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.
- Rich Hill
- Josh Reddick
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.
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.