Saturday July 31st, 2010

The Dodgers may be in third place in the National League West, seven games out, and 4 1/2 games out of the wild card hunt entering Saturday's action, but they still see themselves as contenders. Their acquisition of Scott Podsednik from the Royals on Thursday may not have been convincing, but their Saturday afternoon deal that brought them Ted Lilly, the top remaining starting pitcher on the market, was.

The Dodgers got the left-handed Lilly and infielder Ryan Theriot from the Cubs for infielder Blake DeWitt and two minor league pitchers, right-handers Brett Wallach and Kyle Smit.

The only Dodgers starter who is clearly better than Lilly at the moment is ace Clayton Kershaw. Lilly is a veteran lefty who seals up the Dodgers rotation so that there is no soft spot for opposing teams. He has strong peripherals (3.25 K/BB as a Cub thanks in part to his tidy 2.3 walks per nine innings), making him arguably a No. 3 starter by definition, and a 3.69 ERA this season is a close match for his 3.70 mark in 113 starts for the Cubs over the last four seasons. With Kershaw, Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Billingsley, and surprisingly solid work from Vicente Padilla, the Dodgers now have a good chance at getting a quality start every night, which is exactly what they need given the hole they'll have to climb out of in order to get back to the postseason.

The exchange of infielders is a nice, if modest upgrade for the Cubs. Theriot is 30 years old, will go to arbitration for the second time this winter, has seen his walk rate erode over the past two seasons to the point that he was getting on base just 32 percent of the time this year despite a solid .284 batting average and has so little power that his slugging percentage hovers dangerously close to his on-base percentage. DeWitt won't be 25 until late August, won't hit arbitration until after the 2011 season and has shown solid on-base skills. DeWitt's not a rising star, and he's an ordinary fielder at best, but paired with Starlin Castro up the middle, he gives the Cubs a solid, young, inexpensive, team-controlled duo that should solidify the middle infield on the north side for the first half of this decade.

For the Dodgers, the slight short-term downgrade at second base, where they also have Ronnie Belliard and Jamey Carroll in rotation, is well worth the necessary reinforcement in the rotation. John Ely had been a pleasant surprise in the fifth spot in the Dodger rotation, posting a 3.62 ERA in 12 starts from late April through the end of June, but he turned into a pumpkin when the calendar struck July (12 runs in 5 innings over two starts) and was shipped back to Triple-A. Rookie Carlos Monasterios has taken that turn the last two times through the rotation, but he's a non-prospect with just 6 2/3 Triple-A innings to his name and an underwhelming 4.91 ERA in eight major league starts, just one of them a quality start, this season.

As for the two minor league pitchers involved, with Lilly set for free agency this winter, the Cubs weren't able to get much. Smit is a 22-year-old righty who was converted to relief in A-ball last year and seems to have found something this year, dropping his troubling walk rate and posting the first respectable ERA (2.49) of his five-year minor league career, earning a recent promotion to Double-A as a result. His strikeout rate is still ordinary, however, and until he's able to prove he can repeat this performance, there's not much reason to expect much from him. Wallach, the son of former Expo and Dodger third baseman Tim, is a 21-year-old righty who was drafted in the third round in 2009. In his first full pro season this year he has been underwhelming as a 21-year-old in A-ball, walking 4.6 men per nine innings and displaying unexceptional stuff. If either pitcher winds up contributing at the major league level it will be a bonus. The real return for the Cubs is the upgrade to DeWitt.

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