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Dodgers trade deadline targets might not include a starting pitcher

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Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The trade deadline is just a little more than five weeks away, and the Dodgers will be buyers — no matter what some dumb weblogger said weeks ago.

In the three full seasons Andrew Friedman, Farhan Zaidi and Co., have been in charge, they’ve added a starting pitcher (or two) at the deadline every year. They acquired Alex Wood and Mat Latos in 2015, Rich Hill in 2016 and Yu Darvish last year. But this year might be different.

Clayton Kershaw’s return on Saturday was more of the same we’ve seen from him in 2018. He was good not great, but at least his average fastball velocity (90.4 MPH) was closer to what we saw earlier in the season than what we saw in his last start (89 MPH). Caleb Ferguson relieved Kershaw and pitched quite well in his four innings of work — three hits, zero runs, one walk, six strikeouts. It was easily the best outing of his young MLB career. This is going somewhere, I promise.

Wood had his best start in a month on Friday against the Mets. Hill had a rough start on Sunday against the Mets, but was lights out against the Cubs earlier in the week. Walker Buehler threw a bullpen over the weekend in the first step back from a microfracture in his rib. Kenta Maeda was rusty in Chicago, but was as good as he’s ever been with seven scoreless Monday. Hyun-Jin Ryu felt a little soreness in his groin in a recent bullpen session, but he wasn’t expected to be back for another few weeks — at best — anyway. Dennis Santana is out of his arm sling and on the road to recovery, but he’s also a ways off. Julio Urias could be back by the end of next month, but I’m still not expecting much in the way of production from him. Oh, and staff ace Ross Stripling isn’t showing many signs of slowing down.

Despite the injuries to Santana and Urias, that’s still a lot of starting pitchers. Ten, to be precise. And while we can all dream about seeing Jacob deGrom in a Dodger uniform, that just isn’t going to happen (probably). The same goes for Noah Syndergaard. Outside of those two, there may not be a lot of impact starting pitchers available at the deadline.

J.A. Happ is solid (2.0 fWAR), but Stripling (1.8) and Buehler (1.7) have been nearly as good as him in terms of FanGraphs’ WAR in 34 and 40 fewer innings pitched, respectively. And he figures to be a hot commodity at the deadline because he’s a rental. Jon Gray is an interesting potential trade chip, but he’s wildly inconsistent and I’m not sure the Rockies would want to trade him within the division (nor would the Dodgers want to pay the intra-division tax). The Rays aren’t trading Blake Snell, so don’t even think about it and while a guy like Kyle Gibson could be an interesting trade chip no one has really brought up yet, I’m not sure he’s any better than a healthy Maeda, Ryu or Wood.

This might be the year the Dodgers don’t go after a starting pitcher. And that’s OK. But if that’s the case, they’ll almost assuredly make a player for some of the relievers bound to be available.

Brad Hand and Blake Treinen are atop my list in that regard. Both are elite-level performers with specific specialties. Hand has one of the game’s best sliders and Treinen throws a legit high-90s sinker. Both would cost a lot, but not really much more than, say, one of the pitchers listed above. Both are controllable (Hand through 2021, Treinen through 2020) and could immediately impact the Dodgers’ bullpen.

Shoring up the ‘pen would be a way to get around not acquiring a starter at the deadline. Adding an elite-level, controllable reliever for a similar cost as a mid-rotation starter who’s either a rental or under control through next season might make more sense, seeing as the Dodgers have eight legitimate starting pitcher options, when everyone is healthy. If they added a non-elite reliever — like a Ryan Pressly, Joakim Soria or Drew Steckenrider — to go along with one of the big guys, that could minimize the usage of inconsistent relievers like Pedro Baez, Josh Fields and Erik Goeddel, thus improving the bullpen as a whole.

One last point: Focusing on relievers would also help in terms of the luxury tax situation. Aside from Zach Britton, whom the Dodgers almost acquired last year, the guys listed above aren’t making a ton of money. With injuries to the starting staff, there’s a little extra money for the team to play with next month, but if they added Hand or Treinen and one of the three listed above, the financial impact shouldn’t be enough to risk going over the luxury tax. It also should leave a little more room for a waiver trade deadline deal, should one be needed.

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This trade deadline should be an interesting one for the Dodgers. They’ve made one huge trade (13-player deal with the Braves and Marlins) and three separate deals in each of the last two years on July 31. We’ll see what this deadline has in store, but I’m betting there will be a new reliever or two in the bullpen come Aug. 1.