Dodgers get even better with Darvish
The Los Angeles Dodgers are 43 games above .500, 14 games ahead of their closest pursuer in Major League Baseball’s loaded National League West and on pace for a staggering 114 wins.
They could go 26-31 from here and still win 100. They are loaded with star veterans, precocious youngsters and more organizational depth (and payroll) than any team in the majors. As constructed, leading up to 4 o’clock on Monday afternoon, they were already darn near perfect.
And then, with minutes to spare ahead of the MLB non-waiver trade deadline, the Dodgers got even better and deeper, making a blockbuster trade for Texas Rangers righthander Yu Darvish, arguably the top starting pitcher available on the trade market, in exchange for three minor leaguers. It was a bold move for a team all but assured of heading into October with the NL’s best record. And it underscored one reality: If the Dodgers weren’t already the team to beat in the 2017 postseason, they are now.
The 30-year-old Darvish, a fourtime all-star and the 2013 American League Cy Young runner-up, was one of two top starting pitchers to change teams Monday, the deadline for teams to make unrestricted trades. The New York Yankees, having surged past Boston in the AL East, landed righthander Sonny Gray from the Oakland A’s in exchange for three top prospects. The Yankees’ cost in prospects for Gray exceeded in quality what the Dodgers gave up for Darvish because Gray, 27, is under club control through 2019 while Darvish, as a pending free agent, is a strict rental.
Most of the other deals that came down Monday involved contenders bolstering their bullpens,
with the Washington Nationals (Minnesota’s Brandon Kintzler), Chicago Cubs (Detroit’s Justin Wilson), Cleveland Indians (Toronto’s Joe Smith), Milwaukee Brewers (Texas’s Jeremy Jeffress), Arizona Diamondbacks (Anaheim’s David Hernandez), Houston Astros (Toronto’s Francisco Liriano) and Boston Red Sox (the Mets’ Addison Reed) all landing significant bullpen arms ahead of the deadline. Though none are expected to be pure closers for their new teams, all will provide additional late-inning options as October approaches.
The Dodgers, too, made a pair of separate trades for relievers, acquiring lefties Tony Watson from Pittsburgh and Tony Cingriani from Cincinnati. All told, between Darvish and the two relievers, the Dodgers parted with six younger players, including infielder Willie Calhoun, the organization’s thirdrated prospect in Baseball America’s midseason rankings. The Dodgers did, however, manage to hold onto their two best prospects, pitcher Walker Buehler and outfielder Alex Verdugo.
Although the Dodgers had shown interest in Darvish all summer, they might not have been motivated to meet the Rangers’ steep price were it not for the back injury suffered two weeks ago by ace Clayton Kershaw, which interrupted another Cy Young-caliber season by the star left-hander and is expected to keep him out for at least another month and possibly longer.
With Kershaw’s status uncertain, the Dodgers saw Darvish as somewhere between a luxury and a necessity. In a best-case scenario, with Kershaw healthy for the postseason, Darvish could be their Game 2 starter, ahead of Rich Hill and Alex Wood, and in a worst-case scenario — meaning Kershaw doesn’t make it back to full health — he could serve as a capable replacement to start Game 1. Hill was a trade-deadline acquisition by the Dodgers in 2016, Wood in ’15.
The Yankees’ trade for Gray, meantime, was the second major trade pulled off by General Manager Brian Cashman this month, following the one two weeks ago that brought infielder Todd Frazier and relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle — as the Yankees, following a 12-month “transitional” period of shedding payroll and cultivating youth, have shifted back into go-for-it mode. Since the all-star break, the Yankees are 11-6 and have gone from 3½ games behind the Red Sox to a half-game ahead, entering Monday.
“Brian has turned them into the Golden State Warriors,” Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski said of the Yankees, playfully turning around a comment Cashman had made about the Red Sox during December’s winter meetings.
It was a year ago the Yankees turned relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman into a haul of top prospects at the trade deadline, transforming their sagging farm system and handing the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs, respectively, a pair of bullpen arms that those teams rode all the way to the World Series. More than ever, teams had begun to view a bullpen full of overpowering arms as the ultimate card to play in October.