Very quietly, the Los Angeles Dodgers have won five games in a row and have crept to within 1.5 games of the San Francisco Giants in the NL West. If the season ended today, they'd qualify for the NL's second wild card spot.
So after going through a rough patch that started in June and lasted until the middle of July, the Dodgers appear to be getting back on the right track. Rejoice, Dodgers fans.
As far as the team's front office is concerned, well, let's just say that nobody will be rejoicing at any point in the near future. Ned Colletti and his staff have a lot of work to do over the next week until the trade deadline.
At the moment, the word around the campfire is that the Dodgers front office is hard at work trying to swing a deal with the Chicago Cubs. ESPN's Jim Bowden reported the latest rumblings via Twitter on Monday:
Cubs not resting on their laurels continue trade discussions with Dodgers on deal that would send Matt Garza for package including Zach Lee— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) July 23, 2012
This didn't come as a huge surprise. If you've paid attention to the rumor mill, you'll know that the Dodgers have been linked to Garza for a few weeks now. A big part of his appeal is the fact that he's under club control through next season. The Dodgers figure that if they're going to pay a heavy price to acquire a pitcher, they may as well acquire a pitcher who wouldn't be a rental.
They'd probably make an exception for one pitcher, though.
It's not a secret that the Dodgers covet star left-hander Cole Hamels, who is in the final year of his contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Dodgers have been linked to him for weeks, and Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com reported just last week that the Dodgers are still very much interested in Hamels.
It's not hard to imagine Colletti and his staff salivating every time Hamels takes the mound. That's about the extent of what they can do regarding Hamels, though. The chances of the Dodgers actually trading for him are somewhere between slim and none.
There are all sorts of complications, chief among them being the possibility that Hamels could re-up with the Phillies at any moment. He and the Phillies have been negotiating an extension for some time now, and the word from Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com is that the talks between the two sides are going to "accelerate" this week.
Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com did him one better, reporting that the Phillies are "actively trying" to sign Hamels and actively "making offers," according to a source. Indications are that the Phillies are willing to offer Hamels a six-year deal. If they give him the $24 million annual average he is believed to be seeking, he'll probably be all theirs.
If he isn't all theirs at any point in the next seven days, he'll go on the block and the Phillies will immediately try to get what they can for him in a trade.
The Dodgers would have to offer about half of their farm system for Hamels, and even that may not be enough seeing as how their farm system is pretty thin on talent. Make no mistake, the Phillies will be able to find better offers if they start actively shopping Hamels.
Hamels is without a doubt the pie in the sky for the Dodgers at the trade deadline. As far as realistic options are concerned, Garza may be as good as the Dodgers can do with their farm system.
But this is not to say that they should pull the trigger on the apparent Lee-for-Garza swap without further consideration. According to Baseball America and other publications, Lee is the Dodgers' top prospect. Such players should not be parted with lightly, especially when the player coming back the other way is a player like Garza.
There are times when Garza pitches like a true ace. On any given day, he's liable to go seven or eight innings while racking up strikeouts and putting goose eggs on the board. On occasion, however, he's also liable to make a quick exit and allow upwards of four or five earned runs. He's only logged 11 quality starts this season, just as many as Aaron Harang.
So it's debatable whether Garza would actually be an upgrade for the Dodgers, and the fact that it is debatable is not ideal.
Worse, trading for Garza now is made all the more risky by Garza's recent triceps injury. It's not supposed to be a serious injury, but it's sore enough to the point of where the Cubs are considering pushing Garza's next start back, according to Carrie Muskat of MLB.com.
Garza is still very much appealing because, at the very least, he'd provide the Dodgers rotation with some depth and because there'd always be next year if the Dodgers fail to make the playoffs with Garza in their rotation this year.
What the Dodgers have to ask themselves is whether it's really worth it to give up their top prospect just to provide their starting pitching staff with some depth, as opposed to a No. 1 or No. 2-type pitcher. After all, the Dodgers rank second in MLB with a rotation ERA of 3.31, and Chad Billingsley put a lot of minds at ease when he held the St. Louis Cardinals to a single run over six innings in his first start off the disabled list.
For the month of July, Dodgers starters are doing just fine. According to FanGraphs, they have an ERA of 2.96 thus far, second in baseball to the Cardinals. Even when the Dodgers rotation struggled in June, it still managed to maintain a respectable ERA of 3.85 in the month of June.
Because the starting rotation isn't weighing the team down, Colletti could just decide to roll with the starters he has and look to use his top prospects to acquire a much-needed bat instead. If he decides to do that, nobody will be in a position to complain.
If he'd rather insist on finding a starting pitcher, he's going to have no choice but to settle. He's not going to get Hamels, nor is he going to get Zack Greinke. His list of Plan B options would seem to start with Garza, and he's a less-than-perfect Plan B.
What Colletti should do is look around see if he can't do better than Garza with a package based around Lee. If he wants to trade for a pitcher the organization can control beyond this season, he could always give the Miami Marlins a call about Josh Johnson. He could also give the Boston Red Sox a call and ask whether they're willing to sell low on Jon Lester.
But for kicks, let's say that Garza is the best starting pitcher Colletti can acquire with the assets he has at his disposal. What then?
He should do it, of course. No question about it.
Colletti is in a tough spot at the moment, but he knows that he's backed by an ownership group that a) wants to win now and b) has made it clear that it is willing to spend big bucks to improve the team.
Part A is the all the incentive Colletti needs to deal Lee for Garza. If Colletti knows Part B is true as well (and it is), then he knows that having a strong farm system is not as vitally important as it would have been under cash-strapped owner Frank McCourt. Money can't solve every problem, but it can sure as heck solve a lot of problems very quickly.
In the end, it's a simple choice: Hold on to a guy who might be able to help the team win later, or trade for a veteran who probably will help the team win now.
The latter is the best choice here.
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