For decades, the idea of the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants trading with each other has been treated as anathema. The paucity of transactions between them is often considered an apt measure of the rivalry’s intensity. Since their commensurate move west in 1958, they’ve pulled the trigger on just three deals.
Well, there comes a time when even the sturdiest of norms are upended. The Giants, after two years of denial, are finally about to embrace rebuilding now that Farhan Zaidi is in charge. As some on Dodgers Twitter pointed out, it’s not ridiculous to surmise he’d be willing to strike a deal with his former team. He knows how resplendent the Dodgers farm system is from firsthand experience, and the Giants are going to be in for a protracted rebuild. If ever they were to deal with one another, it’s now.
The first topic is whether or not the Dodgers should go for arch-nemesis Madison Bumgarner. That is one better addressed in its own piece. Personally, I don’t think they need him. (My playoff-win starved Minnesota Twins, though, would be a better suitor.) I believe the only starter the Dodgers should be in on is Max Scherzer (also better examined in its own article), and that if the Dodgers want to work with SF, it should be about one of their relievers. The Giants have tons of arms likely to be dealt like Will Smith, Sam Dyson and Mark Melancon. The first would obviously generate novelty for sharing a namesake with our rookie catcher.
One name, however, stands out most to Dodger fans. That’s lefty Tony Watson, one of the best relievers of the hallowed 2017 team. He’s also one of few Friedman Era bullpen acquisitions that lived up to his potential.
The Dodgers media cycle is saturated with reminders of how bad the bullpen is. A more specific component of that is how short-handed the relief corps is starting to look in the lefty department. After some rehab work, Tony Cingrani’s shoulder issue came back with a vengeance, ending his season. Julio Urias has been a bit rough after his off-field troubles, but rebounded nicely in Arizona with 2 scoreless innings. Caleb Ferguson dipped in performance, and is back in the minors. Scott Alexander, after a dominant start to his year, has regressed a bit but is solid. Still…if there’s anyone who would trust him in a high-leverage playoff spot, I’ve got Magic Johnson’s Lakers team president business card to give you.
I frequently bombard Twitter with snarky reminders of what a mistake it was to keep Cingrani over Watson after the 2017 season. It’s a move made worse by also passing on Adam Ottavino this past offseason, while throwing similar money at the absolutely terrible Joe Kelly.
— Marshall Garvey (@MarshallGarvey) May 27, 2019
So it begs the question: should the Dodgers take advantage of this unique trade scenario, and bring back an old friend?
First, let’s go back to Watson’s stint in Los Angeles. Acquired at the non-waiver deadline on July 31, 2017, the Iowa native had excelled for many years in Pittsburgh. He was an All-Star in 2014, and then pitched just like one in Los Angeles. In 24 games and 20 IP, he posted a 2-1 record and 2.70 ERA.
Along with waivers acquisition Cingrani, Watson created a stellar lefty tandem that secured the bullpen throughout the postseason. The former Pirate was roughed up a bit in the NLDS, surrendering 2 hits that came home on a 3-run homer allowed by Brandon Morrow in game 2. (Granted, he pitched a scoreless sixth before it.) He fared better in the NLCS, allowing no hits or runs in 4 games pitched as L.A. secured their first pennant in 29 years.
His best moments were saved for the World Series. The first was game 4, where the Dodgers’ lethargic offense suddenly came to life for a 6-2 comeback win to even the series 2-2. Watson earned the win with a 1-2-3 eighth inning, retiring Josh Reddick, Evan Gattis and Marwin Gonzalez before the offense took the lead for good in the ninth.
The second, and biggest, was back home in game 6. Facing elimination, Los Angeles danced with game 2 deja vu as Rich Hill was pulled in the fifth. This time, though, Houston led 1-0, a lead they carried into the top of the sixth. Brandon Morrow retired the first two batters before giving up a single to series supervillain Yuli Gurriel, and was lifted for Watson.
He hit Brian McCann, thus putting a runner in scoring position for Marwin Gonzalez. The same Marwin Gonzalez that changed the tempo of the entire series in game two, when he sent a flat cutter from Kenley Jansen just over left-center for a game-tying home run that still shakes the Dodger faithful to this day. Batting from the right side this time, he worked the count 3-1, a perfect count to break the game open. But Watson buckled down, getting him to line out right to Chase Utley at second to end the inning.
The offense answered right away in the bottom of the sixth, rallying to take a lead they wouldn’t lose. Watson walked the first batter in the seventh, but Kenta Maeda and Kenley Jansen secured the Dodgers’ third and final win of the series. Clayton Kershaw was the pitcher of record in game one, while Watson had the honors in games four and six. Adding in the 18-inning victory against Boston last year, the Dodgers have won 4 World Series game since 1988, and Watson accounts for half of them. Who’d have thought?
The Wrong LHP
Since leaving Los Angeles for San Francisco in 2018, Watson has continued to put up sightly numbers even while on a bad team. His record that year was 4-6, but that came with an ERA of 2.59 and 72 strikeouts (the second-highest K total of his career behind his All-Star year of 2014). So far in 2019, he remains a trusted option in high-leverage spots, and is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA so far.
These numbers are agonizing when compared to some of the schlubs that have cycled through the Dodgers pen the past couple of years. Indeed, reacquiring him would correct the FO’s original error of letting him walk in favor of the perennially injured Cingrani. His surface numbers are as strong as ever, with an ERA well below both Alexander and Urias. His postseason acumen in high-leverage spots is a plus.
However, there are downsides to consider.
He’s well into his mid-30s, and as such the velocity on his fastball has dropped to around 92 MPH. His mark of 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings is down from 9.8 the year before, while allowing 9.9 hits in the same span.
His peripherals and age are a cause for concern, no doubt. But if he can make up for that loss in velocity, and be used primarily as a LOOGY, I think it’d be worth bringing him back. He would by no means be the biggest acquisition, as I see Friedman going for three pieces altogether.
You could say getting our Dear Watson back is, well….elementary.