Need Pitching Help? The Dodgers Dial 8-7-7-GLAS-NOW

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Over the weekend, the Dodgers hit the motherlode, signing Shohei Ohtani to a landmark 10-year contract. Turns out, though, MLB didn’t award them the 2024 World Series just for doing that. There’s still baseball to be played, and while the Dodgers certainly aren’t short on tremendous hitters, they do need some serious help on the pitching side. Enter the Rays:

I’m not sure that I’m making a strong enough statement. The Dodgers need help on the pitching side, and they need it badly. Before this trade, their depth chart looked like this:

2024 Dodgers Rotation (pre-Glasnow)
Pitcher 2023 IP (all levels) 2023 ERA (MLB) 2024 Proj ERA
Walker Buehler N/A N/A 4.34
Bobby Miller 138.2 3.76 4.01
Ryan Pepiot 64.2 2.14 4.77
Ryan Yarbrough 89.2 4.52 4.79
Emmet Sheehan 123.1 4.92 4.36

That’s dire. It’s a mixture of injury risk, light workloads, unproven arms, and pitchers who check multiple of those boxes at once. Ohtani obviously won’t pitch next year. Walker Buehler hasn’t pitched since June 2022, looked bad in that 2022 season, and is their nominal ace. Bobby Miller is the only other guy the team seems to trust, and they’ll need plenty of volume from him, but he made 26 starts last year to get to his 138.2 innings, so it’s not like there’s a ton more in the tank. If the Dodgers’ lineup is Boardwalk and Park Place, their rotation looks more like Mediterranean and Baltic Avenues.

Tyler Glasnow just might be the best pitcher available in trade this offseason, depending on whether the Brewers decide to move Corbin Burnes. Like most of the Dodger rotation, he’s available less frequently than you’d like. When he does take the mound, though, he’s been absolutely lights out. In his five full seasons with the Rays (he joined them at the deadline in 2018), he’s only made 60 starts – but he’s compiled a 3.03 ERA and 2.89 FIP in those starts. He does everything well, racking up huge strikeout rates, limiting walks, and keeping the ball in the ballpark. On a per-inning basis, he’s one of the best pitchers in the majors.

I don’t see much chance of the Dodgers getting more out of Glasnow, but why would they need to? He slots in alongside Buehler to form a fearsome top duo. Or if Buehler is a diminished version of himself next year, Glasnow fits in ahead of Miller as a capable one-two punch. Realistically, I’m talking about the playoff rotation rather than the regular-season unit. With their lineup and depth, they could probably win 95 games with a Triple-A caliber rotation. But they’re rightly focused on the postseason, where a few aces at the top of your rotation can carry outsized import.

To that end, they’ll surely be focused on making sure he’s available in October, even if it means extra rest in the regular season. A day here and a day there doesn’t mean Glasnow can’t get hurt, but keeping his total innings down makes good sense to me. Glasnow getting 140 innings instead of 165 almost certainly won’t cost the Dodgers the division – but an injury might stack the deck against them come October.

Would an innings-eating monster with the same talent level fit the team better? I mean, sure, but this hypothetical player would probably suit every team better. If the Dodgers had to choose between Glasnow’s level of excellence over a limited number of starts and a worse pitcher who would give them 200 innings guaranteed, I’d pick Glasnow. He’s just a better fit for what they need out of their pitchers – the capability to start, and succeed in, big games in the postseason.

Availability risk is one of two downsides that comes with trading for Glasnow. The other is that he was set to reach free agency after the 2024 season (the second year of a two-year extension he signed in August 2022 as he was returning from Tommy John), at which point he’d surely decline a qualifying offer. That would mean that the Dodgers would only get one bite at the playoff apple with Glasnow – so they came up with a solution. Trading for a player contingent on a contract extension isn’t a common move, but it makes perfect sense here. LA has a lot of payroll flexibility, with only Ohtani, Mookie Betts, and Freddie Freeman on the books beyond 2025. They have a huge need for pitching. They’ll clearly look to sign a stud pitcher or two in free agency – why not just extend Glasnow now and get a head start on everything?

