- It cost a fair amount in prospects, but Los Angeles shored up some clear needs and got a potential frontline starter and a middle-of-the-order bat.
With Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-jin Ryu, Brett Anderson and Alex Wood on the disabled list—and Bud Norris having left Sunday's start after 13 pitches due to tightness in his latissimus dorsi—the Dodgers' first big move on Monday afternoon as the trading deadline approached was to … trade for a pitcher on the disabled list? Indeed, Los Angeles landed Oakland's Rich Hill, currently sidelined by a blister on his left middle finger, as part of a five-player deal that also fortified its outfield situation with Josh Reddick. In exchange for Hill and Reddick, both of whom will be free agents at the end of the season, the Dodgers traded three well-regarded but not elite pitching prospects, all righties: Jharel Cotton, Grant Holmes and Frankie Montas.
After seven seasons in the baseball wilderness (2008–14) during which he threw a total for 153 major league innings for six teams with a 5.41 ERA, Hill resurfaced with the Red Sox last September and whiffed 36 batters in 29 innings over a stellar four-start run. That showing led the A's to take a flyer via a one-year, $6 million deal, and he's already more than lived up to it despite missing all of June with a groin strain and leaving his July 17 start after throwing just five pitches due to a blister. Ten of his other 13 starts have been quality starts; in 76 innings, he's posted a 2.25 ERA, 2.53 FIP and 10.3 strikeouts per nine. He's eligible to return from the DL on Aug. 4, but with three scheduled off days in the first 15 days of August (including Monday), the Dodgers can get by with a four-man rotation for a couple of turns if he needs more time to heal; their current rotation consists of Brandon McCarthy, Kenta Maeda, Scott Kazmir and Norris, who's reportedly likely to make his next start.
The Dodgers have gone an NL-best 18–10 since Kershaw's last start on June 26, gaining six games on the NL West-leading Giants. They owe that hot streak primarily to an upswing in their offense, which has scored an NL-best 5.17 runs per game in that span, and their bullpen, which has pitched to a 2.94 ERA and picked up the slack for a makeshift rotation that has averaged just 5.1 innings per start with a 4.34 ERA. To be fair, three starts from 19-year-old Julio Urias and the early outings of the just-off-the-DL pair of McCarthy and Ryu (who made just one start in his return from shoulder surgery before being sidelined by elbow inflammation) meant very few long outings from the starters, but one way or another, such a setup wasn't sustainable. There's no timetable for Kershaw's return from a herniated disc; the Dodgers are currently hoping that he can avoid season-ending surgery. Hence the need for another frontline pitcher, even one who poses an injury risk.
The 29-year-old Reddick, who generally plays rightfield, is hitting .296/.368/.449 with eight homers and a 124 OPS+ in 243 plate appearances, making $6.58 million. A lefty swinger, he has a wide platoon split, with a .789 OPS against righties for his career and .658 against lefties. This year, that split is massive: .955 in 201 PA versus righties, .425 in 71 PA against lefties. Reddick also missed 34 games in May and June due to a fractured left thumb suffered while sliding into second base.
That 124 OPS+ is higher than any of the Dodgers' current outfielders. Centerfielder Joc Pederson (121) has been productive, but Yasiel Puig (93), Trayce Thompson (99 and currently on the DL with lower back inflammation), Howie Kendrick (97 and learning leftfeld on the job), Kiké Hernandez (73 and just back from the DL) and Scott Van Slyke (82) have not, and regular leftfielder Andre Ethier has yet to play after fracturing his right tibia with a foul ball back in March. A Reddick-Pederson-Puig outfield, supplemented by Thompson and Van Slyke/Hernandez with Reddick and Pederson sitting agaisnt most lefties, is probably the best play if everyone is healthy.
The acquisition of Reddick appeared to pave the way for Puig to be dealt, but the deadline passed with him not being moved. After a sluggish first two months of the season and 19-day stint on the DL for a left hamstring strain, he’s improved to hit .308/.390/.440 in 105 plate appearances since returning, but he was limited to three trips to the plate in a 10-day span after tweaking his right hamstring before starting on Sunday and going 3 for 5 with a pair of doubles. Puig has played strong defense this year (+6 Defensive Runs Saved) and generally avoided being a distraction, but with just a .258/.321/.411 line and 101 OPS+ in 160 games over the past two seasons, he's been looked at as a change-of-scenery candidate. His high upside and low price (making $5.5 million this year, with $14 million due in 2017–18) has been seen as a means of Los Angeles filling another need without dipping into its stash of top-shelf prospects.
