It’s the end of May, right? Then it’s probably really early to be talking about this, but why not. The Dodgers are close to first place, trailing an overperforming team and their two real threats are the Giants (who are trailing them) and the Rockies (who are vastly under-performing).
*As a side note, the Padres could very well be for real. Most of their players are performing at a competent level and their pitching has carried them. Their starting pitching has been over-performing (Jon Garland, Clayton Richard and Wade LeBlanc, specifically), but their bullpen’s performance has been dynamite and their run expectancy is lower than their ERA. We’ll see how that works out for them by the end of the season, but they basically are what everyone thought the Mariners were going to be this year.
So why not make a trade now? Nip this one in the bud early? The earlier in the season you make the trade, the better. You’re getting ++ pitching, defense or offense and the sooner you get it, the more you can use it.
Let’s also assume for the sake of fun that the Dodgers have no problems with money right now and that they can afford to pay the end of a player’s contract after dropping from a $110 million payroll from last year to $90 million this year.
Let’s go shopping!
STARTING PITCHERS — maybe the weakest link in the organization, aside from a power-hitting infielder, there’s a few good bargains on the market already.
Kevin Millwood, BAL — The Dodgers made a good deal with the Orioles at the trade deadline last year, sending 3B hopeful Josh Bell and potential back-end starter/reliever Steven Johnson to the Orioles for RP George Sherrill. It was a decent trade for both sides (read more here), so it makes sense they’d try to work out another trade. Millwood will be a free agent at the end of the year. He’s being paid $15 million this year. He’s having a good season (2.0 BB/9, 3.5 K/BB, tempered by a 9.4 hits/9) at Camden and receiving very little recognition for it. Camden is a pitcher’s park, but not more than Dodger Stadium, so he may be the best bargain on the market.
What I’d expect the Dodgers to send:
Bottom line: Millwood won’t cost the Dodgers a lot, but he doesn’t put them that much closer to the Phillies, who are owning the crap out of the NL.
Roy Oswalt HOU — Oswalt flat-out said he wants a trade and it looks like the Astros are going to adhere to him. With good reason: the Astros are terrible and they have no infrastructure. Their pitching has the best groundball percentage in the majors, but their defense is lack-luster. Oswalt is in the final year of his contract with a mutual option for 2011 and will be paid $15 mil this year and $16 mil next.
What I’d expect the Dodgers to send:
Bottom Line: This is a tad on the low-ball side, but the Astros have said they won’t pay for any part of Oswalt’s contract. Oswalt put the Astros in a tough position by stating he wants to be traded; the organization doesn’t have the “we can hold onto him” bargaining chip. Oswalt’s putting up the same K/BB numbers as Millwood, with a 7.4 hits/9. He’s also pitched in a neutral park (over the last three years) with a bad defense behind him. It would cost quite a bit to get him, but the Dodgers have some pieces that would make it worthwhile. A 1-2-3 of Oswalt, Kershaw and Kuroda would be awesome. I think the lynch pin here is the difference between Lambo and Gordon and that could be the part where the two organizations see differently
Cliff Lee, SEA — You’ve seen this man before. You know what he’s capable of. And it’d be AWESOME to see him pitch against the Phillies in the NLCS, should the Dodgers and Phils meet again, when he was their destroyer last year. Seattle’s season hasn’t gone as planned and they’re currently dwelling in the basement of the AL West. Barring a major comeback, which is unlikely given their offensive struggles, they’ll be sellers. Lee has 32 Ks and only 1 BB (no, this is not a video game) and his hits/9 is at 9.1. That hits/9 is about average for him, so you’re getting what you paid for. He’s making $9 million this season and is a free agent at the end of the year.
What I’d expect the Dodger to send:
Bottom line: The problem with this trade is the Dodger don’t have all of the pieces in the minors to acquire Lee and other teams who could use a starter of Lee’s caliber as well (Brewers, Reds, Twins, Mets (lol), Tigers) have better, more polished pieces to send away.
