Column: Dodgers have plenty of options as trade deadline approaches
Alex Wood might be the hottest pitcher in baseball. He is the only major leaguer with a dozen starts and an ERA below 2.00. The ball — juiced or otherwise — is flying out of the park at a record rate, and yet Wood has faced 288 batters this season and given up two home runs.
All of this excellence has led to what we would call revisionist history. It is currently fashionable to say that the Dodgers’ acquisition of Wood was one of the great steals among modern trades.
From the vantage point of today, sure. But the object of the game is to win the World Series, and two years ago the Dodgers passed on the opportunity to trade for an impact pitcher in order to acquire Wood among what they thought would be a collection of useful parts.
Wood, pitching through an ankle injury that preceded the trade, did not start a playoff game. He faced 12 batters in relief, and he gave up four runs. Luis Avilan faced four batters. Jim Johnson, presented as a lights-out setup man for Kenley Jansen, did not even make the playoff roster. Neither did Jose Peraza, the prospect groomed as an October pinch runner. (Neither did Mat Latos, the other starting pitcher they imported in a separate deal.)
The Dodgers did not trade for David Price or Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto that summer because they did not want to trade their elite prospects. They did not win a postseason series that fall. By that score, the Wood trade was not a good one, certainly not a steal.
Wood has blossomed. Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger, elite prospects who were not traded, have flourished. The Dodgers have an outstanding chance to get to their first World Series in 29 years. They might even entertain the thought of trading an elite prospect for impact talent.
Too bad. Timing is everything in life.
With one month to the trade deadline, it is not at all clear that any impact talent will be available.
Sonny Gray gave up one run in eight innings on Friday, his best start of the season, but his ERA remains above 4.00, and he was on the disabled list once this year and twice last year.
Jose Quintana never has been on the disabled list, and his ERA was under 2.00 in June, but it was above 5.00 in April and again in May.
Justin Verlander has the brand name, but he also has an ERA over 4.00. His walk rate is at a career high, and his contract guarantees him $65 million from this July 31 through its end in 2019, when he will be 36.
Good pitchers all, none the sure thing that Price or Hamels or Cueto would have been two years ago — or, for that matter, that Chris Sale would have been last winter.
The best arm available to the Dodgers might be the one belonging to Walker Buehler — their first-round draft pick two years ago, the talk of spring training, and now a star at double-A.
The Dodgers could use a starter because they were counting on the questionably managed and currently injured Julio Urias in their October rotation, the latest reminder that not every elite prospect flourishes.
They also could use an outfielder — J.D. Martinez of the Detroit Tigers would be a nice fit — because they don’t know what they might get out of Adrian Gonzalez when he comes off the disabled list, and they might not know before the trade deadline. If Gonzalez isn’t at first base, Bellinger is, and his move from left field could leave a vacancy.
The Dodgers have plenty of their signature depth. In the outfield alone, they have Enrique Hernandez, Chris Taylor and Trayce Thompson now, and maybe Andre Ethier, Brett Eibner, Franklin Gutierrez, Scott Van Slyke and prospect Alex Verdugo by season’s end. They have 23 pitchers under control, on the 40-man roster or 60-man disabled list.
They don’t need to tinker, at risk of messing with the clubhouse chemistry in which their analytically-oriented front office strongly believes.
“We feel really good about the dynamic within our group and the depth that we have,” said Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations.
“We won’t do something just to rearrange the deck chairs, so to speak. That said, if something lines up and makes sense in terms of what we’re looking to accomplish, we’ll be aggressive. It’s a tough thing to handicap this far out.”
Friedman insisted the Dodgers would consider trading an elite prospect.
“We don’t have a blanket policy about anything,” he said.
The Chicago Cubs traded their best prospect last summer to get Aroldis Chapman. The Cleveland Indians traded elite prospects last summer to get Andrew Miller. The Cubs and Indians played in the World Series.
“Both those teams made aggressive moves last season and certainly benefited from it,” Friedman said. “Other teams that have gone to the World Series haven’t. There’s not a magic pill. It really gets to your team, your roster, and your needs.”
Do the Dodgers need to persuade fans tired of their team winning the National League West and falling short of the fall classic? Friedman referred questions about the business impact of the Dodgers’ finishes to Stan Kasten, the team president.
The Braves won one World Series and played in four others. In 1993, after back-to-back World Series appearances, they sold 3.88 million tickets, more than the Dodgers ever have. By 2005, the last year of the run, attendance had fallen to 2.5 million.
“People got content with it,” said Dodgers coach George Lombard, an Atlanta native who played for the Braves during the run.
Lombard said he thought the Dodgers might be in a better position to sustain their attendance, since the Braves did not play in an optimal part of town and also tended to attract transplants to Atlanta, ones without generations of loyalty to the team.
“You don’t have the diehards like your Dodger fans or your Red Sox fans,” Lombard said.
The Dodgers have led the major leagues in attendance and won the NL West in each of the four full seasons under Guggenheim ownership. They will lead the majors in attendance again this season, and they look like they will win the NL West again.
But, whether the market is softening or certain tickets were overpriced, the Dodgers are selling July 4 seats for what the team says is up to 70% off, and tickets originally priced in the range of $31 to $105 are available on the Goldstar discount website for $7.60 to $45.
The Dodgers so far have refused to significantly enhance their chance to get to the World Series in any one year by weakening their chances in future years. But the Cubs had a young lineup, and trumpets heralding the start of a dynasty. Now they cannot shake .500, or the Milwaukee Brewers. You never know.
The Dodgers — and many other front offices throughout professional sports — operate under a “trust the process” philosophy. The playoffs are a crapshoot, or so the theory goes, so put together the best and most sustainable team you can and hope that your team doesn’t run into Orel Hershiser in 1988 or Madison Bumgarner in 2014.
But the process should be a means to an end, not an end in itself. When five million fans serenaded the Cubs last November, they weren’t celebrating a process.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin
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