Dodgers get stronger but Braves confound in three-team trade
Amid a wild week of deals leading up to Friday’s non-waiver trading deadline, the Dodgers appear to have addressed all of their needs in a single swap. That trade is a massive, three-team, 13-player deal that finds the Dodgers sending Cuban infielder Hector Olivera and two pitchers to the Braves for lefty starter Alex Wood, relievers Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan, infield prospect Jose Peraza and injured starter Bronson Arroyo. Los Angeles also sent three minor-league pitchers to the Marlins for righty starter Mat Latos and first baseman Michael Morse, effectively a salary dump for Miami, which is sending a competitive balance draft pick to Atlanta and cash considerations to the Dodgers to complete the deal.
To clarify which team gets which players in exchange for what, here’s what the trade looks like for each of the three teams involved:
Dodgers get: Wood, Latos, Johnson, Avilan, Peraza, Arroyo, Morse
Braves get: Olivera, RP Paco Rodriguez, RHP Zachary Bird, draft pick
Marlins get: RHP Kevin Guzman, RHP Jeff Brigham, RHP Victor Araujo
For the Dodgers, who were desperate for upgrades in both their rotation and bullpen, this trade is a godsend. Los Angeles has effectively been without a fifth starter since Carlos Frias—himself a replacement for injured starters Hyun-jin Ryu (shoulder surgery) and Brandon McCarthy (Tommy John surgery)—was placed on the disabled list at the end of June with lower back tightness. Since then, 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 in those starts and posted a 7.78 ERA and 1.78 WHIP.
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. Adding it up, since June 15, L.A. has received nine starts from a pitcher other than Clayton Kershaw, Greinke, Brett Anderson and Mike Bolsinger. None of those nine starts 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. The additions of Wood and Latos are thus huge for the Dodgers.
Latos, who will become a free agent after this season, has posted a 2.96 ERA in seven starts since returning from a disabled list stay for knee inflammation in mid June. He has seen some of his lost velocity return in that span, averaging 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) and hitting 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, his strikeout rate has rebounded to its '12–13 level (8.0 K/9) and 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 (the latter figure was skewed by his disastrous first start of the year, since which he has posted a 3.80 mark in 15 starts).
Wood, meanwhile, is just 24, has four more team-controlled years remaining after this one, won’t be arbitration eligible until after next season and has posted a 3.09 ERA in 54 major league starts. A three-pitch pitcher who mixes a 90-mph sinker with a change and curve, Wood has unusual mechanics that add deception and perceived velocity to his sinker, but those mechanics have led to some concerns about his long-term durability. That, combined with the drop in his strikeout rate this season (8.9 per nine last year, 6.8 this year) may have motivated the Braves to trade him. Still, some of his regression this season has been due to bad luck (.343 BABIP), and with the pitching talent the Dodgers already have in their organization, he needs not be anything more than a mid-rotation arm for Los Angeles.
The additions of Wood and Latos solve the Dodgers' fifth-starter problems and likely push surprising 27-year-old righty Bolsinger to the bullpen, as well as provide sufficient depth to cover the ever-present threat of fragile lefty Brett Anderson suffering a season-ending injury. Johnson and Avilan, meanwhile, add much-needed depth to the bullpen. Johnson, who will be a free agent after the season, has rebounded from his dreadful 2014 to recapture the form that helped him save 101 games for the Orioles in '12 and '13. A low-strikeout ground-baller, he’ll most likely become Kenley Jansen’s primary setup man in L.A. The lefty Avilan, a 26-year-old with three team-controlled years remaining who will hit arbitration for the first time this winter, does not have a pronounced platoon split and profiles as more of a middle relief generalist than a LOOGY, making him the second lefty behind J.P. Howell in the Dodgers’ ‘pen.
To those four pitchers, the Dodgers add arguably the top prospect in this trade, 21-year-old infielder Jose Peraza. A slap-hitting, speed-and-defense middle infielder out of Venezuela, Peraza has hit .303/.344/.388 in five minor-league seasons, including a .294/.318/.379 line in Triple A this year. There’s very little patience or power there, but if he can hit .280 or better, steal 40 to 50 bases (he reached 60 in fewer than 115 games in each of the last two seasons) and provide strong defense at a middle infield position, he’ll be a valuable everyday player for the Dodgers. Indeed, he was rated the Braves’ top prospect in February by Baseball America (Baseball Prospectus ranked him second), a top-100 prospect by both organizations prior to the season and a top-50 prospect by both organizations earlier this month, reaching No. 26 on BA’s midseason list.
