December 19, 2012: John Ely traded to the Houston Astros for Rob Rasmussen
When Rob Rasmussen was traded to the Dodgers a year and a half ago, most thought it was a nice little move. The Dodgers rotation log jam heading into 2013 meant the Dodgers had little room for a seventh starter type like Ely, and while Rasmussen profiled as someone whose career would strongly resemble Ely's, he came with a fresh set of minor league options so he'd be around when the Dodgers would have more need for rotation depth. But as Robert Smith taught us, even the best laid plans this side of America don't always work out.
August 31, 2013: Rob Rasmussen traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for Michael Young
Rasmussen to the Phillies was the kind of move that always happens during the August trade deadline. The Dodgers needed bench bat and people were still in disbelief that Juan Uribe was playing well so Young made sense. Sure, Young's tenure consisted mostly of praying he wouldn't come to the plate with a runner on first so he couldn't ground into a double play, but no one could reasonably complain about this move. There was a really good chance Young would produce more in one month as a Dodger than Rasmussen ever would, so of course you do it.
Rasmussen's tenure with the Dodgers could be mostly summed up as "who cares", and his time on the Phillies was just as unnoticeable as he would get traded for the fourth time in his career to Toronto in the offseason, but it turns out these seemingly minor moves can have far-reaching consequences.
The big problem with the 2014 Dodgers is the bullpen. The team currently has three relievers that you'd want to see take the mound while the outcome of the game can still be determined, and one of them is Brandon League. Compounding these problems is the existence of Paul Maholm. As I wrote a few weeks ago, there's consequences to leaving an obviously finished Paul Maholm on the roster. Not only are you forced to keep possibly the second best reliever in the organization, Paco Rodriguez, in Triple-A but Scott Ericksoning1 Maholm pushes everyone up a spot in the bullpen. Brian Wilson and Chris Perez should be Ericksoned or released, respectively, at this point, but because Maholm is already in that role, they have to be continuously used in late innings and hilarity ensues.
The only way you can justify keeping Maholm is concern with starting pitching depth. With Stephen Fife on the shelf, Matt Magill converted to relief, and Zach Lee still in need of work the only guy left in the organization that you'd want picking up emergency starts is Red Patterson. If it were up to me, this wouldn't be reason enough to keep Maholm around but I can understand why you wouldn't want to. This brings us back to Rasmussen, if he were around, would that be enough of a safety blanket to get rid of Maholm? You can't say for sure, especially since the Blue Jays have converted him to relief but he briefly occupied the Maholm role in the Blue Jays pen so there's faith he can throw in the bigs. Rasmussen would not be a huge upgrade on Maholm, or possibly even a small one, but being able to stash him in AAA as depth instead of being forced to keep him on the 25 man is huge.
These far reaching consequences are why we care about these moves that probably won't amount to much. Giving up Duke Von Schamann for a Triple-A LOOGY won't come back to haunt you in an obvious way like Von Schamann racking up Cy Young awards, but there could come a time when the Dodgers could really use an eighth starter, and Von Schamann won't be around to do it. Fringy prospects will constantly get traded as a matter of course, but if you do it enough times without replenishing them, a trade that "doesn't matter" could eventually hurt.
1. Scott Ericksoning - the act of burying a pitcher so far down in the pen that they're almost never used, but you keep him around for reasons that can't be determined. Named after Scott Erickson's continued existence in 2005 despite being possibly the worst pitcher I've ever seen in a Dodger uniform.↩