Frankly, the Dodgers’ minor league system is a mess. Withrow, Martin and Gordon have all under-performed to start the year and Miller, Webster and basically anybody else in the organization worth a damn is doing it at a very low level right now. Lambo is still the only prospect in the organization that’s the closest to his ceiling and the closest to reaching the majors. Gunning for Oswalt is probably in everyone’s best interest.
OK, moving on to hitters. The problem with acquiring a hitter is that the Dodgers front office looks pretty happy with their line-up right now: Loney 1B, Dewitt 2B, Furcal SS, Casey Blake 3B, Manny LF, Kemp CF, Ethier RF. That being said, the three places to upgrade are probably 1B, 2B and 3B, where the hitters have decent OBPs, but lack severely in slugging. Casey Blake is likely not going to be upgraded, since the team gave him a three-year deal and he’s performing at a decent rate, but he’s not performing that well compared to other 3Bs (power-wise) across the league. Same could be said of Dewitt and Loney. So let’s look at players at those positions who are putting up similar OBPs with more power.
Adam LaRoche, Kelly Johnson, ARI — Johnson’s putting up a .579 slugging at 2B and a .360 OBP as well. Blake DeWitt, comparably, has put up a .366 OBP/.403 SLG. Johnson has completely resurrected his career after three years of trending downward in slash stats (players who usually put that up are finished). Johnson, though, has done this every season of his career. In March/April, Johnson has a career .933 OPS; the second-closest month is .833 and June and August have sub-.730 OPSs. Johnson is also a – defensive player for his career. Laroche was completely ignored this off-season and signed a below-market one-year deal with Arizona after turning down a really good one from the Giants. He has a .375 OBP and a .538 slugging, which dwarfs Loney’s .337 OBP/.434 SLG. His UZR/150 is comparable to Loney’s, so no big drop off there, though it’s hard to tell because UZR doesn’t take into consideration all the catches a 1B has to make. Laroche may be worth it, but then you run into the “trading within the division” problem and the Dodgers might have to pay more for that.
Just for Laroche, what I’d expect the Dodgers to send:
Laroche is under-valued and he’s very cheap, but there’s not a lot of demand for hitters among current contenders (Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, Twins, Angels, Rangers, Padres, Cardinals, Reds, Phillies). The Rays could put together a very good offer and replace Carlos Pena, but he’s not that big in contention.
Adam Dunn, WAS — Adam Dunn is the best player in the NL who has no right playing there. His defense is atrocious and almost completely negates his offense. But his power is prodigious: .380 OBP/.537 SLG. He basically leads the league every year in “no doubt” home runs. A DH position is probably best for him.
What I’d expect the Dodgers to send:
I’d be OK with ditching Sands/Russell while their stock is at an all-time high.
Lance Berkman, HOU — Another aging player who wants to play for a contender. Like Oswalt, he’s stated his disappointment in the Astros’ front office and a trade may be imminent. Only problem is he’s off to a tough start (.233/.347/.437) and just came off knee surgery. A change of scenery may help him, but is it worth risking it?
I’d actually not expect the Dodgers to send anything unless the Astros were willing to accept a low-ball offer. Berkman has put up GREAT numbers before, but he’s also 34 and not showing anyone any reason to trade for him right now. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is.
Again, finding a power-hitting infielder is a want, not a need. It’s probably in the Dodgers’ best interest to stick with what they’ve got and aim to pick up Oswalt.
OTHERS WHO MISSED THE LIST:
Ty Wigginton, BAL — AVOID.
Paul Konerko, CHW — Putting together a great season and the Dodgers-White Sox have worked on trades before, but is old and hasn’t performed like this in more than two years.
Dan Uggla, FLA — An intriguing proposal, but the Marlins probably won’t want to give him up while they’re still in contention, Uggla’s making $7.8 mil this year and Dewitt’s defense makes up for the gap between them on offense.
Christian Guzman, WAS — Flying high on a high batting average and will likely come down; likely to end up worse at the end of the season than all three of the Dodgers’ infielders.