When Guggenheim Baseball Management’s purchase of the Los Angeles Dodgers was made official back in the spring, they made it clear that they would be committed to putting a winning product on the field as soon as possible.
The ownership group—led by team president Stan Kasten on the baseball side—wasted no time in putting actions behind their words, first by committing to investing in top minor league talent, then by signing 21-year-old Cuban defector Yasiel Puig to a record $42 million contract and finally by giving All-Star right fielder Andre Ethier a six-year, $85 million contract extension to keep him off the free agent market.
The only thing the Dodgers had yet to prove was how active they would be leading up to today’s 4 p.m. MLB non-waiver traded deadline, and that question was answered in a big, albeit incomplete way.
The following is a grade for each of the three trades that the Dodgers made over the past week, followed by an overall grade for their performance leading up to the deadline.
When the Dodgers acquired Hanley Ramirez and relief pitcher Randy Choate from the Miami Marlins for RHP Nathan Eovaldi and minor league relief pitcher Scott McGough, Los Angeles fans celebrated as if it were Christmas in July.
Sure the three-time All-Star and 2009 NL MVP runner-up has regressed considerably over the past two-plus seasons, but at just 28 years old, it’s way too early to close the book on Ramirez’s best years.
Taking on the roughly $38 million that Ramirez is owed through 2014 adds considerable financial risk to the deal. There’s also a chance that the series of injuries that have slowed Ramirez since 2010 have permanently derailed his ascent towards becoming arguably one of the top five players in Major League Baseball.
But it’s just as likely that Ramirez simply needed a change of scenery and a less grating managerial style than the environment that Ozzie Guillen creates in Miami. Los Angeles certainly provides a clean slate for Hanley, and the early returns have been positive (.333 average, five runs scored, and six RBI in his first five games with the Dodgers).
Los Angeles was getting abysmal production from Juan Uribe at third base and second-year shortstop Dee Gordon has also struggled mightily this year. Even a lesser Hanley Ramirez is a major upgrade to what the Dodgers had been getting, and he provides added protection for Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in the fifth spot in the lineup.
The Dodgers were also in need of another left-hander in their bullpen and Choate certainly addresses that need. The 36-year-old veteran has held left handed batters to a .134 batting average in 67 at bats in 2012.
Perhaps the biggest positive in this deal is the fact that Los Angeles was not forced to part with one of their best prospects to make this deal happen. The Marlins were just as happy to clear all of Ramirez’s contract off their books, something that no other team seemed willing to do given his recent decline.
Measuring the risk of a large contract is always relative to the resources of the team taking on the added salary. It’s pretty that the Dodgers are shaping up to be the New York Yankees of the west coast, so the it doesn’t appear that the gamble on Ramirez would significantly impact any future plans that Los Angeles has if the experiment were to fail.
Trade Grade: A
When the Dodgers acquired right-handed relief pitcher Brandon League for two minor leaguers, it wasn’t immediately clear that the move was all that necessary.
After recording 37 saves for the Seattle Mariners last season, League lost the closer's job to Tom Wilhelmsen earlier in the year. Kenley Jansen has done an admirable job for the Dodgers since replacing Javvy Guerra as the primary closer in May.
Still, League is a hard thrower who provides value as a set-up man, and could close if needed, should Jansen begin to struggle or get injured.
OF Leon Landry had hit well for the Dodgers in Class-A ball, but with Matt Kemp (27 years old), Andre Ethier (31) and Cuban defector Yasiel Puig (21) all signed for at least the next six years, there wasn’t a clear path to the majors for him and he wasn’t considered one of the Dodgers top prospects.
RHP Logan Bawcum has also performed well as a closer at the minor league level, accumulating 20 saves at the Single- and Double-A levels thus far. He was also not considered to be a key part of the Dodgers’ future.
In a vacuum, the move to acquire League was a high-value acquisition at a position that wasn’t a major area of concern for Los Angeles. But since it provided the bullpen depth to make the trade to acquire Shane Victorino from the Phillies, the deal receives a higher grade than it otherwise would.
Trade Grade: B+
The Dodgers have been looking to fill a void in left field all season. Los Angeles finally got their man when they received Shane Victorino from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for right-handed relief pitcher Josh Lindblom and minor league pitcher Ethan Martin just before today’s MLB trade deadline.
Los Angeles used a variety of players in left field this season including Bobby Abreu, Juan Riviera, Jerry Sands and Scott Van Slyke. None of them provided enough production to prove worthy of the full-time starting job.
Although Victorino is having a down year, batting just .261 with nine home runs and 40 RBI in 2012, he—like Hanley Ramirez—represents a significant upgrade over what the Dodgers were getting from the position before, even if his best days are behind him.
Victorino has slowed as a defensive center fielder, but a move to left could help mitigate the effects of that decline. He still adds a needed element of speed to the everyday lineup, and his role as an everyday player gives Dodgers manager Don Mattingly more flexibility with his bench.
The 25-year-old Lindblom was a solid middle relief pitcher for Los Angeles this year, posting a 3.02 ERA while striking out 43 batters in 47.1 innings pitched. But the acquisition of Brandon League from Seattle made him expendable.
The 23-year-old, right-handed Martin is a former first-round draft pick who has good velocity on his fastball, reaching the mid- to upper-90s at his best. He has a good curveball, but no reliable third pitch that would translate to him being a starter at the major league level. He could become a very good relief pitcher in the near future.
The trade market for left fielders wasn’t that great, so Victorino represents a solid acquisition who will become a free agent after the season, clearing the way for Yasiel Puig to take over in left field in 2013. Martin was not ranked among the top 20 prospects in the the Dodgers' minor league system, so the impact of his loss is minimal.
The Dodgers needed to do something to improve their lineup, and Victorino may very well have been the least flawed option from a pool of available players that included Alfonso Soriano of the Chicago Cubs and Jeff Francoeur of the Kansas City Royals.
Trade Grade: B
The Los Angeles Dodgers dramatically improved their lineup while addressing holes at 3B/SS (still unclear where Hanley Ramirez will play full time) and left field. They also managed to upgrade their bullpen and provide more flexibility with their bench, all without breaking up the core of their minor league system.
While all of that is extremely positive, the fact that the Dodgers did not add depth to their starting rotation could turn out to be a poor decision when evaluating these moves strictly through the lens of competing for a World Series title this year.
Overall Grade: B+