Eight days out from the trade deadline, Dodgers officials made two strong indications Monday.
One, they will almost certainly acquire players capable of “raising the floor” for their current roster, as manager Dave Roberts described it, likely in the form of a depth rotation piece, bullpen option or right-handed platoon bat.
Two, they will be “aggressive” in pursuit of a bigger splash, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said — though the possibility of such a deal materializing seemingly remains uncertain at best.
“To the extent that we can continue to reinforce or add to this nucleus,” Friedman said in a dugout interview prior to the Dodgers series-opener against the Toronto Blue Jays, “we’re gonna look to do that and be aggressive as we can.”
Aggressiveness, of course, is a subjective term, particularly in a market that has yet to be defined.
As it stands now, there figures to be more buyers than sellers come the Aug. 1 deadline. That could mean inflated prices at the top of the market. And, for all the big moves the Dodgers have swung in the past, the ever-present chance they could balk at other teams’ requests will loom in the background.
“I think there’s more teams on the fence right now than I can remember, eight days out,” Friedman said. “Obviously, we’re having a lot of different conversations with teams.”
For starting pitchers — the Dodgers’ clearest deadline need — there are two top tiers of targets emerging:
Established frontline starters that are unlikely to be dealt (or, at least, who would demand a considerable cost) and solid veterans having resurgent years (most of whom are in the final years of their contracts and all but certain to be moved).
The biggest names in the latter group are Marcus Stroman of the Chicago Cubs (10-7, 3.09 ERA), Eduardo Rodriguez of the Detroit Tigers (6-5, 2.69 ERA) and Lucas Giolito of the Chicago White Sox (6-6, 3.79 ERA).
They would all be quality additions. They would bolster a rotation currently expected to be led by Julio Urías, Tony Gonsolin and Clayton Kershaw (once he gets healthy). But whether they move the needle enough to justify the cost, especially one that could rise amid a sea of other potential suitors, remains to be seen.
As for the more bona fide aces, such as Blake Snell of the San Diego Padres or Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander of the New York Mets, striking a deal would be exceedingly challenging, if those players even end up becoming available in the first place.
“I expect a frenetic pace in the last few days [before the deadline],” Friedman said. “So we’re trying to get as organized and ready for that as we can.”
If there is an impact arm that surfaces as a realistic option, “we will be way more aggressive in terms of the package being put together,” Friedman said.
In the meantime, there are other names the Dodgers are evaluating that fit more in the “floor-raiser” category.
Despite his poor numbers on the year, Chicago White Sox right-hander Lance Lynn (6-9, 6.18 ERA) has generated buzz around the industry as a potentially undervalued commodity, thanks to a high strikeout rate, unusually poor home run to fly ball ratio, and extreme splits against right-handed and left-handed hitters.
St. Louis Cardinals starters Jordan Montgomery (6-8, 3.37 ERA) and Jack Flaherty (7-6, 4.39 ERA) are other targets to watch, shaping up as similar potential value additions who could round out a rotation.
“For non-impact guys, obviously we’ll be more price sensitive,” Friedman said. “But those guys can fit in certain ways, as well. So I think it’s just continuing to have different conversations, understand the market and how it’s evolving and be prepared.”
One thing both Friedman and Roberts felt confident in: The likelihood of the Dodgers adding at least one rotation arm prior to the deadline.
“I’d be surprised [if we didn’t],” Roberts said.
“I don’t think it’s likely that there wouldn’t be [such an addition],” Friedman added, despite noting the difficulty of predicting any one deal a week out.
The Dodgers’ other needs have more obvious answers.
They’ve had success adding relievers at the deadline before, and could look for similar acquisitions in veterans such as Jordan Hicks of St. Louis, Scott Barlow of the Kansas City Royals or Joe Kelly and Keynan Middleton of the White Sox.
The list of right-handed bats on the trading block continues to grow, from Mark Canha and Tommy Pham of the New York Mets, to even ex-Dodger and current Boston Red Sox utility man Kiké Hernandez, who could give the club another option defensively in center field, as well.
“If we make our offense stronger, then that takes a little more pressure off our pitching,” Friedman said. “So we’re open to what improvements look like. And we’ll let the market dictate what that is.”
Given Austin Barnes’ woeful offensive numbers this year, Friedman said the catching market is another area the Dodgers will explore — though finding a clear upgrade could be difficult, with the club’s faith in Barnes’ game-calling ability remaining steady.
“We’ve all lived what Austin Barnes can do,” Friedman said. “Four months ago in the World Baseball Classic, he was really good. It’s not like drawing back to years ago. With that, and I know nobody feels it more than Austin does, it’s getting him to exhale and just go out and play the game like he can. Obviously, it’s an area that we have to evaluate.”
Friedman acknowledged this year’s Dodgers shopping list is longer than usual, and that deadline prices are “going to be more than what our rational brain would say makes sense.”
“But,” he added, “we’ve made a number of deadline deals. And we’re pretty good at suspending the rational thought for that moment in time. So we’ll continue to operate that way.”
If that means trading away top prospects for players the club feels can make sizable contributions, so be it, Friedman said.
“We’re expecting that if we’re able to make trades, we’re trading away some really good young parts,” he said.
That, however, remains a very big if.
And a week away from the deadline, it remains possible the Dodgers make only marginal upgrades, preserve the bulk of their farm system, and try to make a World Series run around the core they already have.
“We feel really good about the group we have in place,” Friedman said. “That said, our mindset is to be aggressive around this time of year, to try to line up on ways that we can get better and improve our championship odds.”