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Dodgers preparing for a trade deadline like no other

The August 31 deadline for deals is loaded with uncertainty

The Major League Baseball trade deadline is only one week away, which seems absurd since it seems like the season just started. The truncated season has somehow given us both the earliest and latest trade deadline in major league history.

August 31 is usually the deadline for waiver trades, but this year it’s the only deadline we have. Players don’t have to clear waivers to get traded, but it doesn’t mean player movement is without obstacles. We are still in a pandemic, after all.

When the Dodgers signed Jake McGee about a week before the season, they had him drive from Denver to Los Angeles in order to avoid commercial air travel. Same for when they called up Tony Gonsolin to start a game in Arizona, he was driven from Los Angeles to Phoenix. Though as Joe Kelly pointed out on Ross Stripling’s podcast, even the relatively insular Dodgers’ charter flight is staffed by flight attendants who aren’t tested for COVID-19 as often as the traveling parties are, which adds a layer of risk.

This won’t prevent the Dodgers from making a trade, but it might create a minor logistical obstacle that could potentially delay things by a day or two.

Next Monday is an off day for the Dodgers, which clears a runway of sorts for rumors to marinate. But trying to figure out what the team might do remains a mystery.

“This is sort of sneaking up on me,” Dave Roberts said Friday. “I don’t know if it’s the lack of anticipation, the lack of need when you look at our ball club. But obviously Andrew and the baseball ops guys, they’re going to be kicking tires ‘til the end and seeing if there’s anything on the margins that we can get better.”

If there is one constant at the trade deadline during normal times, it’s that relief pitchers will be on the move. The Dodgers in the Andrew Friedman era have acquired at least one reliever at every trade deadline who ended up on their postseason roster.

Dodgers bullpen additions at the trade deadline

Reliever Hand Trade date IP w/LA ERA w/LA FIP w/LA Playoff roster?
Reliever Hand Trade date IP w/LA ERA w/LA FIP w/LA Playoff roster?
Jim Johnson RHP 7/30/15 18⅔ 10.13 5.01 No
Luis Avilan LHP 7/30/15 15⅔ 5.17 3.64 Yes
Jesse Chavez RHP 8/1/16 25⅔ 4.21 3.96 No
Josh Fields RHP 8/1/16 19⅓ 2.79 3.61 Yes
Tony Cingrani LHP 7/31/17 19⅓ 2.79 1.86 Yes
Tony Watson LHP 7/31/17 20 2.70 3.86 Yes
John Axford RHP 7/31/18 3⅔ 17.18 3.43 No
Ryan Madson RHP 8/31/18 8⅓ 6.48 1.96 Yes
Adam Kolarek LHP 7/31/19 11⅔ 0.77 1.60 Yes

This year the Dodgers have arguably their strongest bullpen in years, or at the very least the deepest. At the halfway point on the season, Los Angeles relievers lead the majors in ERA (1.82) and home run rate (0.51 per nine innings), are second in FIP (3.02), third in fWAR (2.3), and seventh in K-BB% (16.9 percent). A dozen pitchers have thrown in relief for the Dodgers this year, and nine of them have an ERA no higher than 2.00.

But as the saying goes, you can never have enough pitching, so don’t be surprised if this deadline brings another reliever into the mix.

The Dodgers are 22-8 and doing a lot of things quite well, so it’s hard to find an obvious, glaring hole.

“We’re not looking around our team right now, saying we have an acute need at this position, let’s go out and get the best one that we can. We feel really good about our group, the depth, even some of the guys we have at the alternate site at USC,” Friedman said during Sunday’s SportsNet LA broadcast. “It’s not something that we feel like we need to address a specific position. That being said, we don’t want to be closed off to the possibility of something lining up that really makes sense.”

The Dodgers haven’t quite hit left-handed pitchers yet, entering Monday with an 83 wRC+ against southpaws, 23rd in MLB. But a lot of the solution lies within the players already on the roster, a group with success in their careers against lefties and some with batted ball data suggesting better numbers to come.

Envisioning a playoff roster, the bench will include one or both of Edwin Rios and Matt Beaty, both left-handed, and the two most likely possible additions from the player pool, Zach McKinstry and Gavin Lux, also bat left-handed. So it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Dodgers add a right-handed bat in the next week, and unless they plan to coax David Freese out of retirement any sort of addition would have to come by a trade.

There’s also the thought of adding an impact starting pitcher, which also makes sense even though the Dodgers are deep enough, even without David Price this season, to option out their starter with a 0.00 ERA. Any sort of add here would have to be someone who’d start a playoff game for this to move the needle.

Lance Lynn of the Rangers would qualify, both for his performance — 1.37 ERA, 3.24 FIP in six starts this season, 3.31/3.15 and 7.9 fWAR since the beginning of 2019 that ranks third in MLB — and that he’s under contract for 2021 as well, at only $8 million, per Cot’s Contracts.

Los Angeles Angels v Texas Rangers
Lance Lynn has a 1.37 ERA in six starts for the Rangers this season, with 42 strikeouts and 12 walks in 39⅓ innings.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Lynn was linked to the Dodgers over the weekend by Ken Gurnick at MLB.com as well as Rangers beat reporters Jeff Wilson at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and T.R. Sullivan at MLB.com.

As luck would have it, Lynn is tentatively scheduled to start Saturday against the Dodgers in Arlington. Hypothetically, if they were to trade for Lynn, they could simply take him home on their chartered plane and avoid any pesky travel logistics.

Texas wouldn’t trade Lynn without a substantial return, considering they’d want and need him if they plan to contend in 2021. But for this year, the Rangers have lost eight straight games and find their contention status flagging.

But that brings us to another, and likely the biggest obstacle to this year’s trade deadline.

“Right now, it’s been kind of more flirting,” Friedman said during the Sunday broadcast. “It’s hard, because so many teams are within squinting distance of a playoff spot, and it makes it trickier. I think the ones who end up being sellers haven’t really identified themselves yet.”

With eight playoff teams in each league this year, it’s hard not to be in contention. Texas, at 10-17, has the fourth-worst record in the American League but even at 10-17 are only 3½ games out of a playoff spot. In the National League things are even more wide open, where every team except Pittsburgh is no worse than one game out of a playoff berth.

If every team thinks they’re buyers, it will be hard to find the sellers. Maybe some of that clears up in the next seven days, but if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that trying to predict anything is a fool’s errand.

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