Peraza has played second base over the last two seasons because of the presence of Andrelton Simmons at shortstop in Atlanta, but he’s a better defensive shortstop than top Dodgers prospect Corey Seager and could either move over to short to allow Seager to shift to third base or fill the Dodgers' soon-to-be vacant hole at second base next season. In fact, it’s not beyond the pale to imagine that Peraza could be a shortstop solution for the Dodgers right now. He has 427 Triple A bats under his belt and would only have to out-perform Jimmy Rollins’s pathetic .213/.270/.361 line to represent an upgrade for Los Angeles. If he does, the Dodgers will have improved two spots in their rotation, two spots in their bullpen and the shortstop position in a single trade while adding three players with significant team control remaining in Avilan, Wood and Peraza.
In order to reap that bounty, the Dodgers parted with six players and took on roughly $22 million in financial commitments via the money remaining on Latos's, Morse's and Arroyo’s contracts. Morse and Arroyo are nothing more than salary dumps here, as both seem unlikely ever to play for the Dodgers. Arroyo, who is 38, hasn’t pitched since having Tommy John surgery last July, and there’s little to no chance of Los Angeles picking up his $11 million option for next year. Morse, a first baseman and terrible outfielder who offers a righthanded power bat off the bench, has no place on a roster that already has Scott Van Slyke under team control through 2019. He is owed $8 million for the '16 season but seems likely to be designated for assignment if he’s not traded before Friday’s deadline. Add in the portions of Olivera’s signing bonus the Dodgers had not yet paid but will despite shipping him to the Braves, and Los Angeles will be paying roughly $34.6 million for players that won’t play for them as a result of this deal. Of the six men they parted with, however, only one is likely to be missed.
Olivera, a Cuban defector whom the Dodgers signed in May, is believed to be an impact bat who could reach the majors before the end of this season. He is 30 years old, however, and has played just 13 games above rookie ball in the United States. Olivera has produced in those games, hitting .358/.393/.528 in 56 plate appearances—not a far cry from his .323/.407/.505 career line in ten years in Cuba’s Serie Nacional—but his major league potential is still largely unknown. While he was the total package as a hitter in Cuba, hitting for average and power with patience and significantly more walks than strikeouts, his Cuban numbers weren’t quite as spectacular as those of Jose Abreu or Yoenis Cespedes, both of whom are still in their twenties.
Olivera also comes with some health concerns. He missed Cuba’s 2012–13 season due to thrombosis in his left bicep, and prior to making his American debut, he hadn’t played the infield regularly since the '11–12 season (he spent the '10–11 and '13–14 seasons as a designated hitter, making just six appearances in the field, all at first base). He’s been splitting his time between second and third base in the minors and seems most likely to emerge at the hot corner for Atlanta, but there’s real concern that he might have to move to the left of the defensive spectrum. Concerns about the condition of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right (throwing) elbow, meanwhile, prompted the Dodgers to include language in his contract that granted them (and now the Braves) a $1 million club option at the end of his deal should he undergo Tommy John surgery at any point during his guaranteed seasons.
Speaking of his contract, Olivera is signed through 2019, giving the Braves five full seasons of control over him. His deal was valued at $62.5 million upon signing, but $28 million of that came in the form of a signing bonus, which the Dodgers will cover entirely. Factor in the roughly $8 million in salary relief resulting from Arroyo’s inclusion in this deal, and the Braves have acquired Olivera’s next five seasons for $24.5 million, an average of $4.9 million a year. That could prove to be a tremendous bargain, but it’s still a gamble, and that’s before one considers the cost of trading Peraza and Wood, for whom the competitive balance pick (currently the 35th overall in next year's draft and likely to fall as free-agent compensation picks pile up in front of it this winter) is unlikely to compensate.
If Olivera doesn’t pan out, this trade will prove to have been a disaster for the Braves. The Dodgers, meanwhile, stand to benefit on multiple fronts, having improved their outlook for this season with the Giants nipping at their heels in the NL West and fans and ownership desperate for the team’s first World Series appearance since 1988, as well as for the future with Wood and Peraza.
As for the five young pitchers they gave up, there’s not much to see there beyond lefty reliever Rodriguez, who had surgery to remove a bone spur from his pitching elbow in June. Rodriguez is just 24, has four team-controlled years remaining and is already an experienced major league reliever with a career 2.53 ERA, but he’s not an irreplaceable arm. As for the minor leaguers, the 21-year-old Bird, who went with Rodriguez and Olivera to the Braves, is likely the best of the bunch, but as a former ninth-round pick with control issues currently sporting a 4.75 ERA in A ball, even his mid-rotation ceiling seems optimistic.
For the Marlins, this is nothing more than a salary dump, clearing a free-agent bust and an impending free agent off the roster along with roughly $14 million off the books in exchange for three negligible minor-league righties. Guzman is a skinny 20-year-old Venezuelan currently posting weak peripherals in A ball. Araujo is a small 22-year-old Dominican reliever with solid peripherals but bad results (5.40 ERA) in Class A. Jeff Brigham is an undersized 23-year-old with a Tommy John surgery in his past who was drafted in the fourth round out of the University of Washington last year and projects as a righthanded specialist at best given the manner in which high A lefties are feasting on his low-three-quarters delivery.