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Dodgers

Column: After crafty trade for Manny Machado, Dodgers must reel in some pitchers

How do they keep doing this?

How do Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi keep getting something for what could eventually be nothing?

It was a trade that everyone expected. It was a trade that nobody expected.

Yes, the Dodgers have finally nabbed Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado. But, no, you’re not going to believe what they gave up.

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One of the 10 best players in baseball was acquired Wednesday for the price of … five minor leaguers, and only one who ranks among the Dodgers’ top 10 prospects. Can that be right?

Let me check the Dodgers’ major league roster. Alex Wood, here. Yasiel Puig, here. Joc Pederson, here. Logan Forsythe, here. A first-place club, here.

The Dodgers were somehow able to substantially improve their team without losing anyone from their team, and you know what that means.

Now they can have major league pieces to acquire what they really need, which is a couple of accomplished relievers or a starter, something they can find in the next couple of weeks.

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Machado, who immediately becomes the Dodgers leader with 24 home runs and 65 runs batted in, makes them clear favorites to win the National League. Those additional arms would give the Dodgers a legitimate shot at winning their first World Series championship in 30 years.

“We viewed Manny Machado as a big difference maker, and potentially the biggest difference maker who was going to be available,” Zaidi, the team’s general manager, saidin a conference call.

He later added that, thankfully, that they were probably not finished, noting, “As for the pitching side, it’s something we continue to evaluate, both bullpen and rotation, talks are fluid, we’ll continue to look for upgrades that make sense.”

Machado becomes the biggest acquisition of the front office’s four-year tenure here, and one of the biggest Dodgers grabs since another Manny arrived 10 years ago in Manny Ramirez, yet the cost was a handful of mostly unknown names from an Oklahoma City or Tulsa or Rancho Cucamonga lineup card.

Friedman and Zaidi pushed all their chips to the center of the table without really making a big bet, and they’re still loaded for the next and more important hand.

How do they keep doing this?

In their previous midseason deals since taking over in the winter of 2014, the duo built a World Series team by acquiring players such as Yu Darvish, Rich Hill, Tony Cingrani, Tony Watson and Chase Utley for a collection of mostly minor leaguers who have fallen short of stardom.

Their farm system is that deep. Their draft and development system has been that good. Their wallets have been that fat, allowing them to buy prospects that others cannot afford. All of this has amounted to a collection of able bodies they can just throw at people willing to bet that one of those kids will turn into a lottery ticket. So far, the biggest winners have been the Dodgers.

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The trade does not come without risk. The reason the Orioles were so adamant about unloading their 26-year-old star is because he can become a free agent at the end of the year, which means the Dodgers might have his services for only a couple of months.

If the Dodgers can’t convince Machado to sign here, and that could be tough considering he wants to continue playing shortstop and the Dodgers have one of those in recuperating Corey Seager, they could lose him for nothing.

But that risk has been alleviated because of the cost. That risk would matter more had they surrendered a star for him, but, while these five young men might be full of potential, none projects to even be in the major leagues for two more years.

Yusniel Diaz, a Cuban who was signed for $15.6 million, is a double-A outfielder who hit two home runs in this week’s MLB Futures Game. He ranks third among Baseball America’s list of Dodgers prospects.

None of the other players rank in the top 10.

Dean Kremer is a double-A pitcher. Rylan Bannon is a Class-A third baseman. Zach Pop is a pitcher who has split time between Class A and double A. Breyvic Valera is a third baseman in triple A who batted .172 in a brief stint with the Dodgers this year.

Certainly, these guys are all accomplished minor league players, but the Dodgers ultimately are not in the minor league accomplishment business. They are in the major league championship business, and every prospect should be viewed as potentially a means to that end.

Tommy Lasorda, former Dodgers manager who worked throughout the bush leagues, once said, “Minor leaguers are liabilities until they are either traded or reach the major leagues. Then they become assets.’’

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It sounds harsh, but it’s true, and even if one of these prospects becomes Seager or Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers turned five “liabilities” into one giant “asset.”

“This is about 2018 for us,” Zaidi said in words that should warm the hearts of every Dodgers fan. “We’re not worried about what happens beyond 2018.”

The smart seemed smarter. The rich got richer. The Dodgers got better.

Now Friedman and Zaidi need to finish the job and find those pitchers.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke


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