Remember last season’s trading deadline? Of course you do. We all do. Many of us were waiting on updates day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, just continuing to refresh Ken Rosenthal’s twitter page for some big news to drop about who the Dodgers had traded for. Additions were almost certain, and names like Cole Hamles, David Price, and Johnny Cueto were floating around.
The deadline came and went, however, without any of those players ending up in Dodger blue. Instead, the Dodgers got Alex Wood and Mat Latos. Last year’s trades may not have transpired the way many fans had hoped, but it could have been part of a bigger strategy. Also, there’s a good chance that the Dodgers take a different approach this year.
Reviewing the 2015 deadline moves
At the time, the moves that the Dodgers made were met with mixed reactions. Some believed they were shrewd “winners” of the deadline, while others listed them in the “loser” category. It all depended on how you viewed their strategy. That strategy being to hold on to their top prospects and not over-pay for any one pitcher, but instead, focus on adding depth.
Looking back now, it’s still hard to say with any certainty whether it was the right strategy or not. Other than eating about $40 mil, all the Dodgers really gave up was Hector Olivera, who they had just signed from Cuba with a huge signing bonus, and Paco Rodriguez. Earlier this year, Olivera was suspended for domestic violence charges, and has yet to make an impact at the major-league level. Rodriguez had to undergo Tommy John surgery and is out for the year.
On the flipside, the players that the Dodgers received didn’t necessarily have big impacts either. Alex Wood provided some depth at the back end of the rotation, but was a non-factor come playoff time. He had been pretty decent this year, but an elbow injury has likely put him on the shelf for the remainder of the season. Oh, and Mat Latos and Jim Johnson? Well, let’s be kind, and just say they weren’t great.
We shouldn’t forget the Dodgers also received Jose Peraza in the deal. Peraza was then flipped this past off-season to the Cincinnati Reds, in a 3-way deal with the Chicago White Sox which brought back Trayce Thompson and Frankie Montas. Thus far, that trade seems to have been a good one for the Dodgers.
On the surface, even though it may not have been what fans wanted at the time, you could say that last year’s moves worked out in the Dodgers favor. Although, we’ll never be able to know what would have happened if the Dodgers had pulled the trigger on one of those front-line starters. If the Dodgers had Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, or David Price taking the mound in Game 3 against the Mets last year, who knows what could have happened. Maybe they win that game, and with Kershaw winning Game 4, they advance to the NLCS. Perhaps a World Series? Championship even?
We just don’t know. But the reality of the situation is that Brett Anderson pitched Game 3, blew an early 3-run lead, allowed 6 ER in 3 innings, and took the lost. And we know how the rest of the series transpired.
At the end of the day though, Corey Seager and Julio Urias are still Dodgers. It was believed that any major trade last year for the aforementioned pitchers would have cost the Dodgers at least one of those guys.
Why 2016 Could be Different
With less than a week remaining before this year’s trading deadline, many expect the Dodgers to be active. And once again, the starting pitching market seems to be front and center in any rumors. But unlike last year’s approach of simply adding depth, the Dodgers front office could try to land a big fish this season.
Reports have surfaced recently about the Dodgers being in the market for a “difference maker” and not very interested in lateral moves like the ones they made a year ago. One baseball executive even went as far as saying the Dodgers had a 70% chance of acquiring Tampa Bay Ray’s ace Chris Archer. That may be an over-estimation, but the fact remains that any talks for big time starting pitchers, whether it be Archer, Chris Sale, or Sonny Gray, will likely include the Dodgers.
I can hear skeptics already. “I’ll believe it when I see it.” And to be honest, I’m in the same boat. There’s no way to guarantee such a significant trade will be made. But there are some differences between this year and last that could change how the Dodgers approach the deals they decide to make.
- Rotation is not top heavy this year.
Last season the Dodgers had the best 1-2 punch in the game, with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Most clubs are lucky to have one pitcher of those guys caliber, let alone two. As discussed earlier, adding another ace could have been a difference maker last year, but it also could have been a luxury that wasn’t necessary. Giving up top prospects to add to something that’s already a strength, could be counter-productive in the long run.
This year is different. Greinke is gone. Kershaw is hurt. Not only is there no 1-2 punch, there’s really no “punch” at all right now. No disrespect to guys like Kenta Maeda, Brandon McCarthy, or Scott Kazmir, but it just may not be the most ideal scenario to rely on them as your Game 1 starter come October.
- No rentals
At last year’s deadline, guys like Price and Cueto were coming up on free-agency at seasons’ end. There was no guarantee the Dodgers could re-sign either player if they had made a trade (and even if they did, it would be at a high cost.) The Dodgers would have faced the possibility of giving up top prospects for just a few months of either pitcher, which was not something the front office was willing to do.
Looking at the top players being talked about this year, none of them are hitting the free agent market next year. Chris Sale won’t become an unrestricted free agent until the end of the 2019 season. Sonny Gray won’t be one until 2020. Chris Archer and Julio Teheran are both signed through 2021 with very team-friendly deals. None of these guys would be “rentals.”
- Depth of the farm system
Last year, trade rumors primarily centered around two prospects; Corey Seager and Julio Urias. In the end, the Dodgers hung on to their top prospects, and both have shown why this year. Seager has been the best position player on the team, and is already an All-Star in his first full season. Urias has shown flashes of brilliance as he continues to make improvements each start.
If the Dodgers were reluctant to deal either guy last year, you’d have to figure it’s even more unlikely this year. But certainly other clubs will still inquire about both players, and if the Dodgers were to consider including either Seager or Urias in a package, you’d have to think the return would be even greater than last year (*cough*… Chris Sale…*cough.*)
But the big difference this year is that Seager and Urias may not be needed to make a “big slash” deal. Sure, they’re still the biggest chips the Dodgers have, and would bring the best return back. But other prospects in the farm system have continued to develop and could now be centerpieces in any package the Dodgers put together. Players like Jose De Leon, Frankie Montas, Cody Bellinger, Alex Verdugo, and Grant Holmes are just some of the top prospects that could be included in any big-time trades.
The Dodgers currently have 7 prospects on MLB’s Top 100 list, and are considered by many to have the best farm system in the game. Such a deep system, with so many young prospects, gives the Dodgers some flexibility and options when it comes to making any deals.
With all this said, would it surprise me if the Dodgers didn’t get any big name player at the deadline? Not really. And I’m not entirely sure I’d want a trade for one of those players given the hefty price tag. But still, the possibility certainly exists more this year than last. If the Dodgers were ever going to make a big trade, the time could be now.
And I suspect Mat Latos won’t be in the cards.