The Dodgers finally have a fifth starter, and not a moment too soon. Just half-a-game ahead of the surging Giants for first place in the National League West, Los Angeles has reportedly acquired righthander Mat Latos from the Marlins in a five-player deal that finds the Dodgers sending three as-of-yet-unnamed prospects to Miami for Latos, first baseman Michael Morse and a competitive balance pick in the 2016 draft. Morse is irrelevant here, a salary dump who will likely be immediately dropped from the roster, but Latos is a crucial addition for a team that has effectively been without a fifth starter since Carlos Frias was put on the disabled list at the end of June with lower back tightness.
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Since Frias—himself a replacement for injured starters Hyun-jin Ryu (shoulder surgery) and Brandon McCarthy (Tommy John surgery)—hit the DL, the Dodgers have used reliever Yimi Garcia, two-time Tommy John recipient Brandon Beachy (twice) and rookies Ian Thomas (as a paternity replacement for Zack Greinke) and Zach Lee for a total of five starts. Those four combined to throw just 19 2/3 innings and posted a 7.78 ERA and 1.78 WHIP. It’s to the Dodgers’ credit that they managed to go 2–3 in those games, as the only effective outing they received was five innings of one-run ball from Thomas, who has made a total of 23 starts in seven professional seasons.
Frias was only marginally better before hitting the DL (5.66 ERA in 20 2/3 innings over his last four starts) and was lit up in his rehab start for high A Rancho Cucamonga on Sunday, failing to make it out of the first inning. He’ll make another rehab start on Friday, but the Dodgers needed to act now. Since June 15, the have received nine starts from a pitcher other than Clayton Kershaw, Greinke, Brett Anderson and Mike Bolsinger. None of those were quality, and the pitchers who made them combined to post a 6.69 ERA and 1.71 WHIP and averaged fewer than 4 2/3 innings pitched per start.
Latos, meanwhile, has posted a 2.96 ERA in seven starts since returning from a disabled list stay for knee inflammation in mid June and has seen some of his lost velocity return in that span. He has averaged just above 93 mph with his fastball since returning from the DL (compared to just under 92 earlier in the season and throughout his injury-riddled 2014 campaign) and hit 97 on the radar gun for the first time since July 2013 in his June 24 start against the Giants, per BrooksBaseball.net. On the season, Latos’s strikeout rate has rebounded to its '12–13 level (8.0 K/9) while his other peripherals have remained constant, resulting in a 3.34 FIP that suggests that his post-DL success is closer to his true level than his 4.48 ERA on the season as a whole. That figure was skewed by his disastrous first start of the year (2/3 IP, 7 R), since which he has posted a 3.80 mark in 15 starts.
Provided he can stay healthy for the remainder of the season (his left knee has sent him to the DL in each of the last two years), Latos should be a significant upgrade for the Dodgers and could prove crucial to holding off the Giants in the division. Of course, San Francisco has yet to make a move, and it’s still possible that one of these two West Coast behemoths could wind up landing another ace. The Giants have been linked to Cole Hamels and James Shields in the rumor mill, and the Dodgers are reportedly still interested in adding a higher-profile starter such as Hamels or David Price.
As for the Marlins’ end of things, while we wait to find out which three prospects are involved in the trade, they likely won't be major names because of the amount of salary relief Miami received in this deal. The Dodgers will be on the hook for of the money still owed Latos and Morse—just over $3 million for the former, who will become a free agent in November, but just over $10 million for the latter, who is under contract for $8 million for the 2016 season. A righthanded first baseman/outfielder who struggles to stay healthy and hasn’t hit a lick this season (.214/.277/.314 in 173 PA), Morse has no place on a roster that already has Scott Van Slyke under team control through '19. It’s thus all but a given that Morse will be designated for assignment no later than Friday evening (after the non-waiver trading deadline passes), meaning Latos will cost the Dodgers roughly $13.5 million for the remainder of the season.
As for that competitive balance pick, it’s the 34th overall in next year’s draft. In 2013, that pick was the one the Royals used to draft lefty Sean Manaea, the key prospect sent to the Athletics in Tuesday’s Ben Zobrist trade. However, it’s worth noting that Manaea fell that low because he was diagnosed with a torn hip labrum just days before the draft.