Column: Jose De Leon trade a calculated move for the Dodgers
The Dodgers do not trade their elite prospects.
That is the simple answer to why the Dodgers were willing to trade pitcher Jose De Leon to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday, for second baseman Logan Forsythe. For all the hype around De Leon, the Dodgers did not consider him one of their elite prospects.
Chris Sale did not land in Los Angeles because the Dodgers do not trade their elite prospects. Same for Cole Hamels, and for Johnny Cueto and David Price.
This is not to demean De Leon. He excelled at every level of the minor leagues, and he could jump into the Rays’ starting rotation immediately. There might be no greater currency in trade than a starting pitcher who can step into a major league rotation today but not file for free agency for another six years.
“He’s got a chance to be a really good major league pitcher,” said Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations.
De Leon, 24, went 7-1 with a 2.61 earned-run average at triple-A Oklahoma City last season. When the Dodgers promoted him in September, he had thrown 18 consecutive scoreless innings and recorded 40 strikeouts since his last walk.
By the time the Dodgers called him up to patch their injury-riddled rotation, they already had used 14 other starters, including four other rookies.
The team held him back in extended spring training, and then he developed a sore shoulder after his first start, so he did not join the triple-A rotation for good until June 7. Still, the Dodgers gave three starts to Brock Stewart, who was not ranked among their top 30 prospects last spring, before giving one to De Leon.
When Baseball America ranked the Dodgers’ prospects earlier this month, the top pitcher was not De Leon but 20-year-old Cuban right-hander Yadier Alvarez.
The Dodgers would not have traded Alvarez or first baseman Cody Bellinger — just as they did not trade shortstop Corey Seager, the reigning National League rookie of the year, or pitcher Julio Urias.
The Dodgers project Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda and Urias as their top four starters, with Scott Kazmir, Alex Wood, Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ross Stripling, Carlos Frias and Stewart also available.
The Dodgers weakened their next-level depth by trading De Leon on Monday and trading Jharel Cotton, Grant Holmes and Frankie Montas last July for Hill and since-departed outfielder Josh Reddick.
However, because Guggenheim Baseball ownership put its ample money where its mouth was in emphasizing scouting and player development, the depth that remains would be the envy of many other organizations.
It’s hard to win without a second baseman. Sure, this trade could represent the second coming of the infamous Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields trade, but the chances are beyond slim, and no team can win if it operates out of fear.
Bottom line: The Dodgers are closer this week than they were last week to their first World Series since 1988. They wouldn’t have sacrificed a prospect they considered elite for that goal. They could be wrong about De Leon, but they can afford to be — and, if they bring a World Series back to Los Angeles, who cares?
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin
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