Dodgers get even bet­ter with Darvish

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DAVE SHEININ

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.

Yu Darvish

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