Los Angeles Dodgers: An Early Breakdown of Their Best Trade Bait
On paper, the Dodgers have too many good problems. Too many good outfielders, too many All-Star closers, and, for the first time in many years, a well-stocked farm system. So barring a rash of injuries, the Dodgers shouldn't have the need to make any major trades this season.
That said, general manager Ned Colletti isn't exactly a frugal businessman, especially with the Guggenheim Group's deep wallets backing him. He's been known to pull the trigger on huge mid-season moves, including ones that brought his current starting first baseman, shortstop, left fielder and fifth starter to Los Angeles.
With the team off to a bit of a disappointing start, none of the standard trade subjects have made enough of an impact to raise their stocks. And if the Dodgers do swap one of their high-priced outfielders, they'll more than likely have to eat a large chunk of any contract.
But, if the Dodgers find themselves floundering in June and trailing in the division, Colletti might feel the need to make a trade and salvage their World Series-or-bust season. At that point, who will be the most attractive trade chips to other teams? Who might the Dodgers be willing to ship away for a younger, fresher bat or a group of minor league players?
Read on to find out who the Dodgers best trade bait is so far in 2014.
All statistics taken from Baseball-Reference.com.
As mentioned in the introduction, this Dodgers trade conversation will continue to start with the plethora of outfielders trying to elbow their way into everyday action. Of the four, there is one who is unequivocally untouchable and we all know who it is.
So let's break down the three remaining outfielders, who all happen to be injury-prone, on the downside of their primes, and they're owed more money combined than you or I could ever dream of:
Matt Kemp, CF (age 29)
Kemp is just two seasons removed from a season in which many believe he was robbed of the National League MVP award after posting a .324/39/126 line with 40 steals. Since then he's battled constant injury problems and a long road back to full health, where he appears to be now.
With ankle, hamstring and shoulder problems behind him, Kemp has been slow to get all the way back into the swing of things in 2014. Despite a .221 batting average in 20 games, he is slugging .500 and has an OPS over .800 and has shown flashes of getting his power back.
Despite a lot of off season chatter, I don't think the Dodgers ever seriously considered trading Kemp. He's still fairly young and was arguably the best player in the National League when fully healthy. If he continues to progress in 2014 and gets back to a .300/20/80 level (or close to it), the Dodgers won't even entertain the idea.
Andre Ethier, LF (age 32)
Ethier and Crawford share a massive, inexplicable hole for former All-Stars: The inability to hit left-handed pitching. Ethier is the worst offender, hitting .233 with a measly .292 on-base percentage in over 1,200 career plate appearances against southpaws.
It's been so bad recently, as Ethier starts to age and his all-around skills start to decline, that both he and Crawford are commonly benched against lefty starters in favor of righty Scott Van Slyke. And at this point in his career, Ethier will need to put together a prolonged hot streak to have any worth as a trade chip to the Dodgers.
That said, the Dodgers would probably most like to move Ethier if they had to trade an outfielder. Even though he can play all three positions decently, the bat just isn't consistent anymore and neither is his "clutch gene," if you will, that made him so popular with Dodgers fans earlier in his career.
Carl Crawford, LF (age 32)
Crawford's saving grace is that he still has a little quickness in those old legs and can own the leadoff spot if necessary. Personally, I don't like him leading off, but he can still leg out a base hit, get himself into scoring position, or lay down a bunt.
But, like Ethier, Crawford suffers from a bout of lefty-itis, hitting just .258 with a .304 on-base percentage in nearly 2,000 career plate appearances against them. And for a guy who used to regularly swipe 50 bags a season, Crawford's awful strikeout-to-walk rate and career .331 on-base percentage isn't exactly appealing to prospective trade partners.
As he also continues to exit his prime, Crawford becomes less and less valuable. But with top prospect Joc Pederson tearing up Triple-A and nothing but a swallowing of pride required for the Dodgers to eat Crawford's contract, it would not be surprising to see him (or Ethier) sent to the first team to show interest, even for a paltry return.
With the exception of swapping promising Single-A lefty Miguel Sulbaran to the Twins for veteran backup catcher Drew Butera, the Dodgers management has done a good job drafting, signing and hanging on to young talent, especially in the foreign markets.
