Dodgers Trade for American League’s Best Starter*

Presumably, you’re aware that the Dodgers have been playing well, but, presumably, you’re aware that the Dodgers have been playing well without Clayton Kershaw. In a sense, that’s a good thing — it demonstrates that they’re strong even without their most valuable player. But then, nobody wants to be without Kershaw, and he doesn’t have a timetable to return from his back injury. He might not come back this year at all. The Dodgers have been plowing forward without their ace, and their ace is a big part of the equation.

The rumors were predictable. Big-budget operation, deep farm, rotation hole. The Dodgers got linked to Chris Archer, and the Dodgers got linked to Chris Sale. Observers wanted to see the Dodgers make a splash, because splashes are sexy, and restraint can be boring. In what’s at least their first trade Monday, the Dodgers didn’t make said splash. They didn’t give it up for a No. 1. Except, also, they did, in their own way. The Dodgers have acquired Rich Hill, and Hill has been statistically the best starter in his league.

There’s even more going on here. I’ll give you the full terms.

Dodgers get:

Athletics get:

The Dodgers are landing two free agents to be. The A’s supposedly engaged Hill and Reddick in extension talks, but those didn’t pan out. Reddick is important here because Andre Ethier still isn’t close to a return, and Yasiel Puig has been generally unimpressive. On the A’s side, this looks like a strong exchange, with Holmes being a quality prospect, Montas being a reliever as soon as next year, and Cotton being a starter as soon as this year. We’ll get to this other stuff, but first, I want you to understand what the Dodgers now have in Rich Hill. He’s an impact addition, as 36-year-olds go.

One of the first things you might hear about Hill is he’s presently sidelined. It’s true that he’s technically hurt, and it’s true that it might technically be considered an “arm problem,” but what Hill has been dealing with is a blister, and blisters don’t require surgery. He hasn’t made a real start since July 7, but this could even be spun into a good thing. Hill’s been throwing, but he’s had sort of a midseason break, which could be welcome considering last year he threw a combined 94 innings. Could be, Hill will come back rusty. Or, could be, Hill will come back re-charged. The Dodgers aren’t trading for Hill’s July; they’re trading for his August, September, and October.

And when he’s pitched, Hill’s been fantastic. I know that Chris Sale should be considered the better pitcher. I know there are other AL candidates, too. But I can share with you some facts. Among starting pitchers this season, only Kershaw has a lower ERA- than Hill. Only Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard, and Jose Fernandez have a lower FIP- than Hill. Only Kershaw and Jake Arrieta have a lower OPS allowed. There’s no arguing those facts, so even if you build in some whisper of decline moving forward, Hill has set for himself a high bar. Just because he has an improbable story doesn’t mean it’s improbable for him to stay good.

Hill could function as a front-of-the-rotation starter. He makes it easier to tolerate a reality in which Kershaw can’t come back, and if Kershaw can come back, well, Hill is right there as the No. 2 or the No. 3. The Dodgers still have so many starter candidates, but with all the youth and injury questions, they can’t take much of anything for granted. Kenta Maeda has been strong. Brandon McCarthy has been strong since he came back. Scott Kazmir has decent peripherals. On and on. When Alex Wood comes back, he’ll be a reliever. Maybe Brett Anderson will relieve. Maybe so many things. Hill is no lock for anything, but he’s a possibility with a big talent level.

Later on, the Dodgers could attempt to extend Hill, or they could say goodbye. They’re not locked in to anything for the future. I’m sure they’d be happy to be locked in to Chris Sale for the future, but Hill was a hell of a lot more acquirable. The pressing questions concern the next two or three months. So the Dodgers addressed the next two or three months.

Reddick is important, too. Like Hill, he’s a probable rental, but he’s a dependable left-handed bat for the Dodgers to fold in with what’s been an exhausting outfield mix. Rumors have swirled that getting Reddick makes Puig more available, and I’m sure those are true, but implicit in there is that Puig has been a relative disappointment. The Dodgers have grown tired of him, defensive performance be damned, and Reddick ought to hit. I saw a rumor late Sunday that the Dodgers were interested in Seth Smith. Over the past calendar year, Smith has posted a 114 wRC+. Over the same span of time, Reddick has posted a 114 wRC+, and he should be a little better in the other areas. Reddick might not be a true impact addition, but he’s steady, and he’ll make the Dodger lineup deeper. You might’ve heard a few things from time to time about the Dodgers and their depth.

Now then, as much as Hill and Reddick are good gets for LA, it’s not like they got them for cheap. What they did pull off: the Dodgers have gotten better without trading Julio Urias, Jose De Leon, Alex Verdugo, or Cody Bellinger. They remain in the system, available to help or available to trade. All that flexibility is still there, but all three players the Dodgers have given to the A’s could and should be big-leaguers. Two of them could arrive quickly.

