The Dodgers and Colorado Rockies were scoreless at Coors Field in the fourth inning and would, somehow, remain that way until the ninth inning of the Dodgers’ 5-1 win, when the trade deadline passed. A thousand miles and a time zone away, Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, and his crew were camped at Dodger Stadium, light on sleep and heavy on stress.
The Dodgers’ front office executed trades for two players before the 1 p.m. PDT deadline hit, but neither was the one the organization and fans, in an ideal world, envisioned. The Dodgers emerged without the elite shutdown reliever they had sought to bolster their bullpen, unwilling to pay the steep prices teams stamped on those pitchers. Instead, they acquired infielder Jedd Gyorko from the St. Louis Cardinals and left-handed reliever Adam Kolarek from the Tampa Bay Rays — two minor moves that might improve the club but just incrementally.
“Our focus each deadline I’ve been here was to be aggressive,” Friedman said in a conference call with reporters. “And, more often than not, that has resulted in an aggressive move. Today, it did not. But we had various conversations going up until 1 o’clock and feel like we’ve got a team and depth in place to win a championship.”
The Dodgers were interested in high-end relievers that might have been available. The list included Edwin Diaz of the New York Mets, Will Smith of the San Francisco Giants, Brad Hand of the Cleveland Indians and Kirby Yates of the San Diego Padres. Their top target, however, was Pittsburgh Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez. The 28-year-old Vazquez, an All-Star this year and in 2018, has an 1.87 earned-run average and 21 saves in 40 appearances this season.
The price for the electric left-hander started with Gavin Lux, their top-ranked prospect, and the Dodgers refused to include him in any trade. The shortstop was batting .465 with eight home runs and a 1.443 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 24 games since getting promoted to triple-A Oklahoma City. The Dodgers envision Lux in their lineup for many years, beginning next season.
The package might also have had to include top pitching prospect Dustin May and catcher Keibert Ruiz. While Ruiz is at least a year away from reaching the major leagues, the 21-year-old May is expected to contribute this season. The right-hander is slated to start Friday against the San Diego Padres in his major league debut, according to people with knowledge of the situation, and could pitch out of the bullpen in the postseason. Tony Gonsolin, the organization’s second-ranked pitching prospect, also will get a chance to pitch out of the bullpen in October. Gonsolin allowed one run in a four-inning save against the Rockies on Tuesday.
“I think throughout the last three or four days, the confidence on lining up on something was kind of a roller-coaster ride,” Friedman said. “But, ultimately, the small list of guys we really targeted and spent a lot of time and energy on were guys that ultimately didn’t move.”
Los Angeles settled for Kolarek and Gyorko. Kolarek, 30, was acquired for minor league outfielder Niko Hulsizer and will join the team Thursday. He fills a need for a reliever with success against left-handed batters. In parts of three seasons with the Rays, Kolarek is 6-3 with a 4.19 ERA and 59 strikeouts, while limiting left-handed batters to a .209 batting average. This season, he’s held left-handers to a .238 batting average and a .531 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 80 at-bats.
The 30-year-old Gyorko was acquired with international cap space for left-hander Tony Cingrani and minor league right-hander Jeffry Abreu. The Dodgers see him as depth and insurance on injuries to David Freese, Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez. Gyorko, however, is hurt himself. He was put on the 10-day injured list June 8 with a back injury but has since suffered calf and wrist injuries. The Cardinals placed him on the 60-day injured list Tuesday. Friedman said his return date is unknown but he is nearing a rehab assignment.
As the disappointment of failing to bolster the bullpen sunk in, a reminder of the club’s potential unloaded in Colorado as a low-scoring affair suddenly gave way to a ninth-inning barrage with home runs by rookie Will Smith and journeyman Kristopher Negron. The duo, not on the roster a week ago, powered the Dodgers’ league-leading 71st win of the season.
Coors Field in 2019 is not where low-scoring affairs are born. Especially on hot afternoons when the temperature at first pitch is in the mid-80s. Especially when the two teams operate the highest-scoring offenses in the National League and a livelier ball is bouncing around the diamond. The thin air breeds slugfests and long days and nightmares for pitchers in any weather. But one of those, against the odds, surfaced for eight innings. Hyun-Jin Ryu and German Marquez exchanged zeroes for six frames until passing the pitchers’ duel to their bullpens.
Smith supplied the first blow, a three-run home run off Rockies closer Wade Davis to break the scoreless tie five weeks after he smacked a walk-off three-run home run against the Rockies at Dodger Stadium.
“The Fresh Prince delivered again,” manager Dave Roberts said.
Alex Verdugo followed with his fourth hit of the day before Negron clubbed a two-run home run. Negron joined the Dodgers on Monday with seven home runs in 140 career games. He has two in two starts as a Dodger.
Davis was pulled and booed after Negron’s blast. Two years ago, Davis was an All-Star closer. This season, he owns a 6.82 ERA. It is an example of relievers’ volatility distilled to its purest form. That is a reason why the Dodgers were not willing to part with Lux. They deemed the premium too high and will move on, looking to improve their roster from within.
“We made plenty of offers that were definitely underwater from a value standpoint but felt good about making because of the team that we have,” Friedman said. “But things have a funny way of playing out. A year or two from now, that could end up being a really good thing. We’re not sure.”