Trades Fuel Dodgers for the Pennant Drive
Moments before the Dodgers were officially a rebuilding team that no longer cared about wins?
Ned Colletti brought in 327 of them.
Moments before the Dodgers were condemned to two months with a makeshift infield and powerless batting order?
Ned Colletti added an infielder who is immediately tied for the team lead in home runs.
In the final breaths before baseball’s trading deadline Monday, with his team’s fans huddled in front of an empty hearth and dreading the onset of winter, Colletti burst through the door with arms full and smile wide.
In his one hand, the smartest available pitcher, Greg Maddux.
In his other hand, the best available infielder, Julio Lugo.
In his wallet, every top Dodgers prospect remained.
In baseball parlance, a two-run walk-off homer.
“I don’t think we’re that far away,” Colletti said. “This should give everybody a lift.”
A lift in attitude, from the clubhouse kids to the top-level ushers, everyone realizing this new Dodgers administration will refuse to give up on a season.
A lift in ability, with holes plugged in the rotation, infield and batting order.
And a huge lift over the Angels, who once again ignored their fans and abandoned their players and failed to add the hitter that could have taken them to the World Series.
Sure, the Angels have enough pitching to win their division, but with their recent history and current payroll, a division title is not enough anymore.
For the Dodgers, for now, the playoffs are plenty.
Even though they were five games out of first place in the awful West at the time of the trade, this move could take them there.
“There’s plenty of time to make up five games,” Maddux said.
Despite being 40 and struggling for the Chicago Cubs since April with the third-worst winning percentage of any regular starter in baseball -- 4-11, 27% -- it all starts with Maddux.
As long as he can still think, he can still pitch. And with the stakes higher and the air thicker and the infielders hungrier, he can pitch here.
Anybody remember his last Dodger Stadium appearance in April? In eight innings he gave up three hits, struck out six, walked none and won, 4-1.
The whole thing took about 20 minutes.
Besides having the most career wins of any pitcher to start a Dodgers game, Maddux arrives dressed in a career 2.94 August earned-run average and a 3.63 September ERA.
“I am looking forward to where ... if you win, it means more for everybody,” Maddux said.
While Maddux stabilizes the mound, Lugo solidifies the dirt behind him.
With 12 home runs during an injury-plagued season for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, he has oversized power for a middle infielder. And with a .391 batting average and a .600 slugging percentage in the last 28 games, he’s never swung bigger.
Although Lugo is a natural shortstop, he can play second base, and will do so while Jeff Kent is ailing. His presence will allow Kent to play first base if Nomar Garciaparra remains injured. And if both men come back, heck, put Lugo in center field to spell the inconsistent Kenny Lofton.
During a patchwork summer in which the Dodgers’ dugout has resembled a NASCAR pit stop, it all could work.
“I think we’re closer than we were yesterday,” Colletti said.
And to think, he did all with the blink of an Izturis and the flick of a Guzman.
Perhaps the best part of this trade is that the Dodgers became better this season without sacrificing next season.
Cesar Izturis, who went to the Cubs for Maddux, is a nice player who was exposed with a .216 batting average in the two months after last season’s All-Star game appearance.
Joel Guzman, who went to the Devil Rays for Lugo, is a former top prospect who was exposed this season for holes in both his swing and his attitude.
Both Maddux and Lugo are free agents this year, meaning Colletti traded two prospects for rentals.
But the price of rent around here has rarely been so reasonable.
“I still think that the system is very strong,” Colletti said. “Players that are repeatedly being asked about are still here.”
In other words ...
Russell Martin? Here. Andre Ethier? Present. Jonathan Broxton? Yes ma’am. Chad Billingsley? Right here. Matt Kemp? Yep. James Loney? Indeed.
In the roll call that Dodgers fans were undoubtedly taking Monday afternoon, one more important part of the team appeared, a part that many thought was lost, a part that Ned Colletti brought back in the best of Dodgers traditions.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at email@example.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.