Holmes is the highest-rated prospect. He’s a 20-year-old righty starter who was drafted in the first round in 2014. Baseball America just had him ranked at No. 60 in their midseason top 100, and MLB.com had him fifth in the system. Holmes has spent the year in the miserable Cal League, and he has an ERA a pinch over 4, but he’s also averaged about a strikeout an inning, and his ability to throw strikes has improved. The fastball works into the mid-90s and reports have been high on Holmes’ curveball, so while an offspeed pitch remains a work in progress, that’s not abnormal for someone his age. He’s at least a year off, but the season has been more good than bad.

Montas has been traded a few times, now, and even still, scouts aren’t certain on whether he’ll start or relieve. Rib problems have cost him a lot of his 2016, but better to have rib problems than elbow or shoulder problems. On that Baseball America list, Montas ranked at No. 82. MLB.com had him as eighth in the Dodgers’ system. Montas’ big selling point is the fastball he can carry up into the triple digits. He pairs that with a slider that’s good enough to belong to the same repertoire. Montas has spent limited time above Double-A and, obviously, relievers are less important than starters, but if Montas ends up working out of the bullpen, he could become an effective closer almost overnight. In his 15 big-league innings, he punched out 20 bats.

At last, there’s Cotton. Cotton has never been a highly-regarded prospect, and MLB.com put him 13th in the Dodgers’ system. If you’re familiar with his name, it’s because you’re either a Dodgers fan, or you’re a Carson Cistulli fan. Cotton has been flying under the radar, but the righty has one of the highest strikeout rates in the PCL. This year, he’s struck out 30% of opponents. Last year, he did the same thing. His walk rates have been neither low nor high, and while there have been some homers, this is the PCL we’re talking about. With so many younger pitchers, you typically see a fastball and a breaking ball. Cotton has a fastball and an excellent changeup. It’s the breaking ball that could use some work, but changeup pitchers tend to be underrated. Cotton could be a big-league starter soon, and with a better breaking ball, he could be a real good one.

The goal for the A’s was to get enough to justify not getting compensation picks back for Reddick and Hill. It’s safe to say they were successful. They just pried away from the Dodgers two top-100 prospects, and a third piece who might have the best chance of any of them of being a helpful long-term asset. The A’s always refuse the deep rebuild, and here there are two pieces coming back who could help real soon. And Holmes isn’t a teenager or anything. The A’s played this one well, and in the end, Rich Hill’s market wasn’t hurt too badly by the blister issue.

And on the other side, while the Dodgers gave up a significant sum, they didn’t subtract from the very top of their asset pool, and now, in Hill, they might well have one of the best starters in the game. Reddick is a legitimate everyday outfielder, and so while neither of these players would be so important were it not for all the injury problems, you can’t cry about that. The injuries happened and these are two strong solutions. The Dodgers look like a title contender even without Clayton Kershaw. And Kershaw could still come back.

We hoped you liked reading Dodgers Trade for American League’s Best Starter* by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Dominic S
Member
Dominic S

I think it’s a fine deal for the A’s. They are going nowhere. They had 2 rentals which they exchanged into 3 fine prospects. Makes sense for them.

For the Dodgers, it’s not a short term gamble I would make with their current team.

Is Rich Hill going to be healthy? Can you count on Rich Hill? Is his last 75 innings pitched a better indicator of his future performance, than say for instance the prior 9 years of his career? Did a 36 year old really turn into a great pitcher over one off season?

Even if Hill & Reddick play well, is it enough to win the division if Kershaw cannot come back? If Kershaw is done for the season, is it even worth giving up FV for extremely short term and marginal improvement PV?

This is a “go for it” deal, made by a team that is not in a very good position to “go for it” IMO.

jdbolick
Member

I think this deal indicates that they expect Kershaw back for the playoffs.

Joser
Member
Joser

They may “expect” it but they can’t “know” it. They’re gambling, and as you suggest this indicates they think the odds in their favor, but the dice could still roll badly for them.

Dolemite
Member
Dolemite

That is a truly asinine statement…. The MLB season is one long conditional probability chain…. to say anyone KNOWS anything is foolish at best. It is a calculated risk with very limited downside and fairly substantial upside.

Are you serious or trolling? I’m shocked to see such a Yahoo comment on Fangraphs….

Dominic S
Member
Dominic S

Substantial upside? How do you figure? 2 months of these two players to likely wind up in the same spot you’d be in if you didn’t acquire them at all (the Wild Card game). How much upside is that really? I could see the upside if you could for sure pitch Rich Hill in multiple playoff games (if he stays healthy – another question mark), but you are possibly at 45% chance of that. I certainly would not put the Dodgers at a greater than 50% of winning the division.