Between Pederson, third baseman Corey Seager, right-handed starter Zach Lee and southpaw starter Julio Urias, the Dodgers have some of the best young potential in the minors. But will Colletti be able to resist moving a couple of them if someone like Chase Utley or Giancarlo Stanton becomes available in July?
Time will tell if there is an offer too good to refuse, but chances are Pederson, Seager and Urias are untouchable, as the Dodgers plan to build around them down the line. That said, having so many good veterans signed to long-term deals blocks their paths to the majors.
If Colletti does decide to strip the minor league system, there are a few guys who he might prefer to move:
Zach Lee, RHP (age 22)
Lee had been the organization's top pitching prospect for a couple years until Urias showed up in 2013, but he has proved to likely be little more than a future back-end starter. That's definitely not a bad thing, but it does lower his trade value a little bit.
In 2013, Lee posted a 3.22 ERA in Double-A and showed off impressive control (nearly 3.5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio), but he doesn't really overpower anyone when he throws. He's shown that he can be a valuable major league pitcher, but he might have a number-three ceiling, which means the Dodgers would probably have to pair him with a couple other guys to snag a big fish in a trade.
Alexander Guerrero, 2B/SS (age 27)
The Dodgers seem content with what former top prospect Dee Gordon is doing at second base thus far in 2014, despite the small sample size. While trading Guerrero, who they signed to a four-year free-agent deal this winter out of Cuba, is very unlikely this soon, Gordon could completely change the landscape here.
If Gordon isn't just a flash in the pan (again), and Guerrero continues to hit in Triple-A (.366/2/7 and an 1.141 OPS in 13 games), teams will inquire on both and the Dodgers will have a rare opportunity to leverage a good return on any move they make.
Jose Dominguez, RHP (age 23)
Dodgers fans are familiar with Dominguez, who has pitched in 13 games with the big league club between a couple stints in 2013 and early on in 2014. The 6'0" Dominguez can hit triple digits with his fastball, and he was a pleasant surprise in his first call-up last year when he posted a 2.16 ERA in 8.1 innings.
Though he's struggled this season in his big league action, Dominguez has a good breaking ball to pair with the 100-mph fastball and has "future closer" written all over him. If there's a team that can harness his control and build him up to that point, he would be a valuable get. The Dodgers should be able to get a decent player back, too.
Again, it's very unlikely that the Dodgers trade anyone of note this year, whether it be that they are too talented (Yasiel Puig, Pederson, Urias, etc.) or too difficult to get equal value for (Crawford, Ethier, etc.). But, Colletti has surprised us before (think the blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox midway through 2012).
Will he pull another stunner at the trade deadline this season? And if he does, will it end up biting the Dodgers or make them stronger in the long run? His track record suggests the former, but he has pulled rabbits out of the hat before, too.
If a player nobody expected to see on the block gets moved, who might it be? Though both scenarios are extremely unlikely, there are two guys who could fall into this category.
Brian Wilson, RHP (age 32)
Regardless of Wilson's early-season struggles in 2014, he would have been a candidate here. The Dodgers paid $10 million to get him back in the setup role for this season, but he may quickly lose that job to Chris Perez or Chris Withrow. Having an extensive injury history already rearing its ugly head in 2014 doesn't help his case.
If Wilson continues to underwhelm as the summer progresses, a fringe playoff contender may be willing to slightly overpay for his services at the back end of their bullpen. With the depth the Dodgers currently have with Perez, Withrow, Kenley Jansen, J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez, it might be worth shipping him off for a prospect or two.
Dee Gordon, 2B/SS (age 26)
Even though Gordon was supposed to be making a constant impact at the top of the Dodgers lineup about two years ago, it's better late than never with him. And many Dodgers fans have come to love the peppy, speedy infielder so any move involving him would be wildly unpopular.
But, if he starts to falter a bit and Guerrero continues to hit at Triple-A, the Dodgers may decide to commit to the Cuban for the foreseeable future. At that point, it would only be fair to give Gordon a shot to start elsewhere. With blazing speed and still only 26 years old, Gordon could bring back a strong return of minor league talent if he's traded at peak value.
Again, neither of these guys are likely to be traded, but it's worth considering. If anyone is going to be moved, it's probably one of the three outfielders not named Puig (and even more likely to be Crawford or Ethier) or a non-elite prospect like Lee.