With the Dodgers playing their best ball in recent memory, and major media outlets already anointing them supreme baseball rulers of the universe, it’s hard to make the argument that the team has big needs leading up to the trade deadline. That said, the front office has already said they’ll be looking to add pitching, and it’s not hard to see why. Fangraphs recently pointed out the strange non-sequitur that the Dodgers are leading MLB in pitching WAR (12.7) despite poor performance by most of their starting rotation. The shiny overall numbers are no doubt buttressed by an elite bullpen, and that Alex Wood is doing his best Clayton Kershaw impression every time he takes the hill. And also, of course, Kershaw himself. Still, 60% of the rotation has difficulty completing five innings on a regular basis. And now, Julio Urias, who was expected to be an impactful part of the rotation this season, is lost for at least a year with a shoulder injury.
Last year, the Dodgers were reportedly in on big names like Archer and Sale at the deadline, so if you believe those rumors it would indicate a willingness to pay big for big fish. They also “successfully” acquired Bud Norris, so taking a flyer on a cheap veteran is an option, leaving it standing to reason that everything in between is fair game too.
If this were an Olympic event, here’s one guy at each medal tier the Dodgers might go after. Spoiler alert, I made a conscious effort to avoid Jose Quintana and Jason Vargas for the purposes of this article because…well, I felt like it.
Bronze Medal: Chris Tillman, Baltimore Orioles. There’s a very good chance that Tillman will be available for dirt cheap, and he should be. His performance this year has been nothing short of calamitous, to the tune of an ERA over 8 and a WHIP over 2 through ten starts. That said, this isn’t an ice cream sundae where just one scoop of poop ruins the whole dessert. From 2012 to 2016, Tillman was the definition of rotation workhorse for the O’s, even though the ace role he was asked to play was a little above his weight class. If there isn’t some kind of undisclosed injury causing his sudden poor form, he might be a perfect change of scenery candidate. And he’s only signed through the end of this season, so couple that with what’s expected to be a very modest asking price, there’s very little risk involved for a potentially good payoff.
Other guys in this category: Jeremy Hellickson, RA Dickey, Scott Feldman
Silver Medal: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners. The precipitous decline in King Felix’s performance (his FIP is up 2.5 runs since 2014) along with his enormous salary could make him available for a much smaller prospect package than someone might expect for a pitcher of his pedigree. The prevailing likelihood is that he’ll never get back to Ace status, but the Dodgers don’t need that. They need someone who can consistently pitch deep into ballgames and keep the team in it. And before his 2016 was cut short, Hernandez had pitched more than 200 innings for 8 years running. Wear and tear is obviously a concern, but so is having three guys in your starting rotation that struggle to get through 5 innings. The huge annual salary through 2019 is also a bit of a concern, but the Dodgers have a ton of money coming off the books after this year, and though the M’s won’t give him away, absorbing most of it should also keep them from having to include any of their elite prospects (Yadier Alvarez, Walker Buehler, etc.) in a potential deal.
Other guys in this category: No one, really, though Julio Teheran is too good to be in the bronze medal category, but not really near the gold.
Gold Medal: Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers. Before we get too far into him, the Rangers could make the discussion moot by going on a run and firmly entrenching themselves in a Wild Card spot (no one in the AL West is catching the Astros). But if, as I suspect, they don’t, they’ll want to get something for their most valuable pitcher before losing him for nothing in free agency. No team will pay what the Red Sox paid for Chris Sale for a two-month rental, but the Dodgers have the prospects to make a deal happen and a Brinks truck of million dollar bills they can back into his driveway for a potential extension. Darvish missed all of 2015, and parts of 2014 and 2016 with Tommy John surgery, so there’s some risk. But in terms of reward, a pitcher of this caliber to slot between Kershaw and Wood in a post-season rotation would strike terror into any potential playoff opponent.
Other guys in this category: Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer (don’t get your hopes up, the Rays aren’t trading him).
Got other ideas? Let me know on Twitter @thestainsports.