This summer's biggest Hollywood blockbuster isn't a Marvel movie, it's not a comedy or an action movie, though it is quite the thriller. It's the Los Angeles Dodgers. A star-laden team in a star-laden town.
But what else is new? The Dodgers hoard stars like some of us hoard quarters for the laundromat. The fact that the club pulled off two huge trades on Thursday is sort of par for the course for the richest team in baseball.
A day ahead of the MLB trade deadline, the reigning World Series champs and FanGraphs' favorites to win it again reportedly added the top pitcher on the market in Max Scherzer and his Washington Nationals teammate shortstop Trea Turner, although neither club has confirmed the transaction yet. With more than 10 years of MLB service time, Scherzer has 10-and-5 rights to veto any trade proposal, though he's not expected to do so.
The Dodgers also traded for Kansas City Royals ace Danny Duffy, who is on the injured list with a flexor strain. Their payroll is now $285 million, but that matters little in Los Angeles.
What matters is that the Dodgers were able to prevent Scherzer from going to the San Diego Padres. Early in the afternoon, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic had reported San Diego was close to a deal, but by the time the Nats were defeated by the Philadelphia Phillies in the second game of a doubleheader, the fire sale in D.C. was well underway.
General manager Mike Rizzo got a huge haul of prospects for two of the 2019 World Series team's key components and continued a busy day by trading away just about everyone except for the giant racing presidents.
It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that the Dodgers, Padres and their NL West rivals to the north, the San Francisco Giants, will make the playoffs. Positioning is still on the line with a little more than two months to play, but as it stands the Giants have the division lead with the Dodgers 3.0 games behind and holding the first wild-card spot, and the Padres 2.5 games behind Los Angeles (5.5 games out of first place) sitting in second place in the wild-card standings.
The Friars need pitching, and while they did manage to get some from Washington on Thursday night, it wasn't exactly the ace they wanted. Reliever Daniel Hudson, the last man on the mound in the 2019 World Series, will bolster the bullpen, but the ace they desire continues to elude them. San Diego's starters have been inconsistent, with the exception of Yu Darvish.
So it was a huge power move when the Dodgers outbid their divisional foes to win Scherzer. The Dodgers have won eight straight NL West titles, but their streak is on the line with the success of the Padres and the Giants, the latter of which few saw coming this season. San Francisco's rebuild is ahead of schedule, but the Giants are still going for it, opting to keep pending free agents Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt. The Giants have had a stranglehold on the NL West since May 31.
But with these additions, the Dodgers might be able to wrest control of the division. A division title is as meaningless as a few million dollars to this team, but it would make the path to a second straight World Series a little easier.
The pitching situation has been dire in the southland since Dustin May opted to have Tommy John surgery in April. Trevor Bauer has been out of the rotation since July 2 on paid administrative leave while being investigated by police and MLB after a woman filed an ex parte restraining order against him accusing him of sexual assault. Clayton Kershaw has been on IL with a forearm injury, forcing David Price to stretch out and move from the bullpen to the rotation.
Scherzer gives the Dodgers a true ace and a proven winner. The 37-year-old has shown no signs of slowing down this season, going 8-4 with a 2.76 ERA and a 139 ERA+. He's a three-time Cy Young winner, an eight-time All-Star and a World Series winner.
Duffy knows how to win as well, helping the Kansas City Royals win the 2015 World Series. He'll be out another three-to-four weeks, but the Los Angeles rotation will have another left-handed option when he returns. Duffy grew up a few hours north of Los Angeles in Santa Barbara County, so waiving his 10-and-5 rights to play for the team he grew up watching was an easy decision.
According to The Athletic's Fabian Ardaya, Kershaw could be back as soon as next weekend when the Dodgers face the Los Angeles Angels in the Freeway Series. Shortstop Corey Seager is set to be activated from IL on Friday, and outfielder Mookie Betts is eligible to return Sunday. Those are big additions, especially when it comes to the infield since Turner is on the COVID-19 injured list after a positive test Tuesday.
When you factor in Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Chris Taylor and even Albert Pujols, who has turned into a very productive bench piece for the other Los Angeles team, it's impossible to match the star power of the Dodgers. Somehow, the Dodgers always manage to get a handful of stars from one single team every few years.
While Hudson is having an outstanding season (2.20 ERA), it seems like a consolation prize at this point. San Diego is reportedly trying to work out a trade for Minnesota Twins ace Jose Berrios, which would be a pretty good move to counter with. But Adam Frazier (who was acquired earlier this week in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates) and Berrios don't exactly pack the same punch as Scherzer and Turner.
Of course, San Francisco could still win the division. The Giants have bested the Dodgers in five of their last seven meetings, and the season series is split at 8-8. And maybe that's the most intriguing scenario in a winner-take-all game between two true contenders.
Who would manager Dave Roberts hand the ball to in a wild-card game? Would he trust Kershaw, the longtime ace who exorcised his playoff demons last fall when he went 2-0 in the World Series? The team surely acquired Mad Max for moments like this.
As for the Nationals, it appears as though their window of contention has closed. Rizzo got a jump-start on the rebuild Thursday turning Scherzer, Turner, Hudson, closer Brad Hand and injured outfielder Kyle Schwarber into what is expected to be eight prospects. The 2019 World Series team has been torched, as has this year's team that was only a few games out of first place a month ago.
But the season moves fast, and those windows close quickly as well. Now, Rizzo needs to throw some major cash at 22-year-old outfielder Juan Soto. The Nationals should lock him up to a 14-year deal like the one Fernando Tatis Jr. signed with the Padres in order to be able to build around him.
That future won't include Scherzer, who pitched his last game in Nats uniform Thursday night in Philadelphia.
"It's just crazy, everything just happened," Scherzer said in his postgame Zoom press conference. "That's the thing about baseball: You can never script it out. You can think you have everything about baseball figured out, and then it just throws all these curveballs at you, figuratively and literally. You've just got to deal with it."
The Dodgers are trying to script another fairytale ending. But even in Hollywood, things go off-script. They still have to win, and they still have to contend with the Giants, Padres and whatever new additions they bring in Friday before the 4 p.m. ET deadline.