Two of the most disappointing teams in the majors this season are the ones from Southern California not named the San Diego Padres, who have actually won 11 of 14 games and have a better record than both the Angels (11-22) and Dodgers (13-20).
Injuries have played a huge factor for both struggling teams. The Dodgers have been without Hanley Ramirez and Zack Greinke for a majority of the season, and Chad Billingsley had season-ending Tommy John surgery. The Angels have been without Jered Weaver and Ryan Madson, while Albert Pujols is playing through a painful foot injury.
But that’s the story for many teams around the league.
While both the Angels and Dodgers had impressive projected 25-man rosters coming into the season, a closer look would tell you that they might have issues if they were forced to dip into the upper minors for help. Neither team had much immediate help on the way.
ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden, the former general manager of the Reds and Nationals, gave his ideas on how to fix both teams (Insider subscription required). While his specific trade proposals aren’t completely outlandish, neither team realistically has enough prospect depth or talent to acquire a player that can turn the team around this season.
So as creative as any trade proposals can get, it's going to be hard for either team to acquire an impact bat or an impact starting pitcher.
Bowden acknowledges that neither team is likely to make the playoffs in 2013 but writes that they should at least try. Here’s an overview.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Trading Andre Ethier (pictured) to open up right field for prospect Yasiel Puig, as Bowden suggests, makes a lot of sense and very well could be in the plans of general manager Ned Colletti.
But the two infield targets Bowden mentions, Astros second baseman Jose Altuve and Padres third baseman Chase Headley, would likely require Puig as the centerpiece in either deal. So it’s hard to see Ethier being dealt and an impact player being acquired in separate trades this season.
In addition, trading Ethier with his declining production (.706 OPS) and a guaranteed $71 million in salary from 2014 through 2017 wouldn’t be that easy unless they were willing to eat some of the contract. The Dodgers, as we’ve seen, have deep enough pockets to eat some salary.
But even then, it’s hard to see them getting a prospect in return who could replace Puig as a potential trade chip for an All-Star-caliber infielder.
The Dodgers are in much better shape than the Angels down on the farm. They have Puig and a handful of other very good prospects, including pitchers Zach Lee (2.15 ERA, 37.2 IP, 36 H, 9 BB, 30 K) and Ross Stripling (2.94 ERA, 33.2 IP, 24 H, 11 BB, 34 K in six High-A starts), third baseman Corey Seager (18th pick in 2012 draft) and outfielder Joc Pederson (1.013 OPS in Double-A).
But that still might not be enough to make a splash on the trade market.
A second-half team that includes Greinke and Ramirez could be dangerous if it has something to play for. The current team with a less-than-100 percent Adrian Gonzalez (strained neck) and an infield led by Juan Uribe and Dee Gordon is going to have a tough time keeping this team afloat.
Making any win-now moves without an eye towards the future, such as trading Puig or Lee, is extremely risky and could put the Dodgers in the same boat as the Angels after they traded for Greinke last July—no playoff spot and three fewer prospects at the top of their farm system.
Los Angeles Angels
Moving over to the Angels’ problems and how they could be solved, Bowden mentions first base prospect C.J. Cron, who hit 27 homers in the hitter-friendly California League (High-A) last season, as a potential trade chip to acquire a starting pitcher such as Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays.
The problem is that Cron, despite a solid .781 OPS, has just one homer in Double-A with three walks and 19 strikeouts in 30 games thus far in 2013. His ceiling is not high enough to sustain any value as long as he's not showing any power in his first month in the upper minors.
It’s not like there are too many other options, though, so the 23-year-old Cron might actually be the Angels’ best trade chip right now. He's just not going to get them anything more than a No. 5 starter, and that's not going to help much.
Top prospect Kaleb Cowart, Cron’s Double-A teammate, is struggling with a .583 OPS, and lefty Nick Maronde’s value has dropped since the Angels moved him to the bullpen. That trio was ranked as the top three prospects in the organization coming into the season, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Mark Sappington, a right-handed starter drafted in the fifth round last year, is on the rise. But it will take more than seven good starts in High-A (1.73 ERA, 41.2 IP, 28 H, 15 BB, 40 K) to reach the level where he could headline a deal for an impact major leaguer.
Trading away three of their best prospects for two months of Zack Greinke in 2012 has hurt the farm system, as did the 2010 trade that brought them Dan Haren for lefty pitching prospects Pat Corbin and Tyler Skaggs. As Bowden notes, they would be much better now with Corbin in the rotation and Skaggs waiting in the wings in Triple-A.
Even if they had the package of prospects to acquire another impact starting pitcher, which they don’t, I’m guessing that general manager Jerry DiPoto would stand pat and focus on starting to build the farm system back up so they’re not in this position again in the future.
Now if they wanted to deal center fielder Peter Bourjos (pictured), who is on the disabled list with a strained hamstring but had an .827 OPS prior to the injury, in return for a mid-rotation starter with more than two years of team control, that might make the most sense for short-term and future success.
As if those of us who have been following this game so closely for years needed another reminder, building a team by spending irresponsibly on top free agents and taking on big names with big salaries in trades, as the Angels and Dodgers have done, doesn't mean a thing if you don't have a strong farm system to fill the gaps when injuries occur or when players don't live up to expectations.