Of course, it takes two to tango, but the two sides are finalizing an extension Friday morning, as Jeff Passan first reported. The deal is for five years and $135 million, but it replaces 2024’s $25 million deal, so it’s four years and $110 million in new money and team control. The last year is actually a two-way option; after 2027, the Dodgers have a $30 million team option. If they don’t exercise it, Glasnow has a $20 million player option of his own. It seems likely to me that one of those two will be exercised; in my mind, it’s a five-year, $135 million deal with a $10 million kicker if he’s pitching well in year four. The circumstances where neither side exercises their option just feel much less likely than one side or the other being an obvious yes. ZiPS thinks that it’s far more likely that Glasnow exercises his player option, because the model doesn’t believe in his innings totals:

ZiPS Projection – Tyler Glasnow
2024 10 5 3.43 3.51 22 22 118.0 97 45 16 37 148 124 2.5
2025 9 5 3.59 3.62 22 22 115.3 97 46 16 36 139 118 2.3
2026 10 5 3.74 3.76 23 23 122.7 106 51 18 39 143 113 2.2
2027 10 6 3.84 3.90 23 23 124.3 112 53 19 39 140 111 2.1
2028 9 6 4.04 4.10 22 22 120.3 112 54 19 38 131 105 1.8

Those are excellent per-inning stats, but pretty bad availability, and you can see why given his career up to this point. But if the Dodgers don’t care about his availability during the regular season, or think that he’ll be healthier than that, things improve markedly. Here’s what his projecdtion looks like if you tell ZiPS to give him a full complement of starts in 2024:

ZiPS Projection – Tyler Glasnow (Healthy 2024)
2024 14 7 3.44 3.51 32 32 172.7 141 66 24 54 215 123 3.6
2025 14 7 3.55 3.59 31 31 165.0 139 65 23 51 200 120 3.3
2026 13 7 3.66 3.71 30 30 159.7 139 65 23 48 187 116 3.0
2027 12 7 3.80 3.85 29 29 149.3 135 63 22 45 169 112 2.6
2028 11 7 3.98 4.04 28 28 144.7 136 64 23 44 157 107 2.2

That would be quite the run of health for Glasnow, and even then, ZiPS pegs the extension at $142 for the six years. The Dodgers paying a slight premium makes sense to me, though: most extensions involve the player giving up a bit of money for certainty, but in this case the team was the one looking for roster certainty. This deal feels more like a free agency contract than an extension, and with good reason; it’s a player making a long commitment to a team he’s never played for. The Dodgers couldn’t afford to play hardball and see what Glasnow wanted after he’d had two weeks to think about all that money; they had to make the deal in a few days. He’s also at his most valuable on a team that can rest him during the regular season. It feels like a reasonable deal for everyone involved; why be the Dodgers if you can’t make a slight “overpay” every once in a while to shore up weaknesses?

We’ll get to Manuel Margot, the rest of the Dodgers’ return in this trade, at the end, but I think that Ryan Pepiot and Jonny Deluca are both pretty interesting from Tampa Bay’s perspective. The Rays clearly decided they couldn’t afford to hold onto Glasnow, even if they made public gesticulations to suggest they could in an attempt to retain at least an iota of leverage in trade talks. That’s just not how they operate, though. Core players rarely remain on the team through free agency. They either sign an early-career extension or leave in trade, in exchange for more players who might one day keep the perpetual motion machine churning.

This costs them a little bit in every season – they don’t get to employ the Tyler Glasnows of the world as much as they might prefer to, because they need to keep an eye to the future. There’s no “going all-in” in Tampa Bay, no signing a big free agent to a short-term deal because the team needs that little bit extra. In exchange, though, they get guys like Pepiot and Deluca, and the truth is that over a 162 game season the kind of depth they acquire does a good job of winning games at a similar clip to the Dodgers.

Pepiot is not as good of a pitcher as Glasnow right now, and I don’t think I’m breaking anyone’s brains by saying that. He’s spent the last two years bouncing between the rotation, the bullpen, and the injured list for the Dodgers, putting up good run prevention numbers but indifferent peripherals in a limited sample. If he can be a mid-rotation starter for the next five years – he’s due to reach free agency after the 2028 season – the Rays will be quite happy with their return for Glasnow even disregarding Deluca. So the question is: Is Pepiot a starter?

Before this year, I would have said no. One issue dogged him throughout the minors: He doesn’t have a reliable third pitch. His fastball is an average offering, 93-95 mph with solid vertical movement. His changeup is a beauty, fading and dipping hard after looking just like a heater out of his hand. But until 2023, that was more or less it. That’s a tough way to make a living as a starter; by the third time a same-handed batter sees you try to strike him out with a changeup, you might have a rough go of things.

