History shows Dodgers will make a splashy deal ahead of baseball trade deadline
As the calendar creeps closer to July 31, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts understands he can only spend so many hours wondering about the trade deadline. There are baseball games to manage and a clubhouse to shepherd. A seventh-consecutive division title is almost guaranteed. The organization’s first World Series championship since 1988 remains in doubt.
The Dodgers entered the final Sunday before the deadline in a privileged position. They lead the National League West by two weeks’ worth of victories. They should hold home-field advantage at least through the first two rounds of the playoffs. And Roberts believes that the front office run by president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman will be aggressive in adding players before the deadline.
Roberts can draw comfort from history. In his three prior seasons at the helm, the Dodgers made a splash at the deadline. In 2016, Friedman acquired pitcher Rich Hill and outfielder Josh Reddick from the Oakland Athletics. A year later, the team brought in pitcher Yu Darvish from the Texas Rangers. If the team didn’t go wild during the 2018 deadline, that was because they had already traded for four-time All-Star Manny Machado.
These trades did not always pan out. Reddick spent his Dodgers tenure in a slump. Darvish capsized in the 2017 World Series. Machado displayed breathtaking flashes of ability mixed with puzzling lapses of effort.
Even so, the manager does not expect his superiors to be passive over the next few days. Roberts considers this group the best he has managed during his four seasons. He figures they will soon get better.
“Our front office has shown that if there’s a need, we have no problem trying to address and line up on a deal,” Roberts said. “But it’s got to be right for both clubs, too. I think that the history points to if something could happen or should happen, we’ll make it happen.”
Which places the Dodgers in an intriguing position as this murky trade season comes to a close.
The past few weeks have jostled the landscape. The San Francisco Giants were expected to deal both franchise pillar Madison Bumgarner and All-Star closer Will Smith. Now they might keep both. The Cleveland Indians could have conducted a fire sale that included pitcher Trevor Bauer and closer Brad Hand. Now they are nipping at the heels of the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central.
Will Smith will get an extended opportunity to prove he can be the Dodgers’ primary catcher while Austin Barnes attempts to find his swing in triple-A.
On the other hand, the New York Mets might finally pull the trigger on a trade with pitcher Noah Syndergaard. They could also seek to recoup prospects for closer Edwin Diaz, who has regressed since arriving in Queens over the winter. The Arizona Diamondbacks could move Zack Greinke or Robbie Ray. Yasiel Puig might not stay a Cincinnati Red.
Amid the confusion, the Dodgers have clear needs. The team believes it is imperative to upgrade its bullpen. The group entered the weekend ranked 10th in the majors in earned-run average, but still lacks a high-quality, left-handed option.
Smith, the Giants reliever, is a left-handed pitcher. But it remains unclear if Farhan Zaidi, the former Dodgers general manager who now runs San Francisco’s baseball operations department, will sell. So the Dodgers might try to convince the Pittsburgh Pirates to part with two-time All-Star reliever Felipe Vazquez.
Pittsburgh controls Vazquez through 2023, and they need to replenish their roster. The Dodgers are unlikely to deal Gavin Lux, their top position-player prospect, but they might be willing to move catcher Keibert Ruiz. Ruiz could be more expendable at the moment than rookie Will Smith, who supplanted Austin Barnes on the big league roster.
Vazquez would provide Roberts with a left-handed reliever who can be paired with Kenley Jansen for high-leverage situations.
“Pitching is something that you can never have enough of,” Roberts said. “I think any other team would say that you can always add. But there’s always a cost to it, what you’re losing, whether it be in the clubhouse, and what you’re gaining. It’s got to move the needle.”
A more curious outcome would be if the Dodgers decide to upgrade their lineup. Even after a recent hot stretch in which he hit .400 in the first 12 games after the All-Star Break, Enrique Hernandez still entered Saturday batting .238 with a .742 on-base plus slugging percentage. He underwent an MRI on his hand heading into the weekend, and was held out of the lineup for the series opener against the Washington Nationals.
If Hernandez lands on the injured list, he would join the team’s other super-utility player, Chris Taylor. Taylor suffered a non-displaced fracture in his forearm after getting hit by a pitch earlier this month. He is expected back in September. The injury derailed him as he recovered from a rocky start to the season. Since June, Taylor has posted an .873 OPS.
With Hernandez and Taylor potentially sidelined, the Dodgers could pursue another player capable of handling multiple positions. Kansas City Royals All-Star Whit Merrifield fits the bill. Merrifield entered Friday with an .850 OPS and the ability to play second base plus the outfield.
The cost for Merrifield, like Syndegaard or Vazquez, would be steep. Merrifield is on a team-friendly contract through 2023. He turned 30 earlier this season, and figures to be the leader of the Royals clubhouse whenever Alex Gordon retires. The Royals appreciate the value of Merrifield’s experience as they continue their rebuild.
The options are there for the Dodgers. The picture is still unclear. The games this weekend could determine which teams buy and which sell. But the Dodgers expect to be involved.
“We’re canvassing on everything, every opportunity,” Roberts said. “If we line up something that moves the needle — great. If we don’t then, we’re prepared to go forward with this club.”
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