The Los Angeles Dodgers don’t appear to need another blockbuster trade to improve their odds of reaching the postseason. However, there is one deal that would make the Dodgers prohibitive favorites to represent the National league in the 2013 World Series.
Los Angeles would bolster its lineup and further improve its starting pitching by acquiring Chase Utley and Cliff Lee from the Philadelphia Phillies.
Former Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden proposed this megadeal in his July 10 article for ESPN.com. Bowden did not suggest that a trade between the Dodgers and Phillies was even remotely being discussed. But Utley and Lee to the Dodgers may not be the pipe dream it appears to be.
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro seems hesitant to break up the current incarnation of his club, although Philadelphia’s current five-game losing streak may encourage him to reconsider. And remember that around this time last season, the Dodgers pulled off the first of two blockbuster trades that transformed the team’s makeup.
Los Angeles acquired Hanley Ramirez from the Miami Marlins in early July—a deal that stunned the baseball world. A month later, the Dodgers completed the biggest trade in MLB history (in terms of the value of the contracts involved) by acquiring Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto from the Boston Red Sox.
Even after last night’s 5-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, the Dodgers are 23-6 since June 20—the second-best mark in MLB over that time. In just over a month, Los Angeles has improved from 30-42 and 9.5-games back in the NL West to 53-48 and a half-game ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks for the division lead.
Despite the impressive turnaround, adding Lee and Utley would dramatically improve the odds of the Dodgers ending their three year postseason drought.
Injuries forced the Dodgers to use nine different starting pitchers by the middle of May, and they continue to deal with uncertainty at the back of their rotation. Chris Capuano has been inconsistent, Stephen Fife remains on the disabled list and Ted Lilly was recently designated for assignment.
Although the Dodgers recently acquired Ricky Nolasco from the Marlins, Lee would give them another certified ace with a proven track record of postseason success.
More than just a late-season rental, Lee would also help stabilize the rotation through 2015.
Beckett recently underwent surgery to repair a nerve issue in his right hand—an injury that has threatened to prematurely end his career. Chad Billingsley underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this year and will be out at least through the first half of the 2014 season.
Even if Beckett and Billingsley return at some point next season, both will be in the last year of their current contracts—making their futures in Los Angeles uncertain.
The Dodgers' lineup has also been decimated by injuries for most of the season. However, the return of Ramirez in June—along with the surprising success of rookie sensation Yasiel Puig—has sparked the offense of late.
Its current run notwithstanding, Utley would address L.A.’s short and long-term concerns at second base.
Mark Ellis has been solid, yet unspectacular, this year. The Dodgers have, at times, also received valuable contributions from Punto and Skip Schumaker. But all three players are 33 or older and in the last year of their contracts—and none is a major threat at the plate.
Utley’s 13 home runs this year is almost twice as many as the Ellis-Punto-Schumaker trio have combined (seven).
At 34, Utley is no spring chicken. However, he still represents an upgrade over the current Dodgers second basemen. He also appears to be over the knee issues that plagued him for most of the past three years.
Utley is also a local product. He was raised in nearby Pasadena and played his college ball at UCLA. Utley would unquestionably receive a hero’s welcome in Los Angeles and might welcome the opportunity to spend the twilight of his career in his hometown.
So what would the Dodgers need to give up to get Utley and Lee from the Phillies? While Bowden suggested a package including Andre Ethier, Fife and minor leaguers Chris Reed (SP) and Joc Pederson (OF), the Dodgers would be better off substituting a third prospect in place of Ethier.
Ethier has rediscovered his stroke at the plate over the past month—hitting .315 with two home runs, 15 runs scored and 15 RBI during that time. He’s played solid outfield defense and, perhaps most importantly, remained the healthiest member of the Dodgers outfield.
Between various injuries to Crawford and Matt Kemp—and with Puig crashing into a new wall seemingly every night—Los Angeles can ill-afford to part with an established veteran like Ethier. His five-year, $85 million contract extension looked like an albatross for most of April, May and June, but he’s now become indispensable.
Top pitching prospect Zach Lee may be more appealing to the Phillies anyway.
Philadelphia needs to start looking towards building a younger, less-expensive roster, and a deal of this magnitude would address both concerns. Fife could replace Lee in the rotation immediately, and Pederson looks like he could permanently replace Delmon Young in the Phillies’ outfield by Opening Day 2014.
Lee and Reed should also be ready to compete for spots in Philadelphia’s starting rotation at some point next season. That is appealing to a team with no sure things behind Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick and possibly Jonathan Pettibone.
Once you get past the initial sticker shock, trading Utley and Lee to the Dodgers makes sense for both parties. Although the Phillies seem just as likely to sign Utley to an extension as trade him, the Dodgers would do well to make Philadelphia an offer it can’t refuse.
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