It’s always a gut-wrenching feeling for a team when they lose the World Series. It’s even more difficult when they get back there for the second consecutive year just to come up short. However, in 2018 it was a different path to the World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers, perhaps making it easier with how much they overcame.
The Dodgers started the season 16-26, dealing with injuries to Clayton Kershaw and Justin Turner along with poor performance to begin the season. They won Game 163 behind a stellar start from a rookie, climbing back to win their sixth consecutive division. We started to doubt Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger, thinking maybe they played way above their pay grade in 2017. Despite their struggles, the problem with that excuse was Max Muncy and Matt Kemp carried the load early on when nobody thought they would. Muncy was the Dodgers’ Triple-A first baseman in 2017, and Kemp returned to Los Angeles in the offseason as part of a salary dump.
Team president Andrew Friedman will be busy this offseason, with numerous needs to address including at catcher, starting pitching, the back of the bullpen, and second base. It appears the starting pitching market is the least attractive in free agency, and the one the Dodgers have been least connected to. Therefore, evaluating the trade market would be the best direction to go if they want to make a significant upgrade.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported earlier this offseason that the Dodgers and the Cleveland Indians discussed a trade for Corey Kluber, with outfielder Yasiel Puig as a name that has been mentioned. The Indians, who had a payroll of $136 million in 2018, are considering trading one of their top pitchers to address what would be financial issues in a few seasons, and it makes total sense for them to do so. The American League Central is the worst division, and they have had the best AL record since Terry Francona became the club’s manager. Even if they decided to trade Kluber, they’re still the frontrunners to win the division.
The Indians do have two other intriguing starters in Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer. Carrasco has two years of club control remaining, while Bauer is expected to see significant arbitration raises. Both would have an immediate impact on the Dodgers rotation, and they can choose who they want depending on which players they are willing to trade.
The Dodgers’ outfield logjam has been a topic of conversation for several years, and after coming up short two years in a row, there’s no time like the present for the club to use their depth for other needs.
Muncy played an important role last season, and while having his bat is needed in the lineup, a plan for one position would be the best route to take. David Freese can platoon with Muncy at first base, making Bellinger primarily a center fielder. This opens the second base job, and free agency offers several options, including DJ LeMahieu, Jonathan Schoop, and Josh Harrison, who are also options to hit at the top of the order.
In 2018, Bellinger had six defensive runs saved as a center fielder, which makes him above average, according to FanGraphs. There are four outfielders the Dodgers can dangle to the Indians as trade bait: Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Alex Verdugo, and Andrew Toles. In most trades we see, there’s a buyer and seller where the return are minor leaguers who will make an impact a few years from now as the main compensation. The Indians aren’t looking to take a step back, but rather be conscious of the reality of their situation in a small market. All those outfielders have big league experience and can immediately produce.
The Dodgers are a very analytically driven club, so their depth is valuable to them when it comes to matchups. (Of course, some people think the over-analyzing was a detriment, especially in October.) Kluber has been inconsistent in the postseason, but he is still an elite pitcher who can pitch 200 innings, strike out 200 batters, and have an ERA under 3.00. If the Dodgers decide that Puig plus a top prospect such as Yadier Alvarez is too much, they can turn their attention to Carrasco, who can slide behind Kershaw and Walker Buehler. Ross Stripling, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Alex Wood have all shown flashes, but only in short stints. It would help if they got more stability to take the ball every fifth day since no Dodger pitcher had more than 27 starts.
For those who think the Dodgers offense, which went cold in the World Series, is a concern, they can fill those needs in free agency. There are other trade candidates besides the Indians pitchers, such as Dan Straily. In free agency, Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel lead the class of starters, but the Dodgers have not been linked to either of them.
It’s never a bad thing to have too much pitching, and protection behind Kershaw and Buehler will only help the Dodgers over a 162-game span. The Indians need impact outfielders, while the Dodgers should upgrade their rotation. It’s something that has been rumored for weeks, and simply makes too much sense to resist.