Speaking of which, the Dodgers didn't get off entirely scot-free in this deal. All three traded prospects made Baseball America's revised team Top 10 Prospects list back in March, with Holmes sixth, Montas ninth and Cotton 10th (keep in mind that first-ranked Corey Seager and fifth-ranked Maeda have graduated from that list since Opening Day). Holmes and Montas were among the six Dodgers who made BA's Midseason Top 100 Prospects list (at Nos. 60 and 82, respectively), and Cotton pitched in the All-Star Futures Game. MLB.com's midseason updated list, meanwhile, had Holmes fifth, Montas eighth and Cotton 15th among the team’s prospects.
The 24-year-old Cotton is a 5'11", 195 pound righty who was a 20th-round pick out of East Carolina in 2012. This year, he’s been roughed up for a 4.90 ERA and 1.6 homers per nine with 11.0 strikeouts per nine in 97 1/3 innings at Triple A Oklahoma City. Stuff-wise, he’s got a 91–94-mph heater that can touch 95–96, but his calling card is a plus-plus changeup; he also throws a curve and a hard slider, but neither flashes more than average. His upside is as a third or fourth starter, though concerns about his size, command and high-effort delivery suggest that he could wind up as a late-game reliever.
The 20-year-old Holmes is a 6'1", 215-pound righty who was the No. 22 pick of the 2014 draft out of a South Carolina high school. At Class A Rancho Cucamonga (a high-offense environment), he pitched to a 4.02 ERA with 8.5 strikeouts per nine, down from 10.8 in Rookie ball in 2014 and 10.2 in low A ball in '15. Though a bit undersized, Holmes has got elite arm strength and a 92–95-mph fastball that can touch 97–98 with more downhill angle than most pitchers of his height, as well as a plus curveball about which Baseball Prospectus' Chris Crawford wrote, "Because it comes from the same angle as his fastball, it’s particularly deceiving to hitters." His changeup is average. Consistency has been a problem for him, particularly with the curveball. "There are days when that stuff just doesn’t show up," wrote Crawford, and quoth the BA team, "Scouts who love him see a future No. 2 or No. 3 starter. Those more skeptical see a power reliever future."
The 23-year-old Montas is the lone pitcher of the trio with major league experience—15 innings for the White Sox last season. He's a 6'2", 255-pound fireballer whom the Dodgers acquired from the White Sox in the December three-way trade that also brought them Thompson and sent Todd Frazier from Cincinnati to Chicago. Alas, he's been limited to just 16 innings this season due to rib resection surgery (not unlike the surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome) in February and then a broken rib in mid-June; he is expected to return in September. When healthy, his fastball routinely touches triple digits—he hit 101 mph at the Futures Game in 2015—but the pitch has a tendency to flatten out at higher speeds. Some feel his slider isn’t a true plus pitch yet, but it at least flashes plus. His changeup, which is average at best, can be mothballed if he does wind up in the bullpen.
While the Dodgers traded three high-upside arms, none of them are sure things to wind up in the rotation, and none were a good bet to help the team in 2016. They'll fortify an Oakland system that's still trying to recover from moves to bolster the Athletics' 2014 run, when they traded Addison Russell and Billy McKinney to the Cubs as part of the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel deal.
The Dodgers—who in separate deals traded swingman Mike Bolsinger to the Blue Jays for righty reliever Jesse Chavez and got righty reliever Josh Fields from Houston—upgraded both their rotation and lineup without moving Urias (ineligible for BA's list as he was in the majors at the time but third on BP's midseason list), righty Jose De Leon (25th on BA's midseason list), first baseman Cody Belinger (24th), outfielder Alex Verdugo (44th) or second baseman Willie Calhoun (98th). They also didn’t move Puig simply for the sake of moving him. They received rentals in return, but ones that shore up clear needs, giving them a potential frontline starter and a middle-of-the-order bat. It remains to be seen whether Los Angeles has done enough to overtake the Giants, who traded for Rays starter Matt Moore and Brewers reliever Will Smith, but the Dodgers' chances at winning the division still have more to do with Kershaw’s return than anything else.