Wise in­vest­ments give Dodgers trad­ing chips

Spend­ing on in­ter­na­tional play­ers plays a cru­cial role in set­ting up moves for the club.


The three o’clock hour was un­der­way, and so were the con­fer­ence calls with the gen­eral man­agers. The trade dead­line had passed a cou­ple hours ear­lier, and now was the time for the Dodgers and An­gels to ex­plain their moves.

At 3:15, Farhan Zaidi talked about the Dodgers’ trade for Yu Darvish.

At 3:30, Billy Ep­pler talked about the An­gels’ trade for Luis Madero.

This is not a knock on Ep­pler. That proverb about mak­ing lemon­ade when life gives you lemons? Ep­pler, in his sec­ond sea­son as An­gels gen­eral man­ager, does not even have the lemons.

At Mon­day’s dead­line, he traded re­liever David Her­nan­dez to the Ari­zona Di­a­mond­backs for Madero. Ep­pler thus flipped a player he bought from the At­lanta Braves three months ago into a pitcher not ranked among the Di­a­mond­backs’ top 66 mi­nor lea­guers by Base­ball Amer­ica.

There are no prospect la­bels at that level. The best the An­gels can say is that they have one more live arm than they did last off­sea­son.

The Dodgers stunned the base­ball world Mon­day with their trade for Darvish, ac­quir­ing what they be­lieved to be the best start­ing pitcher avail­able with­out sur­ren­der­ing ei­ther of their two elite prospects. How they did it speaks to the gap­ing tal­ent dis­crep­ancy be­tween the two South­land teams.

The Frank McCourt years are fad­ing into the his­tory books now, but re­mem­ber this: The mil­lions that McCourt and his exwife Jamie drained from the Dodgers trea­sury for pri­vate jets and side-by-side man­sions and the deep thoughts of a Rus­sian physi­cist and healer could have been used to buy tal­ent for the base­ball team.

In 2008, ac­cord­ing to Base­ball Amer­ica, ma­jor league clubs com­bined to sign 115 in­ter­na­tional am­a­teurs for bonuses of more than $100,000 each. The Dodgers did not sign one.

The team that had blazed trails in Asia and Latin Amer­ica had sim­ply aban­doned them. Ri­val teams were only too happy that the fa­mous Dodgers, the team to which so many in­ter­na­tional play­ers as­pired, the one that opened the first academy in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic, had taken their check­book and gone home.

In 2012, when McCourt sold the Dodgers to Guggen­heim Base­ball out of bank­ruptcy court, the new own­ers made head­lines about money: a quar­ter­bil­lion dol­lars to ac­quire Adrian Gon­za­lez and three other play­ers in a trade, another third of a bil­lion in com­mit­ments to Clayton Ker­shaw and Zack Greinke.

No one lis­tened, but the own­ers in­sisted those were short-term moves. The long-term strat­egy was to re­build the Dodgers’ storied player pipe­line, and money flowed into scout­ing and player devel­op­ment.

In 2015, the Dodgers signed Cuban in­fielder Hec­tor Oliv­era for a $28mil­lion bonus, then traded him to At­lanta two months later. The re­turn pack­age in­cluded pitcher Alex Wood, an All-Star this sea­son, and in­field prospect Jose Per­aza, later traded to the Cincin­nati Reds in a six­player deal that brought pitch­ing prospect Frankie Mon­tas to Los An­ge­les. The Dodgers last sum­mer flipped Mon­tas for pitcher Rich Hill.

The Oliv­era in­vest­ment, then, fa­cil­i­tated the ar­rival of two of the three starters ex­pected to fol­low Ker­shaw in the Oc­to­ber ro­ta­tion. To get Darvish, the Dodgers gave up three prospects, one of whom, in­fielder Bren­don Davis, was a fifth-round draft pick signed for $600,000 above the bonus the league rec­om­mended for his slot.

The Dodgers also picked up two re­liev­ers Mon­day. For Tony Wat­son, they gave up two teenagers signed from the Do­mini­can Repub­lic. For Tony Cin­grani, they swapped a catcher they signed from Cu­ra­cao.

“The kind of scout­ing and player devel­op­ment in­fra­struc­ture you have can pay off in terms of guys ris­ing to the big leagues and im­pact­ing your team, or some­times be­ing able to make trades like this,” gen­eral man­ager Farhan Zaidi said. “It’s cer­tainly a credit to our scout­ing and player devel­op­ment staffs for giv­ing us the play­ers and prospect cap­i­tal we needed to pull off these deals to­day.”

The Dodgers’ farm sys­tem was not dec­i­mated by trad­ing six mi­nor lea­guers Mon­day. It was hardly dented, to be sure, thanks to the re­sources poured into the sys­tem by the team’s own­ers.

The An­gels drained their in­ter­na­tional bud­get two years ago on one player, in­fielder Roberto Bal­do­quin. He’s 23, and the An­gels had to de­mote him to the Mid­west League so he could hit .250.

The Dodgers have qual­ity and quan­tity in their mi­nor league sys­tem. The An­gels have nei­ther.

They’re try­ing, but Madero is in his fourth year of pro ball. He has yet to ad­vance to Class A. There might be no bet­ter way to prove the maxim that base­ball is not a one-man sport than to have the best player in base­ball on your team and have to talk up Luis Madero at the trade dead­line.

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