I wrote about a few of the Dodgers’ potential trade deadline targets on Tuesday. They focused almost solely on relief pitchers. I was asked in the comments if there was an article coming on position players. This is that article.
It’s a little more complicated, though, because the Dodgers don’t really have many glaring holes on offense. With the emergence of Max Muncy, Matt Kemp’s miraculous revival and guys like Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor getting closer to being the guys they were last season, the offense seems pretty set. This doesn’t even include Enrique Hernandez and Joc Pederson playing really well — especially this month — and the fact their best hitter in Justin Turner has yet to get it going.
You could look at the production from behind the plate as an outlier, but despite Austin Barnes’ extreme struggles and Yasmani Grandal’s inevitable regression from his hot start, the Dodgers still have the 12th-best weighted runs created-plus among all catchers in baseball. It’s 97, and with the league-average at 85, they’re clearly better than average there. Also, the value both Grandal and Barnes have defensively is almost unmatched. So, there is no offensive upgrade coming there.
Ever since Corey Seager went down with a torn UCL, folks have been zeroing in on Manny Machado and his eventual arrival in Los Angeles. That fire was stoked a bit on Wednesday by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are playing it coy, acting as if they can’t take on money, won’t give up prized prospects, and aren’t hellbent on returning to the World Series again.
Don’t be fooled.
They are poised to land Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado.
This is the one player on the trade market who can singlehandedly change the playoff landscape, and several Major League Baseball executives and scouts told USA TODAY Sports that the Dodgers have emerged as the clear-front favorites to land Machado.
I’d normally say to take this with a grain of salt. Since it’s Nightengale, I say take it with a heaping, almost lethal-level amount of salt.
But let’s look at Machado for a moment. He’s clearly a better hitter than the shortstops the Dodgers have at present in Taylor and Hernandez. He’s hitting .303/.371/.549 with a 145 wRC+, and he isn’t benefiting from an inflated BABIP (.302). He’s coming off three consecutive seasons of 33 or more home runs and is at 19 already this season. If that weren’t enough, he’s running a career-best walk rate (10.2 percent) and a career-low strikeout rate (13.5 percent). He’s great! Problem is, he’s a free agent after the season and, even now, there’s no clear spot for him to play.
Machado drew critical acclaim for his defensive work as a third baseman. In 2013, he had 35 defensive runs saved. In the last four seasons combined, that number is 39. Still really good, but not on the level he was five years ago. He has played shortstop exclusively this season — something he has stated he wants to do going forward — and, well, it isn’t pretty. He’s -17 in the defensive runs save category. That’s worst among all qualified shortstops in baseball. While one-year defensive splits aren’t the most reliable (and I don’t think he’s the worst defensive shortstop in baseball), it’s still a little eye-popping. By comparison, the trio of Hernandez, Corey Seager and Taylor have a combined -1 DRS in 718 1/3 defensive innings (Machado is at 688).
So, while his bat would be nice, the defensive fit doesn’t make a ton of sense, even if he were to benefit from the advanced defensive analytics the Dodgers have employed to make Seager a top defensive shortstop (in terms of DRS) in his first two full seasons.
This doesn’t even mention the prospect cost, which is sure to be significant (but not as high as you might think). I’m guessing it’d take Alex Verdugo and a couple pitching prospects (Yadier Alvarez, Caleb Ferguson, Dustin May, Dennis Santana, Jordan Sheffield, Mitchell White) to get the Orioles interested. Oh, and the Dodgers would have to find a way to fit his salary (around $8 million presently) under the luxury tax.
But let’s talk about some other potential bats. Second base might be a spot in need of an upgrade, as Logan Forsythe has struggled for the duration of his Dodger tenure. And as much as we love Muncy’s bat, I’m not sure how well his glove plays there.
