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Dodgers trade deadline options: Safety net pitching moves

Examining a version of Schrondinger’s cat: What if the Dodgers’ best move is to make safety net moves

St. Louis Cardinals v Chicago White Sox Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

The 2023 Dodgers have about three weeks left before the trade deadline. Almost as if on cue, the hot-take trade pieces, like the spice, have begun to flow. Yes, the Dodgers’ pitching has been uncharacteristically bad so far into the season (so far) but to be fair, you could field a pretty solid pitching staff with the players currently on the injured list.

These players include:

  • Clayton Kershaw (shoulder - out until at least Saturday, but I am personally hoping until Monday as he has never pitched in Baltimore during the regular season)
  • Ryan Pepiot (oblique - out until at least after the All-Star Break, hasn’t pitched all year)
  • Walker Buehler (elbow - out until at least September 1, hasn’t pitched all year)
  • Noah Syndergaard (finger - out until at least after the All-Star Break, has been god-awful 99% of the year)
  • Dustin May (elbow - out for the year, likely out until after the All-Star Break next year)
  • Jimmy Nelson (elbow - been on a rehab assignment, likely going back to the injured list)
  • Daniel Hudson (right knee - after three appearances, out until at least September with an MCL strain)
  • Shelby Miller (neck - out until at least late July/early August)
  • Alex Reyes (shoulder - out for the year)
  • Tyler Cyr (shoulder - out until at least late July)
  • J.P. Feyereisen (shoulder - out until at least September 1 at the earliest)
  • Blake Treinen (shoulder - out until at least mid-late August at the earliest)

Now, Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times recently published a jeremiad (that included a citation of Eric’s recitation of just how bad the Dodgers’ pitching has been) where he proclaimed it was long past time for the Dodgers to trade for a starting pitcher, and named the Guardians’ Shane Bieber as the ideal target.

The Dodgers have had an uptick as of late with the offense mostly firing on all cylinders (except for Miguel Vargas, who has been reduced to a part-time role before being optioned back to Triple-A during the All-Star break) and two starts that were more of a return to form from Julio Urías and Tony Gonsolin, the latter of which had an essay of constructive criticism published that very day.

It does feel like the Dodgers’ season is at a crossroads as the Dodgers will start the second half, tied for the division lead for the first time since June 4, which feels like an absolute age ago. So in that spirit, let us look at what moves can be realistically made during this trade season for a surging Dodgers club.

If the upcoming road trip goes poorly, we will reexamine this question with a thought experiment (three in New York against the Mets, three in Baltimore against the Orioles, and three in Arlington against the Rangers). [Author’s note: I will be in attendance for two of the three games in New York and the entire series in Baltimore.]

Shohei is still not coming ... yet

Now, oceans of ink have been spilled about what the Angels are going to do about Shohei Ohtani as the Angels are going nowhere, very quickly. Truthfully, I have to concur with Ken Rosenthal’s opinion: the Angels are likely to stand pat, try to make the playoffs, and then lose Ohtani in free agency with only a Compensation Pick as recompense.

A main staple of my hypothetical essays is the use of Baseball Trade Values (BTV). I personally enjoy using this tool, but I acknowledge that the algorithm is not perfect. One such imperfection is how the algorithm values Ohtani. Right now, assuming you had a willing owner and general manager in Anaheim, the algorithm accepts the following as a fair trade:

Cartaya for Ohtani is accepted by BTv as a fair trade.
Courtesy of Baseball Trade Values / Illustration added by Michael Elizondo / True Blue LA

The BTV algorithm accepts top Dodgers’ prospect C Diego Cartaya for Ohtani as a fair trade. I personally cannot for a very elemental reason: Ohtani is literally doing things on the baseball field that we have literally never seen before. He is arguably the unanimous AL MVP right now, he is arguably in the top-5 for AL Cy Young.

I highlighted the adjusted field value, which is the raw value of a player before accounting for salary, to argue that said value is probably too low. At this point, it is likely a safe position that acquiring Ohtani is like acquiring two All-Star players at once (one of whom is arguably a lock for the most valuable player). If someone told me the asking price was Bobby Miller and Cartaya for Ohtani straight up, I could easily see that proposed trade as a bargain for the Dodgers.

Too many mouths, not enough food

As we alluded to back in May, the trade market is likely not going to be a reliable well of assistance for teams this year for a simple reason: the expanded playoffs have made it easier to remain on the fringes of contention. For example, Boston is in the cellar of a monstrous AL East but is within striking distance of a Wild Card. Baseball!

The teams that are truly out of it (the Athletics, the Royals, the Cardinals (yes, really), the Tigers, the White Sox, the Pirates, the Nationals, and the Rockies) can be divided into two camps. These teams are either going to be setting the market or are so bereft of talent they cannot help.

As for Plaschke’s suggestion to acquire Bieber? Well, unless the Guardians wanted to channel the ‘88 Cardinals (John Tudor) or the ‘22 Brewers (Josh Hader), the Guardians will definitely listen to offers for Bieber, who is having a somewhat down year but by no means bad, but may not pull the trigger on a deal. For our purposes, a hypothetical trade for Bieber would look something like the following:

Miguel Vargas for Shane Bieber would be accepted as a fair trade on BTV.
Screenshot from Baseball Trade Values

Personally, while I can see a line of logic that gives Michael Busch an everyday opportunity for at-bats, trading the recently demoted Vargas now feels like selling while his value is lowest. Due to the nature of the market, it would likely take just a little bit more than Vargas to outbid any suitor for Bieber as this proposed trade probably is not enough to get the Guardians to stop taking other bids.

