Zack Greinke spurring L.A. for Arizona took the Dodgers by surprise. The team responded by signing Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda. Through half the season, it’s obvious Greinke wasn’t adequately replaced.
Kazmir has a 4.67 ERA through 16 games. Maeda has a 2.91 ERA but has had ups and downs. Obviously, Maeda is proving to be the more effective acquisition, but the Dodgers rotation outside Clayton Kershaw owns a 4.40 collective ERA. Compare that to the Cubs, Giants and Nationals; it isn’t good enough.
The problem is largely placed on consistency. Alex Wood was recently moved to the 60-day disabled list. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy are working their way back. L.A. has relied on rookie sensation Julio Urias for eight starts. Brock Stewart was promoted and made his debut in a loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday.
It’s great to have youth, but a team with a $240 million-plus payroll shouldn’t be relying on three rookies (Maeda is considered a first year player) in its rotation. That’s inexcusable on the front office’s part. It expected to keep Greinke, and when he bolted, the supposed excellent pitching depth would be tested.
Los Angeles has depth, no question. But a handful of fourth or fifth starters isn’t going to fill the void Greinke left behind Kershaw. With Kershaw now on the disabled list, the rotation could fall into shambles.
Which takes us to the trade market. L.A. acquired Bud Norris in the moments this piece was being written, but Norris is nothing more than a stop-gap while Kershaw is sidelined. If he pitches well, he may stick, but either way he hits free agency after the season. The Dodgers need to continue improving their staff beyond Norris.
Urias isn’t being traded, but his friend and top prospect Jose De Leon might be. There have been rumors going back to last offseason of the Dodgers pursuing elite starters. It appears the organization wants a star studded rotation and will continue to attempt to land an impact player.
Before Norris, a report connected L.A. with Tampa Bay Rays starter Erasmo Ramirez. The interest in a Ray is no surprise given Andrew Friedman’s connections there.
Ramirez is more of what the Dodgers have. In 32 games, he’s posted a 3.68 ERA. L.A. is targeting him as a “rotation stop-gap,” according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, but Ramirez only has one start on the year. The match makes sense, but Ramirez would be another name added to a deep list of bottom of the rotation/long-relief options in a few months. He isn’t the difference maker the team needs, and with Norris on board, those talks may be dead.
On that note, we’ll visit some of the best rotation upgrades available. The market is weak, thus expensive. Boston, Miami, Texas and other contenders will add to the bidding. Much of this will be with an eye towards the offseason, when it will be easier to make a deal for a starter.
Because the market is so poor midseason, rather than look at five possibilities, we’re going to focus on three “more realistic” scenarios and what it’ll cost L.A. The No. 1 priority on this list is perhaps my top trade target at any position, but more on that later.
3) The Tampa Bay Rays
The aforementioned Ramirez trade is just one option for a L.A.-Tampa Bay deal.
Jake Odorizzi or Matt Moore would be solid additions to the Dodgers. A year ago, Drew Smyly would’ve appeared to be an upgrade, but he has struggled and looks more likely to find himself out of the Rays rotation rather than in the Dodgers’. Archer isn’t going anywhere, but his season has left plenty to be desired as well.
Odorizzi would serve the role Kazmir was paid to do: Be a very good No. 3 starter. Moore gives them upside.
First, Odorizzi. He would be L.A.’s No. 3 starter. He’s gathered a 3.93 ERA in 16 starts. He’s not special, but at the right price could give the Dodgers the reliable innings they need.
On a personal note, I prefer Moore. Three years ago, he won 17 games as an American League All-Star. He propelled the Rays to a 4-0 win over the Red Sox on Wednesday. After a disastrous start, Moore is showing signs of being the player he was before injuries took their toll.
He’s allowed two or fewer runs in three of his last four starts. His 4.67 ERA is more a product of a terrible start than his recent emergence. Tampa Bay would ask for an average prospect or two – similar to what the Dodgers surrendered for Norris. If Moore regains just a modest amount of his old form, he has the upside of a steady No. 3 for this season and beyond, if L.A. retains him.
2) Julio Teheran, Braves
Stats: 3-7, 2.46 ERA in 106 IP (16 starts)
I have been critical of Teheran in the past. He has silenced his critics with the best run of his career.
If Teheran was on even an average team, he’ d be a Cy Young candidate (well, in the conversation with Jake Arrieta for second place). Teheran is No. 2 in WHIP (Kershaw) and No. 2 in BABIP (Marco Estrada). He is fourth in 1-2-3 innings (48) behind Kershaw, Sale and Johnny Cueto (acknowledged by Buster Olney, ESPN). He is tied with Jose Fernandez for the second best WAR at 3.4 (Kershaw, 4.6). In his last start, Teheran hit a career-best 23 consecutive innings without allowing a run.
Sounds like an ace, which is why it makes little sense for Atlanta to get rid of him.
He is signed through 2019 with an option for 2020. The highest annual salary in the deal is the $12 million option. In this pitching climate, that is a steal even if Teheran cannot maintain his current level of play.