Pepiot’s other biggest issue might be correlated: He doesn’t have great command. His walk rate have always been on the hold-your-breath side of acceptable, even in the minors, where batters are far more prone to chase middling pitches. A third pitch mostly eluded him, and his command sometimes left him down in counts, at which point you don’t want to be throwing only a changeup and a 94 mph fastball. If his pitch mix as of 2022 was going to be his pitch mix forever, I’d call him a reliever and be done with it.

In 2023, though, Pepiot debuted a new pitch. Maybe that’s not technically new – Pitch Info calls it a cutter and thinks he threw more in 2022 than 2023, while Statcast calls it a slider but thinks the same about its frequency. What changed isn’t the name of the pitch, but the shape. He added 2.5 mph of velocity and changed the shape significantly, turning it from a pitch that seemed stuck awkwardly between sweeper and gyro slider into more of a hard cutter, with 3.6 inches of vertical movement to go along with 3.4 inches of glove-side break.

Our pitching models are divided on whether this is a good breaking ball or not. Stuff+ loves it, considering it Pepiot’s best pitch (models have a hell of a time with changeups, so don’t read too much into that). PitchingBot thinks it’s abysmal, his worst pitch by a mile. The results were strange – it never missed bats, but it induced pop-ups at a ludicrous rate and suppressed BABIP substantially. If that’s real – it looked real in a small sample, but it’s a noisy statistic to be sure – it gives Pepiot a solution to his previous problems. Behind in the count? Throw the cutter and dare opposing hitters to swing. It’s not like they do much with it anyway, on average.

In addition, Pepiot’s command looked much sharper in 2023. You can see that clearly from his walk rate – a career-low 3.1% – but it’s also evident just from watching him pitch. He attacked the zone more, drew more chases when he was ahead in the count, and generally kept himself away from situations where he was picking between a crushable fastball and a secondary pitch that might lead to a walk.

The Dodgers and Rays are both excellent at coaxing the most out of their pitchers, so I don’t think that Pepiot is automatically going to improve because he’s traded to Tampa Bay or anything, but I do like his chances of using his newfound pitch mix to provide back-of-rotation value or better. That will suit the Rays just fine, because they were forced into some wild contortions to make their rotation work last year – using Zack Littell as a starter and trading for Aaron Civale, to name two examples. They’re already counting on Shane Baz next year, and their farm system is bat-heavy but light on arms. Cost-controlled starting makes the team tick, and this feels like a reasonable way to acquire more, even if it makes their rotation worse in 2024.

Deluca isn’t the same player as Pepiot by any means, but he’s another Rays specialty, an outfielder who doesn’t look like an all-world prospect but who will nonetheless provide solid production for years. He tore through the minors in 2022, did it again in 2023, then made a major league cameo at the end of the season, and he makes sense as a platoon outfield option for them right away.

If you know one tidbit about Deluca, it’s probably that he converted away from switch hitting after being drafted. If you know two things, the second is probably that he ran track and can still absolutely fly. Statcast clocked his sprint speed at 29.7 ft/sec on average, an outrageous clip, and he’s played all across the outfield while logging the bulk of his time in center.

Offensively, his best skill is bat control. In the minors, he displayed roughly average pitch recognition, but he ran enviable strikeout rates thanks to his ability to square up tough pitches. You might look at his gaudy power statistics – an aggregate .277 ISO across 2022 and 2023 is nothing to sneeze at – and think he’s a big bopper. That’s not the case, though; he has roughly average raw power, and even in games, he wasn’t posting huge exit velocities.

How’d he get to all that power, then? His speed certainly helps; he had 50 doubles and triples as compared to 42 homers over that stretch. More importantly, his excellent feel for contact helped him put a ton of pitches in the air, particularly when he hit the ball hard, which meant he was able to do a lot of damage without overwhelming force. If you think of a store brand version of Betts, you won’t be too far off in the power department, though seriously, emphasis on “store brand.”

Add all of that up, and you get a limited but still useful player. I don’t think he’s going to be an MVP candidate anytime soon, but a plus outfield defender with a few offensive tools is probably a roughly average player overall. If the Rays can help him harness that bat control to flip some fly balls over the left field fence, he might repeat some of his surprising minor league home run totals. And finally, they have a clear need for a righty outfielder who can platoon with Josh Lowe; Margot, who previously filled that role, is on his way to the Dodgers.

