Dodgers send clear message at deadline: the kids stay in the picture

Dodgers send clear message at deadline: the kids stay in the picture
Shortstop Corey Seager, one of the Dodgers' top minor league prospects, looks on during batting practice prior to the All-Star Futures game against the World Team at Target Field on July 13. (Hannah Foslien / Getty Images)

When baseball's trade deadline passed Thursday afternoon, the Dodgers had done the strangest thing for a team that hasn't won a championship in 26 years.

Nothing. No improvements. No fixes. No plugs. No stopgaps. No fourth starter. No late reliever. Nothing.


The Dodgers did, however, offer two strange explanations for doing nothing, which is at least something.

A team that promised an attempt to win immediately admitted it wasn't quite willing to sacrifice the future for winning immediately. A team that promised to spend whatever was required acknowledged that, well, money was a bit of an issue.

In all, it was a confusing afternoon at Chavez Ravine, where, at times, the swaggering $240-million Dodgers sounded a tad like a small-market squad peddling knickknacks and next year.

"Had we done something of major consequence, it doesn't guarantee you're going to win,'' said General Manager Ned Colletti. "It may give you a slightly better chance, but this is a sport, a lot of things have to go right."

That's not the Colletti anyone around here knows. That's not the Colletti whose architecture helped these Dodgers to three National League Championship Series appearances in the last six years.

A slightly better chance? Colletti has been known to ship out a lineup of minor-league all stars for a "slightly better chance." Colletti would trade his entire collection of cowboy boots for a "slightly better chance."

This is weird. This doesn't make sense. This is a first-place team that is but one or two arms away from looking like late October, a team that finally seems poised to end a frustration that has spanned four different decades. Yet when they have a chance to go for it, like the first-place Detroit Tigers and Oakland A's went for it Thursday, they sit on their hands?

Two of the Dodgers top three kids — all among Baseball America's top 18 prospects — could have brought the player to put them in that championship neighborhood. That's what the Tampa Bay Rays asked for former Cy Young winner David Price. They wanted two of the top Dodger minor-leaguers. Not all three, but just two of the three.

The Dodgers refused. So while Price went to the Tigers in a three-way deal for a struggling Tigers starter and a minor-league Seattle Mariners infielder, the Dodgers ended the day with either aging Josh Beckett or scuffling Dan Haren as their fourth starter. That's not getting slightly better.

"For the first time in eight or nine years, we think some of the prospects we've got are not only big league players, but everyday players and even, at one point in time, star players," said Colletti.

Maybe. Who knows? But until they reach the major leagues, they are only question marks. A guy like Price is already an exclamation point.

One of the prized young Dodgers, center fielder Joc Pederson, is in triple-A. The others are further below, shortstop Corey Seager at double-A and pitcher Julio Urias in Class-A. It turns out the real winners Thursday were Albuquerque, Chattanooga and Rancho Cucamonga. Now those teams are built for October. If only the minor leagues had an October.

Right now the Dodgers' October could feature Clayton Kershaw starting on three days' rest again in October, and a mystery eighth-inning right-hander out of the bullpen.

Colletti can still make a trade in August by acquiring a player off waivers, and here's guessing he'll acquire a bullpen arm that way. But, like the day after Christmas, the most attractive purchases have already been carted out of the storefront windows.


"The message I take out of it is that we're confident with our club," said Manager Don Mattingly.

The message may be more than that, and perhaps comes from far above Mattingly's dugout. The Dodgers' grips on their three young players contains the fingerprints of a Dodgers ownership group led by President Stan Kasten, who has always stated he wanted to build a team in the homegrown image of his former Atlanta Braves champions.

If their recent mindless grab of $8 billion from Time Warner cable for an invisible TV network is any indication, Kasten's group is also actively seeking to fill pockets that were emptied of their $2.15-billion purchase price.

Kid major leaguers are cheaper. The Dodgers want to get cheaper. Price goes to Detroit, Jon Lester goes to Oakland, John Lackey goes to St. Louis, and the Dodgers rub their hands together over all the money they're about to save.

Colletti acknowledged the money factor, saying, "It's a little bit. Sure, you still have to be fiscally responsible. We realize the market we're in. We realize our fan base. That doesn't mean you always do it that way."

He added, "If we didn't think Joc, Corey and Urias had a chance to be impact players here, they'd be out of here."

The Dodgers are betting their fans are willing to sacrifice their best opportunity at a world championship for that chance.

It is a huge gamble that offers a rare glimpse deep into the philosophy of an ownership group that might not share its fans' championship desperation. On a day the Dodgers did nothing, their inaction said everything.

Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter @billplaschke