With his best player hurting and the future of this special season teetering, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts initially claimed Monday that he was not going to lobby management to make a move to prop up Clayton Kershaw’s aching back.
“I can’t put the pressure on, I’m not going to put the pressure on,’’ he said.
But, then, boy, did he put the pressure on.
I had posed a question about a possible trade. The question did not include the name of a certain Texas Rangers pitcher who could be on the market before Monday’s trade deadline. Yet Robert brought up the name himself.
“Every team in baseball would like Yu Darvish,’’ he said during his pregame news conference. “Whether it happens or not, I just can’t speculate. It’s a fact we would be better with him, as would 29 other teams. If it happens or not, we’re still going to keep winning baseball games.’’
Roberts couldn’t have been any more clear if he had stuck his head out of the Dodger Stadium dugout, stared up into fifth-floor office windows and shouted, “Help!’
He wants it to happen. He wants something to happen. The feisty leader who epitomizes the Dodgers hustle and work ethic is unabashedly hoping that Kershaw’s strained back will lead baseball boss Andrew Friedman to acquire more pitching.
I’m with him. I’m with the idea that, after this hard-charging group of players has spent four months carving out what could be the greatest season in Los Angeles Dodgers history, management needs to finish the job.
They can’t let Kershaw’s back blow this. They can’t count on his return carrying this. They can’t believe that their team’s marvelous depth is deep enough for this. They’re going to have to be willing to dig deep into their crop of minor-league prospects to fix this, and it’s going to hurt, but it won’t be nearly as painful as watching an October crushed under the weight of a potentially unsteady star.
When Kershaw walked off the Dodger Stadium mound Sunday, the future of their joyous season dramatically changed. Their brilliant blueprint blew up. The magic paused. The nausea hit.
“Any time when something happens to Kersh, you’re going to feel sick in your stomach, that’s how I feel, I guarantee all the other people feel the same thing too,’’ said reliever Kenley Jansen.
Even though the team can roll through the rest of the regular season and easily win the division without Kershaw — they pretty much did that last year — everything now changes for the playoffs.
This is Kershaw’s second back injury in two years, and it is happening later than last season, which could very likely allow him fewer September recovery starts. Even if he is strong enough to go into the playoffs as their ace, the Dodgers need to account for the fact that he could be a very different kind of ace.
This won’t be a guy who can easily be asked to pitch on three days’ rest in October as in past years. And this is not a guy who can be expected to average 105 pitches in each start as he did in his first two starts in the division series against the Washington Nationals last year.
Kershaw will need more help in the rotation, thus all the talk about acquiring Darvish, the Rangers’ rental ace. The Rangers are still in the American League wild-card race and may decide to keep him. It might be hard to find another one like him. But Friedman has the money and brainpower and prospects to make it happen.
Kershaw also will need a stronger arm in the bullpen, a left-hander who can shorten the game for him and others while setting up Jansen. This is a clearer fix. There are several options available, from the Baltimore Orioles’ Zach Britton to the Detroit Tigers’ Justin Wilson to the San Diego Padres’ Brad Hand.
Yes, that’s two arms as insurance for one. But that arm is the best pitcher on the planet, and it will take a lot to compensate for even the slightest diminishing of the Dodgers cornerstone.
“You see Kersh walking out, and he’s pitching today, and you know guaranteed it’s 100% a win,’’ said Jansen, whose team is 19-2 in games in which Kershaw pitches. “Every time you go out there you feel like it’s 100% win even though it might not be. To lose a guy like that is awful.’’
Dodgers fans surely agree, but they are predictably taking sides on how to fix this.
Some think the team would be foolishly shortsighted to part with valued prospects such as outfielder Alex Verdugo, pitcher Walker Buehler, second baseman Willie Calhoun and pitcher Yadier Alvarez. After all, if the Dodgers did this sort of thing in recent years, they might have traded away Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger.
Others feel the Dodgers are finally at the stage where they need to push their chips to the middle of the table and go for it. They point to the Chicago Cubs, who traded three prospects last season for Aroldis Champan, then watched Chapman help them win a championship.
“If not now, when?’’ Cubs’ baseball President Theo Epstein said last season after the trade in an infamous quote that symbolized a mission.
I’m with Roberts. I’m with Epstein. If not now, when?
It has been 29 years since the Dodgers’ last World Series appearance, and it has never before felt so real, so close, yet suddenly so fragile.
Nearly every player on the roster is having some sort of dream season, but you wonder how long those dreams can last. Kershaw could be a free agent after next season. Rich Hill is 37. Jansen will be 30 soon. Justin Turner will be 33 next year. Several players are having career years. The bullpen works. Yasiel Puig fits. It’s all so right, but for how long? To waste this season for fear of messing up the future would just be wrong.
For every Seager, there is a Julio Urias, a greatly protected prospect whose future is now uncertain. For every Bellinger, there is a Jose De Leon or Jharel Cotton, the last two great prospects traded by Friedman and Zaidi. De Leon suffers from shoulder issues and has pitched in one game this season for the Tampa Bay Rays. Cotton has pitched in 14 games for the Oakland Athletics with a 5.17 ERA and disabling blisters.
While Jansen acknowledged it would be a nice ‘’luxury’’ to pick up a player like Darvish, he said, “We know we have a great team, we believe in this team, we can do the job to win the World Series with no changes.’’
That could be true. But do the Dodgers really want to keep climbing on Clayton Kershaw’s back to find out?