In trading Jose De Leon in a one-for-one trade with the Rays for Logan Forsythe, the Dodgers dealt from their greatest organizational strength, close-to-the-majors pitching. De Leon was ranked second on my prospect list this year, with grades largely unchanged from the previous year. Before the 2016 season began, I did not expect to still have to rank De Leon in 2017, figuring he would at least serve a bullpen role by the second half of the season.
Injuries and competition got in the way of De Leon exhausting his rookie eligibility. De Leon’s time spent on the disabled list allowed Brock Stewart to jump ahead in reaching the major leagues, and with a solid performance, he likely had a leg up on De Leon for a role in the upcoming season.
De Leon’s injury stint was not a unique occurrence for him, as his 2015 represented a high-water mark for innings in a professional season to date at 114⅓ innings. His durability is perhaps his largest concern, a De Leon will turn 25 during the 2017 season without shouldering a season innings load befitting a major league starter.
That’s not to suggest De Leon won’t be a successful starter at the next level. When healthy, success has not been a problem, and De Leon struck out Triple-A hitters with greater frequency than in his Double-A breakout. De Leon’s repertoire and pitchability gave him the upside of a first-division number three starter, and he needed no further seasoning at the minor league level.
De Leon’s 2016 season did nothing to dissuade my opinion of him as a high-strikeout, mid-rotation arm, but he had been passed by another player for top honors in the system because of ceiling. In trading De Leon, the Dodgers are moving arguably their most ready arm, but also an arm from a heavy stockpile of ready pitching. As mentioned Stewart took the innings that could have been tabbed for a healthy De Leon, and Julio Urias remains the crown jewel of the team’s controllable assets. Add Trevor Oaks, Josh Sborz, and Chase De Jong to the equation and the Dodgers have a pipeline of near-ready-for-prime-time prospects, albeit not with the same impact potential as De Leon.
Perhaps most importantly, the Dodgers hold on to their other prized arms in this deal. Walker Buehler, Yadier Alvarez, and Imani Abdullah remain in their places as part of the next wave, and the Dodgers can give them additional development time to see if they each can reach their elite ceilings before determining if they should be kept or dealt.
History may still suggest that the Dodgers surrendered the greater value in this one-for-one trade, but the opportunity cost of dealing a top arm like De Leon was relatively low in this circumstance. The Dodgers did not necessarily have a rotation slot for him in the upcoming season, and he did not need additional time in the minors. With the window still wide open for a World Series run, the Dodgers simply shuffled assets from a strength to a weakness, while holding onto younger, more controllable arms in the process.