It’s possible to rebuild and win simultaneously. Just ask the Los Angeles Dodgers. The organization has split conventional baseball tactics. The franchise dynamics are nothing short of fascinating: Los Angeles owns both the highest payroll and the top rated farm system in baseball.
Instead of spending its prospect capital ways reminiscent of the 2015 San Diego Padres or 2016 Arizona Diamondbacks, the Dodgers are taking the Cubs and Royals’ approach of collecting as much youth as possible. Prospect-wise, Andrew Friedman is running L.A. as a small market team.
The time is approaching to alter that mindset. If the Dodgers are to win when it matters, they need to add that second ace, that big bat, whatever it may be to put them over the top. It’s going to require dipping into the franchise’s riches – both in monetary and tangible assets.
But there’s always untouchables. No matter the offer, almost every team has a player it deems immovable. Granted, many of such declarations are posturing in negotiations. Much of it is leaked to fans to change perceptions. But some of it should hold true.
If a Mike Trout or Nolan Arenado is for sale, perhaps who was once untouchable is the first piece offered on the table. There are exceptions to every rule.
Disclaimer: There is a zero percent chance Trout is traded right now. The hypothetical discussion is to gauge the value of the Dodger to acquiring a player of Trout’s caliber.
We’re going to look at the top three untouchable Dodgers, as well as what would happen if they were required in a deal for Trout-level player. All players, not just prospects or major leaguers, were considered.
Clayton Kershaw is exempt. Los Angeles wouldn’t trade him, and teams probably wouldn’t waste their time calling. He is a true ambassador to the organization and city. His value to the Dodgers transcends any fathomable return.
Moving on, the top three untouchables: *stats as of 7/7/16*
3) Cody Bellinger, 1B
2016 Stats: .271/.355/.454 with 9 HR and 30 RBI in 61 games (Tulsa-AA)
The top two on this list are an easy choice. The third could be widely debated.
It came down to Bellinger and Joc Pederson. Rumors last winter suggested Pederson being a potential piece of a deal for an ace, though they never gained traction. This came down to who could be more valuable in down the road. While Pederson is already a solid major leaguer, Bellinger could be the consistent big bat the Dodgers desperately need. He is earning the right to eventually replace Adrian Gonzalez at first.
Bellinger entered the year as the No. 5 prospect in the system and has continued his ascension. Baseball America ranked him No. 24 on its midseason top 100, praising not just his bat but his defensive aptitude. He is the highest rated of six Dodgers on the list, and one spot ahead of pitcher Jose De Leon.
In 2015, Bellinger caught the organization and fans’ attention. He hammered 30 home runs and collected 103 RBI in Rancho Cucamonga. His altered mechanics paid dividends. Defensively, Bellinger played 26 games in centerfield in addition to regular first base duties. He is a plus defender at either spot, and a solid athlete who should be able to maintain that versatility. He has a good build of 6’4” 210 lbs. As a bonus, Bellinger has baseball bloodlines. His father, Clay, played for the New York Yankees.
Bellinger “impressed” Dodgers brass in spring training, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney (insider required). Bellinger started sluggishly (and injured) in Tulsa but has found his footing. He hit .298 in June and .277 in 13 games since the break. His average has increased every month in Double-A. Also of note, he’s batting .298 against lefties on the season.
He’s the third-hardest Dodger to part with because of what is envisioned in 2018 and beyond. Bellinger batting cleanup behind Corey Seager for the foreseeable future is tantalizing. A team with the Dodgers’ resources having two core players locked in cheap is bad news for the rest of the league. Bellinger should see the Majors in 2017. It’s hard to peg him for consistent playing time, but injuries and his versatility will likely open the door. He should step right into a vacant first base slot when Gonzalez’s contract expires after 2018; if he doesn’t displace the veteran sooner.
Trade for a Trout? Yes. But that would be said of any player outside Kershaw and maybe the next two people on the list.
2) Julio Urias, pitcher
2016 Stats: 1-2, 4.95 ERA, 1.54 WHIP and 44 strikeouts in 36.1 IP
The heir to Kershaw’s throne. The next Fernando Valenzuela. The phenom.
No pressure, kid.
Urias, recently sent back to Oklahoma City (hey, they could use a star athlete right about now), flashed promise in his eight starts as a major leaguer. Understand Urias is 19 years old. Outside of a skittish debut in Queens and a rough finale (umpiring notwithstanding) against the first place Orioles, it was hard to tell this player is two years away from being able to legally buy a beer in the U.S.
Los Angeles went 5-3 in Urias’ starts, but he was only credited with a single win. His 3.58 FIP indicates he was better than his 4.95 ERA. Urias had some sour luck, but still managed to keep his team in games. Again, he isn’t 20 years old until August.
Every team wants an ace. L.A. is being spoiled by Kershaw and now has Urias as his future sidekick and eventual No. 1. There is an argument for Urias as the most valuable 23-and-under pitcher in baseball.
Trade for a Trout? If Chris Sale were available and Urias was necessary, no deal. Last trade deadline, L.A. reportedly refused to include Urias in a Johnny Cueto, David Price or Cole Hamels trade. Urias is a cost-controlled lefty with immense upside as a staff ace. He is the rarest crowned jewel in the sport. A Trout/Arenado-type would have a greater daily impact, so including him in a package for one of them could be debated. It’s unlikely Los Angeles would part with him under any circumstances.
1) Corey Seager, shortstop
2016 Stats: .304/.362/.539 with 17 HR and 41 RBI
Seager might be having one of the best rookie seasons ever. That’s not hyperbole.
Even with a 19-game hitting streak concluding, Seager has established himself as L.A.’s best position player. In a season plagued by offensive inconsistency, he has been the rock. Defensively, Seager has exceeded expectations at shortstop. Just 22 years of age, he is at worst a top 10 MVP candidate.
In the Dodgers last 15 games (9-6) before Thursday’s loss to San Diego, Seager was hitting a staggering .397 – that’s 23 hits in 58 at-bats. L.A.’s last month has vaulted it to eight games over .500 and firm placement in the wild card chase. Without Seager, it might not be so pretty.
Trade for a Trout? No. This is not to say Seager will be as good as a Trout or Bryce Harper, but he has the makings of a legitimate homegrown superstar. At his peak, he may become a top five player in the sport. Bet on your own guys; he is the present and future. Seager will be the centerpiece of the Dodgers’ lineup for the next decade-plus.
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