgers need. He has 50 strikeouts in 39 innings pitched, producing a 0.91 WHIP and 2.29 ERA.
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Luis Avilan is the sole lefty in the bullpen right now. Though he effectively gets both righties and lefties out, it’s hard to see Dave Roberts trusting him to get Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, or Jake Lamb out in the seventh inning of a playoff game. Grant Dayton would be the go-to option if the Dodgers remain idle, but he’s on the DL with neck stiffness. He’s also had trouble finding the strike zone all year and getting lefties out. There’s also Adam Liberatore who was instrumental during last season, but he’s thrown a whopping 3.1 innings this season. If he can come back strong, he and Dayton could potentially fill the need for the Dodgers. Though, it would give more assurance to fans and Dave Roberts if Wilson were called for those big outs.
The problem is what the Tigers want in return. Alex Verdugo has been thrown into the conversation for this potential package deal. If the Dodgers want to keep one of the best farm systems in baseball, they need to keep Verdugo and Walker Buehler. Though it would make the Dodgers unmatched favorites, the trade doesn’t make sense long-term.
Verlander has postseason experience, but the Dodgers would be paying him over $60MM for the next three years, and Martinez is a free agent after this season. For these two reasons, it doesn’t make sense for the Dodgers to part with their top prospects.
It seems the front office knows this, so they’ve inquired elsewhere. Brad Hand’s name was dropped, but so was Verdugo’s in those discussions. Again, it isn’t worth buying a situational lefty at such a high price. The Dodgers also asked for Zach Britton which send ripples around the league. A Britton/Jansen combo would be devastating, with Baez in the seventh or in tight jams.
Britton’s been one of the most dominant closers the last couple seasons but has only thrown 13 innings this year. For this reason, and the fact he’s a free agent after this year, perhaps the Orioles will sell lower than the Tigers or Padres. Although the other two options are welcome as long as the Dodgers do not their top prospects away.