Scooter Gennett, 28, is the obvious guy here. He has done nothing but hit since arriving in Cincinnati. He’s posting career-best numbers, coming off a career-year in 2017: .336/.375/.534, 144 wRC+. He can play third base and left field in addition to second base, but his home is up the middle. He’s under team control through the 2019 season, so he wouldn’t purely be a rental. He might make even more sense if the Dodgers and Reds could come to an agreement that also included Raisel Iglesias, which could be a theme you see with a few of the other names to follow. That, of course, would make the prospect cost greater and the Dodgers might need to send a contract back to the Reds to help offset some of the incoming money.
Jed Lowrie, 34, is another guy who might make some sense. He’s hitting .294/.350/.497 with a 134 wRC+. The former Stanford product is a free agent after the season, and is posting career-best numbers as well. He’s mainly a 2B/3B now and hasn’t played shortstop since 2016 (three innings). He wouldn’t cost a ton, but I’m also not sure how much he improves the team and/or if there’s room for him. Now, if he came over with Blake Treinen (under team control through 2020), then we might have something.
Eduardo Escobar, 29, is someone who could make more sense than anyone mentioned so far. He’s an average defensive shortstop who is hitting quite well for Minnesota: .288/.340/.550 with a 137 wRC+. This has, kinda, come out of nowhere. He did hit 21 home runs last season, but he also had just a 96 wRC+. His strikeout rate has also increased by almost 4 percent, which is a little concerning. But if the Dodgers are looking for purely a shortstop upgrade, Escobar might be the guy (and he might very well be available soon).
Escobar’s teammate, Brian Dozier — who was the subject of many trade rumors two offseasons ago — could also be available. He’s having a down season, though, hitting just .221/.300/.396 with an 89 wRC+. It’d be hard to argue that Dozier, 31, would be an upgrade over the likes of Forsythe, Hernandez or Taylor. Also, Chase Utley still exists in some capacity. That isn’t to say Dozier wouldn’t be an upgrade over Utley on the field, but Utley’s roster spot is not in jeopardy, so there’s no sense in fantasizing about the team designating Utley for assignment anytime soon to free up a roster spot.
With both the Twins’ middle infielders, a guy like Ryan Pressly or maybe even a Taylor Rogers or Zach Duke could be added to sweeten the potential deal, but even then, it might make more sense to trade for just the reliever as opposed to the hitter as well.
Jose Iglesias, 28, is another interesting guy. He’s a magician with the glove and has been at least a little bit of a factor offensively this season (.273/.316/.390, 92 wRC+). If he were acquired to be strictly a bench/utility guy, that might actually make him a little more valuable to a team like the Dodgers. Package him with Shane Greene and it could be worth it for the Dodgers. Iglesias is making more than one might expect ($6.3 million, about half of it paid already), but he is a free agent after the season.
And if you want a super out-of-left field guy mentioned here, I’ll say Rockies’ second baseman D.J. LeMahieu. LeMahieu, 30 in a couple weeks, is having a bit of a down 2018 and is a free agent after the season, but the Rockies aren’t going anywhere and might try to cash in on him. He has definitely enjoyed hitting in Colorado more (.829 OPS at home, .680 OPS on the road), but his high contact rate is something the Dodgers might benefit from, seeing as the lineup doesn’t have a ton of high contact hitters. His acquisition is unlikely because the Dodgers probably aren’t going to acquire a hitter and the Rockies would, understandably, be reluctant to trade him to a division rival. He’s also a fan favorite, and they might be playing more for PR right now than anything.
Even after losing Seager and some players getting off to a slow start, the Dodgers seem like they’re going to be OK on offense for the rest of the season. Even if guys like Kemp and Muncy regress, the Dodgers have the necessary depth to cover that. Also, Turner will probably improve as his wrist (hopefully) gets healthier and others start playing to their true talent level.
At this point, adding a hitter seems pretty unlikely. Machado would be more of a luxury at this point, and keeping him away from the Diamondbacks isn’t enough, in my eyes, to give up valuable assets — some that could be used to plug other holes (like the bullpen).
Perhaps things change in a month’s time, but as things stand now, the Dodgers should focus primarily on pitching ahead of the non-waiver trade deadline, especially since money will be a concern.