Reminds me of when the A’s acquired Shark and Lester and didn’t even make it out of the W/C game. They basically went all in that season on rentals, and got nothing out of it. And they were a much stronger team than the Dodgers at that point (although they gave up more as Addison Russell is likely better than 3 guys they just got).

The downside is that you gave up players that could either help you in the future, or you could trade for longer term assets. The upside is Rich Hill dominates and leads you to the World Series. The latter is far less likely to happen given the other things that need to happen to accomplish that.

Dolemite
Member
Dolemite

A) Fangraphs disagrees and currently places Dodges @ > 50% chance to win division
B) I mean substantial upside relative to what they gave up. No franchise changing players were let go and all present value was enhanced
C)A’s went all in by dealing Cespedes and Addison Russel…. That is a HUGE loss to present value (Cespedes) and a HUGE loss to future value (russell)…. those trades and what the dodgers did is an apples to steak comparison
D)Nothing is absolute…. I find it hard to argue against the fact that the Dodgers are better today than they were before this trade…. I feel that is a fact… 1 million times better and they need to start sizing their rings? no. better? yes. They gave up some live pieces certainly, but nothing that risks the long term health of the franchise.

Johnston
Member
Johnston

That stupid A’s trade is exactly what this trade reminds me of.

Travis L
Member
Member
Travis L

FG statistical odds, which I give a heck of a lot more weight to than your opinion, puts it at about 56% that the Dodgers take the division.

Dolemite
Member
Dolemite

Per Fangraphs Odds, Dodgers have a 90% chance to make the playoffs.
Kazmir has durability questions, McCarthy has durability questions, Kershaw is currently living with a durability question of an undetermined timeline….

Is Hill Cy Freekin Young Reincarnate? no…
Is he a good combo of hedge, upside play, valuable and cheap… absolutely
Also Reddick is a SOLID player that immediately adds value.

I think this is a classic trade deadline win win trade where As get future value and dodgers get present value but neither had to give up any Dansby Swansons or other bluechip, franchise changing players to get it done

Dominic S
Member
Dominic S

The Dodgers don’t win anything if they don’t make at least the divisional round of the playoffs. And the Dodgers do not have a 90% chance of that. Their chances of making the Wild Card game maybe went up a little with this trade, but not a huge difference. I wouldn’t make a “win now” trade if my likely landing spot with or without a trade was a Wild Card play in game.

Dolemite
Member
Dolemite

http://www.fangraphs.com/coolgraphs.aspx?lg=NL&div=W&stat=poff&year=2016

The dodgers have a 91.5% chance of reaching the divisional round per Fangraphs…..

Dominic S
Member
Dominic S

You’re reading the graph wrong. That just means “make the playoffs”. It does not mean getting into the divisional round.

If you look at the other graphs, it gives the Dodgers a 58.7% chance of winning the NL West. It gives them a 32.5% chance of making the Wild Card game.

They don’t have a 91% chance of either winning the division or winning the W/C game. If that were the case, that would mean they have a 100% chance of winning the W/C game if they don’t win the division. And even for baseball, the odds of winning one game are at best 60% edge.

Dolemite
Member
Dolemite

OK my mistake. I will admit when I am wrong.
However, they have a 58.7% chance of winning division and a 32.5% chance of making wild card….
assume if they make the wild card, they are 50% chance to win it…. that makes the conditional probability at 16.25% chance to get to divisional round via wild card….

58.7+16.25= 75% chance to make the divisional round…. certainly not as good as the 91% I erroneously stated, but still not too shabby.

Jason B
Member
Member
Jason B

“I think it’s a fine deal for the A’s. They are going nowhere. They had 2 rentals which they exchanged into 3 fine prospects. Makes sense for them.

For the Dodgers, it’s not a short term gamble I would make with their current team.”

I half-agree with Dominic. I think it’s a fine return for the A’s, and also a decent move for the Dodgers also…they had to give up value to get some value and in the process helped a team that’s already ~90% to reach the playoffs in two areas of need (maybe their two greatest). Rich Hill’s health is and always has been a question mark, just as Kershaw’s is suddenly is a question mark for the rest of the season, but when either is healthy they provide excellent production. They weren’t getting top-notch production with no question marks without raiding the farm system (if such a starter was even available), so Hill was likely the next best option given that.

Doug Lampert
Member
Member
Doug Lampert

His career FIP- and ERA- are both under 100. He’s run 2.7 WAR/160 innings over his career, so you’re not really betting on him being all that much better than Rich Hill’s career numbers. When healthy he can pitch. But you are betting on him being healthier than he’s been since 2007 or so.

Dominic Snyder
Member
Dominic Snyder

Just to be clear, I did not make this comment.