As for the White Sox, the current scuttlebutt is that everyone is potentially moveable with the exception of CF Luis Robert Jr., P Dylan Cease, 1B Andrew Vaughn, and LF Eloy Jiménez. As such, P Lucas Giolito will likely be the subject of a bidding war. Giolito has a 3.50 ERA over 18 starts and is likely the best available pitcher on the market.

Lucas Giolito and Kendall Graveman for Josue De Paula and Phil Bickford is accepted as a fair trade per BTV
Screenshot from Baseball Trade Values

It seems unlikely that Giolito would get traded just for De Paula and Bickford though (never forget that Bickford was a top ten draft pick), but if the Dodgers took on Graveman’s contract, who has been adequate but his FIP is in the neighborhood of 5 (4.76), maybe he can be mended into another leverage arm to supplement Phillips and company.

This train of thought can likely be applied to the potentially available pitchers of the Cardinals, Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty, and Marcus Stroman of the Cubs. While each pitcher has their own strengths and weaknesses, just the fact that these are even considered an upgrade to the Dodgers’ situation is demonstrative of how weak the available crop of rental pitchers are. 2021 Max Scherzer or 2017 Yu Darvish is not likely to be seen in the Dodgers’ clubhouse this year.

A return to the mountain

The point is that assuming Gonsolin and Urías remain on the upswing, only ancillary moves are needed, so let us explore possible moves, while acknowledging an elephant in the room: Noah Syndergaard’s career is likely over.

The catastrophic flop of the Noah Syndergaard experiment (which is still a cool name for a progressive rock band) has been covered at length in this space. What the Dodgers need right now is a safety net, someone with grit and experience to eat up innings be productive, and generally flip off the passage of time.

I am likely in the minority, but I am exercising my author’s prerogative: it’s time for the return of the prodigal stork, Rich Hill.

Rich Hill and Vince Velasquez for Noah Syndergaard is accepted as a fair trade per BTV.
Screenshot from Baseball Trade Values

No general manager would or should agree to this trade in principle. Admittedly, I am proposing this idea more with my heart than my head, which is screaming at me whether I have finally lost it.

The literal, current oldest man in baseball has been mostly adequate (being generous) for a floundering Pirates team going 7-9 with a 4.78 ERA and 4.43 FIP in 18 starts. Is Rich Hill just about done? Probably. Am I done with Syndergaard? Probably. Would Hill be a better option than a bullpen game? Probably.

And if Gonsolin/Urías stumble again, with Miller, Sheehan, and Grove called up, who is next? Landon Knack? Matt Andriese? Gavin Stone? I am fine with a youth campaign because that act is how prospects develop and mature. Clayton Kershaw was not Clayton Kershaw until year four, while adequate to solid in the first three years.

Who is Vince Velasquez? He is a pitcher on the 60-day IL with a UCL injury and is out of the year. He enters free agency in the offseason. This move is purely one based on salary, and my moderately irrational desire to be done with Syndergaard.

(Author’s Note: He seems like a nice man. I am trying very hard to be objective, and I do not wish any ill will in any avenue of his life...but Elly De La Cruz put the exclamation point on the failure of this experiment.)

Catch a Tiger, let him go

Now the Tigers currently have two pitchers on their roster who could potentially be available, Eduardo Rodriguez and Michael Lorenzen. MLBTradeRumors argues that the Tigers are still technically on the fringes of the weak AL Central division. For a mostly sputtering Tigers team, both hurlers have been moderately adequate.

Lorenzen is in a one-year deal and has gone 3-6, with an ERA of 4.03/FIP of 4.17 in fifteen starts. Rodriguez is in the midst of a five-year deal lasting through 2026 and has gone 4-5, with an ERA of 2.64/FIP of 3.34 in twelve starts. Rodriguez has just returned from a finger injury that kept him sidelined for just over a month.

Rodriguez clearly has better statistics but he had family issues, which have not been repeated, that had him away from the Tigers for over two months in 2022. Moreover, Rodriguez has an opt-out clause in his contract that can be triggered at the season’s end. If Rodriguez has an injury or has a downturn, the Dodgers would be re-living the Trevor Bauer saga in that the team could potentially have an albatross of a contract that it could not get rid of until it expires.

MLBTradeRumors projects that while Lorenzen is missing bats at a career-low rate, he projects as a number five starter or potential swingman in the bullpen in the postseason. Based on the above reasoning, he seems perfect for the Dodgers’ purposes and he can likely be obtained with minimal effort.

Jonny DeLuca for Michael Lorenzen is accepted as a fair trade per BTV
Screenshot from Baseball Trade Values

Considering the market forces that have been previously described, a move for Hill or a move for Lorenzen is probably the most realistic move available to the Dodgers this trade season. Now, as always, these essays are speculative and are in no way meant as predictive. But if you wish to share your views, as always please feel free to do so in the comments. If the Dodgers regress to the middling June ways, we will revisit this issue prior to the trade deadline.