The Los Angeles Dodgers made their first big trade of the regular season on Tuesday night, sending veteran third baseman Juan Uribe and injured relief pitcher Chris Withrow to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for utility infielder Alberto Callaspo and pitchers Eric Stults, Ian Thomas and Juan Jaime. Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported the initial trade talks and the team confirmed the deal on Wednesday afternoon.
As we saw during the offseason, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi are never content. If the front office tandem can pull off several trades in the course of a few hours like it did at the winter meetings, it would not be surprising to see other deals go down as the season progresses.
The Dodgers are in the market for starting pitching after losing both Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-jin Ryu to season-ending surgeries. Their replacements, Mike Bolsinger and Carlos Frias, have been solid—but their lack of experience makes them difficult to trust. It's why the deep-pocketed Dodgers may opt to acquire more proven rotation depth prior to the stretch run.
Here are three potential trades that might make sense for the Boys in Blue. They represent deals at a base level. Each one could also involve multiple low-level prospects.
Darnell Sweeney and Chris Anderson for Jeff Samardzija
It will not be out of the realm of possibility to see starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija on the move again this summer.
The Chicago Cubs dealt the right-hander to the Oakland Athletics at last year's trade deadline before moving back to the Windy City during the offseason. But Samardzija has struggled as a member of the White Sox this year, posting a 4.28 ERA in nine starts. He is also an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
The White Sox currently sit in the basement of the American League Central. If they are out of contention by July, Samardzija seems like a prime candidate to be moved.
With the going rate of pitchers in free agency on the rise in recent years, the Dodgers will likely be required to break the bank in order to re-sign Samardzija following a trade—he is making $9.8 million in his age-30 season. That shouldn't be a problem for the team with the highest payroll in baseball, especially if Zack Greinke opts out of his current contract.
The Dodgers could conceivably transfer the money they would have spent to retain Greinke toward a new contract for Samardzija, which would actually save money. That is, if Greinke walks.
As for the White Sox, this deal could make sense for them because middle infielders Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham and Carlos Sanchez are all set to become free agents at the end of the season as well.
Darnell Sweeney can play both middle infield positions as well as center field. He is progressing nicely through the minors and could soon be ready for everyday playing time in the majors.
Ramirez is aging and Beckham is not a long-term solution for Chicago, so the White Sox may be willing to take a flier on the potential and versatility that Sweeney provides. Right-handed pitcher Chris Anderson, the Dodgers' No. 5 prospect, according to MLB.com, profiles similarly to Samardzija and would surely sweeten the deal.
Scott Schebler and Zachary Bird for Jordan Zimmermann
Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann is another pitcher who will be commanding a ton of money in free agency this winter. The right-hander is already making $16.5 million in 2015.
Unlike the White Sox, though, Washington has a prime opportunity to contend for a World Series this fall. The Nationals have overcome a slow start to surge past the New York Mets and into first place in the National League East. This makes a potential Zimmermann deal slightly less likely.
The Nationals rotation is headlined by offseason acquisition Max Scherzer and the struggling Stephen Strasburg. Zimmermann has been relegated to No. 3 status even though he is good enough to be an ace on some teams. He is 4-2 with a 3.26 ERA in 10 starts, but he will be difficult for Washington to re-sign now that the team has committed so much cash to Scherzer (seven years, $210 million).
Washington may also want to clear up a spot in the rotation for Tanner Roark if the team can move Zimmermann in the right deal.
When it comes to the right deal, Los Angeles is once again one of the few teams that can afford to invest in Zimmermann without the risk of losing him to a richer team for nothing during the offseason.
The Nationals might want to prepare for life after Denard Span in the outfield, while also insuring themselves against the possibility of more Jayson Werth injuries as the veteran begins to age.
That's where Scott Schebler comes in.
One of the Dodgers' top outfield prospects, Schebler smacked a career-high 28 home runs last year in Double-A and then batted .310 in 23 Arizona Fall League games. He projects as a corner outfielder, which could be intriguing for Washington if the team decides to ever shift Bryce Harper to center field.
Schebler's path to the majors would also be easier on a team other than the Dodgers, as Los Angeles already has Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Scott Van Slyke holding down the fort at the major league level.
The addition of pitching prospect Zachary Bird may further entice the Nationals into making this type of deal.
The former ninth-round pick in 2012 broke into the top 10 list of Dodgers prospects list this year on MLB.com after a successful campaign last season. The solidly built right-hander has made eight starts so far in 2015, allowing no more than three earned runs in any of them.
Jose De Leon and Alex Verdugo and Chris Reed for Johnny Cueto and Burke Badenhop
The ace that makes the most sense for the Dodgers to pursue this season is Johnny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds.
He has been one of the most consistently successful starters throughout the past several years, as evidenced by his 3.26 career ERA. Cueto finished second in NL Cy Young Award balloting last season behind Clayton Kershaw—his possible future teammate if the Reds and Dodgers can pull off a deal.
For Cincinnati, trading Cueto is almost a necessity if the team is out of contention by July. The Reds are currently 19-27 and will be unlikely to meet Cueto’s demands in free agency this winter. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com has reported that the Dominican right-hander is seeking around $200 million in a new deal, and that’s probably what he will receive given his body of work.
The Dodgers, of course, can afford Cueto. Adding a pitcher of his quality to a rotation that could lose Greinke this winter may also increase the Dodgers’ urgency to consummate this trade—not to mention their current concerns with rotation depth for this season, according to ESPN's Buster Olney:
The Dodgers have used their resources in creative ways over the past seven months while hoping that their relatively thin starting rotation would hold up. Now they might be cornered into making a significant starting pitching investment, either this summer or in the fall. A number of industry folks believe they'll take a run at Johnny Cueto.
The 29-year-old recently missed a start due to stiffness in his pitching elbow, but C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer calmed the nerves of general managers around the league who are considering making a run at Cueto:
If the Reds become sellers at the trade deadline, they will likely request high-level prospects in exchange for their ace.
While the Dodgers probably aren't willing to part with top prospects Corey Seager or Julio Urias, they may feel comfortable sending young minor league players like pitcher Jose De Leon and outfielder Alex Verdugo to the Reds.
Those two players are both top-six prospects in the Los Angeles pipeline, per MLB.com’s list, and might be just enticing enough for Cincinnati if another pitching prospect like Chris Reed is included in the deal.
De Leon compiled a 4-2 record in eight starts between High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa this season. He was the High-A league leader in strikeouts at the time of his promotion. Verdugo was the Dodgers’ second-round pick in last year’s draft. He turned in a productive season in the Arizona Rookie League but has struggled to match that early success at the Low-A level in 2015. Still, he’s only 19 years old.
The Reds will also look to unload more than just Cueto in a deal like this, and Los Angeles will probably request bullpen depth. Veteran right-hander Burke Badenhop is in the final non-option year of his Reds contract, as is left-hander Manny Parra, but the Dodgers already have a dearth of left-handed relievers.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.