PHOENIX — The Los Angeles Dodgers approach the final two weeks before the trade deadline with the best record and the best pitching numbers in the major leagues, but that will not stop them from looking to upgrade their staff.
While the Dodgers have been linked to Detroit outfielder J.D. Martinez in deadline speculation, they plan to target a potential a mid-rotation starter and a veteran bullpen arm or two, sources with knowledge of their thinking say.
The Dodgers’ idea that you can never have enough starting pitching has been reinforced by both their rash of nagging rotation injuries this season and the memory of the 2015 National League Division Series, when they could not get out of a best-of-five series against the NL-champion Mets despite getting four starts from aces 1 and 1-A, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
One source said the Dodgers would not be “headliners,” but that pitching additions almost certainly would be coming.
A talent evaluator said he expected the Dodgers to “be disciplined and patient, but they will try to be active.”
Oakland’s Sonny Gray is among the big names likely to be available at the deadline, and landing him would certainly move the Dodgers into the “headline” category, although the cost might be prohibitive. The Dodgers shied away from Cole Hamels two years ago because Philadelphia asked for too much before eventually trading him to Texas. Atlanta is reportedly willing to move Julio Teheran, and FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Houston has made contact with Atlanta about Teheran.
Kershaw and left-hander Alex Wood have been the most productive 1-2 combination in the majors this season (similar to the way Kershaw and Greinke mowed through the league in 2015), going a combined 25-2 with two of the top three ERAs among major league starters with at least 80 innings pitched.With those two in the forefront, the Dodgers lead the major leagues in ERA, in fewest runs allowed and in the new-math metric of “win probability added,” which is a formula designed to express in one number the value of a pitcher (or pitching staff) in terms of runs. The Dodgers’ number is +11.5, the number of runs their staff has been worth compared to the average staff.
The rest of the Dodgers’ rotation has done well when healthy, but that is the rub. Lefty Rich Hill, so effective with his breaking stuff in the playoffs last season, missed five weeks earlier this season because of blister issues. Hill, who won in Miami on Sunday, has made 10 straight starts since returning from the disabled list in mid-May, so perhaps the blister issues are behind him. At the same time, three lefty starters would work well against some teams, such as the Diamondbacks, but not so well against, say, the Cubs (15-6 against lefty starters this season) or Washington (9-6).
Julio Urias, who played a postseason role a year ago, underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in June. Brandon McCarthy (shoulder, knee) has been on the disabled list twice. Wood, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jim Ryu also have spent time on the DL. While the Dodgers have been accused of using the new 10-day disabled list as a way to juggle their roster as much as anything, that is a lot of down time for the starting pitchers any way you slice it.
The Dodgers believe in building from within — Wood’s ascension this season is a mark of their patience — but they also have deep pockets, especially when their window seems particularly wide open, as it does this year. They were the betting favorites to win the World Series at the All-Star break in at least one Las Vegas sports book, and they are on a 29-4 run after sweeping Miami this weekend.
While Cody Bellinger’s play this season underscores the value of a long-term approach, they have not been afraid to deal to fill vacant spots. They sent top pitching prospect Jose De Leon to Tampa Bay in the offseason for second baseman Logan Forsythe, and they traded pitching prospects Jharel Cotton, Grant Holmes and Frankie Montas to Oakland in the package that landed Hill and Josh Roddick at the 2016 trade deadline.
The Dodgers still have a deep farm system with which to work a deal. Outfielder Alex Verdugo and Cuban pitcher Yadier Alvarez started in the 2017 Futures Game, and second baseman Willie Calhoun participated (along Cotton) in 2016. Right-hander Walker Bueller, their 2105 first-round pick out of Vanderbilt, is rated their top prospect by Baseball America (No. 17 overall) after missing almost 18 months following Tommy John surgery. Verdugo, Alvarez and Calhoun are in the top 75.
In two weeks, it will be clear whether prospects will translate into another rotation piece in L.A.