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Dodgers trade Garrett Cleavinger to Rays, clear roster spot

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Diego Padres Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Dodgers traded Garrett Cleavinger to the Rays on Monday. In exchange, the Dodgers got 18-year-old outfielder German Tapia, but this trade was more about roster management and timing, than anything.

Tapia is in the Dominican Summer League, where he's hitting .329/.500/.452 in 26 games, with more walks (23) than strikeouts (17). But he's also nowhere near the 40-man roster, and by dealing Cleavinger the Dodgers cleared space for other moves.

Cleavinger's roster spot has been tenuous almost since the Dodgers acquired him, from the Phillies in a three-team trade in December 2020 that also involved the Rays. He had a 3.00 ERA last year but with no peripherals to back that up, posting a 4.82 xERA and 5.89 FIP, thanks mostly to the four home runs in 18 innings, but also the high walk rate (14.3 percent in the majors last year, 13.7 percent in the minors this year even while posting an impressive 2.79 ERA and 38-percent strikeout rate in Triple-A.

It seemed like Cleavinger got stuck in situations when there was nobody else to turn to. Last year, when the Dodgers couldn't hit to save their lives in extra innings, Cleavinger was the one who took the loss in three such games in a two-week span. This year, Cleavinger was called up to replace the lowest-leverage pitcher in the bullpen (Reyes Moronta), only on a night when literally half of the eight-man bullpen was unavailable, so he was thrown into a one-run lead in the eighth. An error extended the inning, and one bad pitch gave away the lead, turning his appearance into a multi-inning take one for the team experience that saw him optioned the next day.

Roster churn comes for us all.

It's easy to assume that Cleavinger getting dealt opened up a 40-man spot for someone the Dodgers will acquire before Tuesday's 3 p.m. PT trade deadline. That very well might be the case. But this is also a time to get the house in order of sorts.

The Dodgers currently have eight players on the 60-day injured list who have a reasonable chance at returning at some point this year. The two closest are Dustin May, who has either one or two rehab starts remaining at most, and Edwin Ríos, who is working his way back from a severe hamstring strain. Within two weeks, both Ríos and May should be active, which means making room for them on the 40-man.

Several options exist for clearing roster space, but there's only one trade deadline. Folks on the fringe of the roster might be dealt now if there is any sort of market for them, because getting an 18-year-old lottery ticket is better than getting nothing after designating a player for assignment after August 2, then watching him leave.

I wouldn't be surprised if a few more of these type of moves happen in the next day or so.