Column: Dodgers need a big move at the trade deadline, even if it costs them top prospects
How much would you pay for five World Series wins?
How much would you give up for consecutive World Series championships?
That is the question the Dodgers must ask themselves in these waning hours before the Wednesday afternoon trade deadline, because their task is clear.
There is only one hole in what is arguably their best team in 31 years. There is only one missing piece that could prevent them from winning their first championship since 1988.
They need one thing, and they know it better than anybody, because it is the one thing that has haunted them for two Octobers, the one thing that could eventually haunt them forever.
They need quality bullpen help, and they need to give up whatever is necessary for them to acquire it, because this is their chance to change history. This is their championship, right here, right now.
You say they can’t trade their best prospects? I say, a full handful of World Series wins.
You say, how can they give up infielder Gavin Lux and pitcher Dustin May? I say, consecutive championship parades.
In recounting the 2017 loss to the Houston Astros and 2018 loss to the Boston Red Sox, there have been many villains. Some folks blame Dave Roberts. Others blame Clayton Kershaw. Many blame the Dodgers offense. Everyone blames Yu Darvish.
With the MLB trade deadline approaching, closer Felipe Vazquez is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ top target. But the Pittsburgh Pirates want top prospects in return.
Yet the hard truth is, if the bullpen performed at even a reasonable level, they turn five of those World Series losses into victories and win two championships in the process.
You want to relive it all for a second? Me neither, but here goes.
In their Game 2 loss to the Astros, Kenley Jansen was on the mound with a 3-1 lead in the eighth, blew the save, and the Dodgers lost 7-6 in 11 innings.
In their Game 5 loss to the Astros, the bullpen took over with a 7-4 lead in the fifth inning and imploded into an eventual 13-12 loss in 10 innings.
In their Game 1 loss to the Red Sox, Kershaw left with a 3-3 tie in the fifth inning and the bullpen detonated into an 8-4 loss.
In their Game 2 loss to the Red Sox, Hyun-Jin Ryu left with a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning and the bullpen flared into a 4-2 loss.
In their Game 4 loss to the Red Sox, Rich Hill left in the seventh inning with a 4-0 lead and the bullpen was on the mound when the Sox scored nine runs leading to a 9-6 defeat.
This year they currently have basically the same type of bullpen, with one difference, and it’s not a good one. Kenley Jansen has not been Kenley Jansen. He has a career high 3.67 ERA. He has a career low confidence in his trademark cutter.
They don’t have a candidate to be a co-closer against left-handers. With Joe Kelly still so inconsistent, they don’t have an eighth-inning setup guy. They rank in the bottom third in the league in inherited runners scored. As in past years, the bullpen is notable not for what it has, but for what it is missing. To attempt to navigate a third October with the same type of crew is the definition of insanity.
Andrew Friedman knows this. He understands the importance of making a midseason deal. He’s done it before. Nobody in baseball, in fact, has done it better.
In the last three seasons at the trade deadline, the Dodgers’ front-office boss has done everything in his power to give this team every opportunity to win. He has boldly risked the future. He has put his organizational depth on the line. He has gone for it.
Three years ago, he acquired Hill and Josh Reddick. Two years ago, it was Darvish, and despite how that turned out, Darvish was the best pitcher on the market at the time. Then last year, it was Manny Machado and, again, he was the best guy available.
With Enrique Hernandez heading to the injured list, the Dodgers acquired utility player Kristopher Negron in a trade with the Seattle Mariners.
Friedman willingly traded 11 prospects in those deals, and while the Dodgers have played deep into two postseasons, those kids have been mostly invisible. The only one to make a big major league splash so far, Oakland’s Frankie Montas, was suspended 80 games this summer for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.
Friedman needs to go for it one more time. It’s never been more important for him to continue his fearlessness. The Dodgers are too close to be too cautious now.
Felipe Vazquez, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ powerful left-handed closer, is out there. Edwin Diaz, the New York Mets’ unsettled but potentially lights-out right-hander, is out there.
Baseball folks are saying the Dodgers won’t trade the top prospects required to obtain them. Here’s hoping baseball folks are wrong.
The bullpen could be helped in another way, by acquiring a starting pitcher and turning Julio Urias into the setup guy and even co-closer. Noah Syndergaard of the New York Mets is out there, and that deal would make the baseball world’s head explode.
But, again, everyone is saying the Dodgers are being careful, that they don’t want to trade the next Corey Seager or Walker Buehler, but you know something? They have already built this team around prospects they wouldn’t trade, from Seager to Buehler to Cody Bellinger to Alex Verdugo. If they need to finally give up some of their young greatness to finish the job, then finish the job.
Lux, the 21-year-old infielder and former first-round pick, is amazing. I get it. You’re preparing to send me his statistics, I’ll save you the trouble.
At last count, he was batting .474 at triple-A Oklahoma City with a 1.470 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 23 games. In two levels this season he has 21 homers and 64 RBIs in 87 games.
May, the 21-year-old pitcher and former third-round pick, is incredible. Watch him pitch and you can see he could be destined for stardom.
In five starts at Oklahoma City, he’s 3-0 with a 2.63 ERA. In two levels this season, in 106 2/3 innings, he’s struck out 110 and walked 29.
Then there’s Keibert Ruiz, the 21-year-old kid catcher from Venezuela, who is promising with a minor league career .351 on-base percentage.
They’re all great. But it’s hard to imagine any of them helping this team win this year’s World Series. They’re wonderful in Oklahoma, but the Dodgers need someone for October.
Here’s hoping Friedman stops at nothing to acquire the bullpen pieces that can finally give this team everything.
History is remembering. History is waiting.
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