When the Dodgers boarded the team plane Monday, they already owned the best record in baseball, the deepest 40-man roster in the sport and the shortest odds in the sport for ending their 29-year World Series drought.
As they flew across the country, bound for a three-city trip starting in Atlanta, their front office worked the phones, finalizing plans to add a four-time All-Star starting pitcher.
In one of the more stunning moves in Andrew Friedman’s three-year tenure as president of baseball operations, the team swung a deal for Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish in exchange for three pitching prospects. The deal was consummated only 15 minutes before the non-waiver deadline, with the Dodgers agreeing to send triple-A infielder Willie Calhoun, Class-A pitcher A.J. Alexy and Class-A infielder Brendon Davis to the Rangers.
Darvish, 6-9 with a 4.01 earned-run average this season, provides right-handed balance to a rotation fronted by the left-handed trio of Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood and Rich Hill. Darvish can reduce the October stress on Kershaw, who is recovering from a lower back strain. And his arrival provides psychic uplift for a team that stormed through July with a 20-3 record.
“I think it will definitely be an emotional boost for the team,” general manager Farhan Zaidi said during a conference call. “It’s hard to say we need it, the way we’ve been playing.”
The Dodgers do not need Darvish to capture a fifth consecutive National League West title. They hold a 14-game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks. They have not lost a series since the first week of June. This is not a reprise of last summer, when the Dodgers brought in Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to get into the playoffs. As a pending free agent, Darvish was acquired to win a championship.
“Every team wants to load up with as many starting pitchers they feel good starting playoff games as possible,” Zaidi said. “Having four is certainly better than having three.”
The Dodgers could exult in both the acquisition of Darvish and the retention of their best prospects. Throughout the process, the Dodgers informed other clubs they would prefer not to part with their top two minor leaguers, triple-A pitcher Walker Buehler and triple-A outfielder Alex Verdugo. They held that stance as they negotiated with Texas for Darvish, while maintaining dialogue with the Baltimore Orioles about reliever Zach Britton and the San Diego Padres about reliever Brad Hand.
Neither Britton nor Hand was traded, and the Dodgers reaped the benefits of their front office’s patience and its commitment to stockpiling prospects.
“There were certain guys that we were really reluctant to talk about in trades,” Zaidi said. “We gave up some guys we valued and we cringed a little in giving up, but obviously we felt the three guys we acquired were all really important acquisitions for our aspirations this season.
Darvish overshadowed the acquisition of two left-handed relievers. The Dodgers traded for Pittsburgh Pirates veteran Tony Watson in exchange for Class-A pitcher Angel German and Class-A infielder Oneil Cruz. They also shipped long-time reserve Scott Van Slyke, along with Class-A catcher Hendrik Clementina, to the Cincinnati Reds for Tony Cingrani. Watson’s ERA is 3.66, Cingrani’s 5.40.
Zaidi noted Watson’s increased velocity in recent weeks. He suggested that Cingrani could benefit from an alteration in his strategy, as Josh Fields benefited after arriving from the Houston Astros last summer. And Buehler could join the bullpen in September.
Darvish does not arrive without risk. He sat out the 2015 season after undergoing elbow ligament replacement surgery. And he will join the Dodgers at a low ebb.
Darvish has not pitched since giving up 10 runs against the Miami Marlins on July 26. In the aftermath, Yahoo Sports reported that Darvish was tipping his pitches during the game. Darvish thanked the reporter on Twitter for writing the story. Members of the Marlins have insisted they were not reliant on Darvish’s telegraphing anything on the mound, according to people familiar with the situation.
Either way, the Dodgers were not dismayed by Darvish’s recent performance. Even before the meltdown against the Marlins, Darvish had produced a 4.78 ERA in four July starts.
“The quality of his stuff has been there, the velocity, the breaking ball,” Zaidi said. “His health has been good. We’re not concerned.”
The presence of Darvish also reduces pressure on Kershaw for October. Kershaw has pitched on three days of rest in the first round in the playoffs in each of the last four seasons. He appeared four times in a nine-day span last October, including three starts, as he recovered from a herniated disk. Kershaw also pitched three times in nine days during the 2013 playoffs.
The deal allowed the Dodgers to keep pace with their National League rivals. The Chicago Cubs acquired starter Jose Quintana two weeks ago, and added left-handed reliever Justin Wilson on Sunday. The Washington Nationals repaired their bullpen with the addition of relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson earlier in July, before swinging a last-minute swap for Minnesota Twins All-Star reliever Brandon Kintzler on Monday.
The Dodgers delivered their answer with little time left.
“It’s certainly fortunate we got it done,” Zaidi said. “It did come down closer to the wire, from a quality of life and stress standpoint, then I think anybody had hoped.”
Times staff writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this report from Los Angeles.
Follow Andy McCullough on Twitter @McCulloughTimes
1:45 p.m.: This article has been updated with the Dodgers dealing Willie Calhoun, A.J. Alexy and Brendon Davis to Texas, and with additional background on the deal.
2:40 p.m.: This article has been updated with Yu Darvish’s pitching statistics and last outing for the Rangers.
This article was originally published at 1:25 p.m.