As Sports Illustrated points out, Teheran’s giving up 1.2 homers per nine innings and his FIP (3.71) indicates a regression. Remember: Teheran’s 2015 season was underwhelming. His 4.04 ERA was his worst since 2012. He allowed a career-high 189 hits, 99 runs, 90 earned runs, 27 homers and 73 walks. Teheran is near the top of the list for any team needing a starter, but 2015 cannot be ignored.
On the flip side, Teheran was strong in the two seasons before, and Atlanta can sell 2015 as an anomaly if it shops him. General Manager John Coppolella has repeatedly stated the Braves won’t trade Teheran. Jon Heyman reported an Atlanta executive told him it’s “99.9 percent” Teheran isn’t moved. He is 25 years old and signed below market value. There’s no motivation to trade him unless it’s a substantial overpay.
The unlikelihood Atlanta moves him is high, but the Dodgers and Braves clearly have chemistry with the multiple deals they’ve agreed upon. There’s also the risk of surrendering premium prospects only to see Teheran lose his touch. A deal would start with De Leon, and Atlanta would probably want MLB-ready offense too. They’ll likely ask for Joc Pederson, but it’s hard to see the Dodgers doing that. Cody Bellinger (corner outfield) or Alex Verdugo would be logical fits in Atlanta. Los Angeles would be better served playing wait-and-see on a Fernandez or Sale rather than assembling a package for Teheran.
1) Sonny Gray, A’s
Stats: 3-6, 5.03 ERA in 78.2 IP (14 games)
Gray has been awful in 2016, but Los Angeles should give him a change of scenery.
The disappointing performance of Gray is well known. Third in Cy Young voting just a season ago, Gray has completely collapsed – or so it appears. He started the season with a 6.19 ERA and mercifully was placed on the disabled list on May 20.
Since returning from the DL, Gray has been rejuvenated. His ERA is 3.32 after healing is much more indicative of his ability. He’s also regained control, lowering his walks by roughly three a game (a major issue with him early in the season). Prior to 2016, Gray’s season ERA totals were 2.67, 3.08 and 2.73. If we are to believe 2015 was a fluke for Teheran, why can’t the early portion of 2016 be a fluke for Gray?
Gray’s FIP in 2015 (3.45) hints that he was not as dominant as advertised, but it’s also a testament to his recent rebound’s legitimacy. His FIP in 2014 was almost identical at 3.46. In other words, the recent 3.32 ERA is more on par with his norms than his collective 5.03 ERA. For those wondering, Gray’s overall FIP this season is 4.52, also a career-low.
Billy Beane is a tough nut to crack. When he sees value he makes the deal, but there’s no way Gray’s value will be at its highest this season. More likely, the Dodgers move for him this winter.
Boston is often linked to Gray, as is Texas and the other usual candidates. The cost will be a tough pill to swallow, but Gray is the No. 2 ace the franchise needs.
There are other risks to be mindful of: What if Gray isn’t as good as we think (again, his career FIP indicates such)? Gray isn’t much of a strikeout guy and isn’t showing any improvement there. While his walk rate has improved, walking 4.5 batters a game was a concern. Gray will command a heavy salary after 2019, but that won’t be an issue for the Dodgers. The price to acquire him might be.
It starts with De Leon. Like Atlanta, Oakland will ask for MLB hitters it won’t get from Los Angeles. Even with Gray’s value low, L.A. would have to blow Beane away to get it done. Unlike Teheran, it’s a move I’d make.
Think of the recent Cole Hamels and Shelby Miller deals. Miller was a clear desperate overpay, but it speaks to the demand for exceptional pitching. A slightly more expensive deal than Hamels is a fair starting point. With Philadelphia kicking it financial aid, Texas gave away its No. 3, 4, 9, 16 prospects along with an additional minor leaguer and a MLB pitcher in Matt Harrison. Gray is cheaper and younger than Hamels.
To Dodgers: P Sonny Gray, P Sean Doolittle
To Athletics: P Jose De Leon, OF Alex Verdugo, P Walter Buehler, IF Willie Calhoun, OF Johan Mieses
Ouch. That’s L.A.’s No. 2, 6, 7, 11 and 25 ranked prospects by MLB.com. In return the team receives Gray and bullpen arm Sean Doolittle. When one considers Gray’s controllability, the A’s lack of urgency and the small market of top tier starters, it could be argued that’s a lower estimated price. Perhaps his recent struggles don’t equate to four top 11 prospects, but Oakland would be better off holding onto him and hoping he becomes an All-Star caliber ace again rather than move him for less. Doolittle could demand more in a separate trade too, but L.A. grabbing both in a single transaction would be quite the coup.
If Gray is in Dodger blue, he would form a big three with Kershaw and Urias at least through 2019. After Maeda, Los Angeles can pick from its bag of average pitchers to fill the last spot. The team is sacrificing two tremendous pitching prospects, but not only could withstand the blow, but also gain the win-now piece that could elevate the team in the postseason.
San Francisco, Chicago, Washington and New York boast at least two aces. If the Dodgers want to eliminate them in the playoffs, they’ve got to do the same. It’s as simple as that.
It’s a risky move which goes against Friedman’s mentality. At some point, he’s going to have to swing for the fences. Unless one of the “eliminated” aces is shopped around, Los Angeles shouldn’t hesitate opening its wallet for Gray.