As best as I can tell, this is just a way to make the rosters and money work while the Rays replace him with a similar but younger player. Margot has a lot in common with Deluca; he’s a right-handed hitter who can play any outfield position, but whose bat is hardly unstoppable. He has a career 90 wRC+, and that’s despite the Rays using him as a platoon bat as much as possible and trying to optimize his matchups. He doesn’t strike out much, doesn’t walk much, and doesn’t hit for much power; it’s a perfectly fine profile, but I don’t think there’s a lot of daylight between him and Deluca in terms of expected 2024 performance.

The big upside to dealing Margot, from Tampa Bay’s perspective, is that he’s due $12 million this year ($10 million plus a $2 million buyout on a mutual option) before hitting free agency. Deluca won’t hit free agency for another six years, so even if he’s not quite as good as Margot, the savings will allow them to grab help elsewhere. The Rays sent the Dodgers $4 million as part of the deal, but I’m not sure whether that’s offsetting Margot or Glasnow, and it doesn’t really matter. The point is that it seems clear to me that Tampa Bay wanted Deluca in the deal, which made Margot superfluous, so they sent him to the Dodgers in the bargain.

I probably say that deals are win-win too much. So I’ll hedge slightly this time, and say that I like this trade more for the Rays than I do for the Dodgers, but with caveats. First, from the Rays’ perspective, living in a way where you always deal your stars if they won’t sign a long-term extension might not be fun, but it’s hardly a new phenomenon. This is just how they operate; Glasnow is part of the Delmon Young trade tree, which goes back to 2007. The Rays just keep flipping, keep pushing value forward, and I think that both Pepiot and Deluca are going to be useful parts of their team for years to come. Their whole model works because they’re able to make deals like these.

To be clear, the Dodgers have made themselves better in 2024 by making this trade. They also project to spend enough money in free agency and bring in enough outside pitching that Pepiot was unlikely to be an essential part of their rotation. Glasnow is a lot better than that when healthy, and even if you prorate his innings down, the playoff edge is really important when you have goals like the Dodgers. Likewise, Deluca probably wasn’t going to have an everyday role on a team that keeps churning through stars and developing good hitters.

But while these guys were surplus to the Dodgers, they’re both valuable players, the kind that every team in baseball could use. I think they could have signed a great pitcher in free agency, then traded Pepiot and Deluca for a meaningful return. It’s not like they’re getting a huge bargain on the Glasnow deal; they’re paying market rates for an elite pitcher, which is something teams do every year in free agency. It’s not so much that the Dodgers traded these guys; it’s that they traded them for a pitcher whose results look a lot like Blake Snell’s, gave him a contract that looks a lot like projections of what Snell will get. I would have preferred to dip into free agency and keep my prospect powder dry for future acquisitions.

Getting Margot back in the deal is the real clincher; it would have made a lot of sense to play Deluca in that role, because they’re strikingly similar players. If the Dodgers want Margot, they probably also would’ve been happy running Deluca out as a short-side platoon outfielder who can handle center. Now they’re paying more while getting him for less time.

Maybe I’m missing something here. Two 45 prospects – and maybe that’s kind to Deluca, Eric’s latest report has a 40 on him – for Tyler Glasnow sounds like a big win. But for a guy who would have hit free agency after this season if not for the extension, and for two guys who fit the Rays’ mold so perfectly? I’m surprised the Dodgers couldn’t pry a bit more value free from Tampa Bay in the exchange.

The most likely answer to this puzzle is that the Dodgers want to do both. Sure, if it’s Glasnow or Snell, I’d probably try to hoard my prospects and buy with money, but what about Glasnow and Snell? What about Glasnow and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, or Shota Imanaga, or whoever your heart desires? If this is the last of their moves, I don’t love it. But if they’re getting in front of a roster crunch by trading their surplus to a team that feasts on roster crunches, with a plan to double up on pitching in the coming month, I like it a lot more. Either way, one thing’s for sure: this was a very Rays trade, and a very Dodgers trade, too.

Note: This article was updated to reflect the reported terms of Glasnow’s contract extension.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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4 months ago

this is your best headline work since That Name Again Is Brandon Lowe

4 months ago
Reply to  hscer

Had to comment just for the headline. Well played

David Klein
4 months ago
Reply to  hscer

I liked the one when the Yankees traded for Vernon Wells and the headline was the Yankees trade for Vernon Wells on purpose!

4 months ago
Reply to  David Klein