Just over 24 hours from the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Los Angeles Dodgers figure to be one of the more active teams. The club is believed to be confident in their ability to trade for an ace-caliber starting pitcher, but reportedly are focused on addressing the bullpen.
The Dodgers’ search for a reliever is on a left-hander to pair with Kenley Jansen for late-game situations. Los Angeles has been casually linked to lesser arms such as New York Mets setup man Addison Reed and the Toronto Blue Jays’ Francisco Liriano, but their attention appears to be on bigger names.
Among some options the Dodgers reportedly are considering are the Baltimore Orioles’ Zach Britton, Detroit Tigers closer Justin Wilson and the San Diego Padres’ Brad Hand.
Britton, a free agent at the end of 2018, is by far the most accomplished reliever being shopped. But there are plenty of red flags that may prevent the Dodgers from seriously pursuing him.
The 29-year-old, when healthy, is among baseball’s best closers. From 2015-16, Britton posted the lowest ERA among qualified relievers (1.22), with 83 saves and ranked fifth in WAR at 4.6 (FanGraphs) — right behind Jansen’s 4.9 mark.
Unfortunately for Britton, his numbers have taken a step back this season because of a lingering forearm strain that landed him on the disabled list two separate instances during the first half.
In just 18.1 innings, he’s stilled pitched to a respectable 3.44 ERA and 2.93 FIP with an unsettling 1.80 WHIP — mainly because of his career-high 12.3 hits per nine ratio that’s largely due to an unsustainable .410 BABIP.
Not only that, but Britton hasn’t pitched on back-to-back days since the middle of April, which is concerning to say the least. On a more positive note, Britton has continued to limit the home run ball better than any reliever in the Majors. He has yet to allow a homer this season after yielding just one in 2016.
Perhaps the Dodgers are confident Britton is healthy again and his numbers will eventually skew back to normal. Along with Los Angeles, the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals are among the top suitors for Britton’s services.
The Orioles, motivated to sell, are likely holding out for a top prospect in a trade for Britton. It’s unclear though, given his health issues this year, if any team is willing to pay the steep price for the two-time All-Star.
If acquired, Britton and Jansen, on paper at least, would form one of the best late-inning duos that the sport has ever seen.
Another American League club looking to sell is the Tigers, who have some of the more intriguing trade chips in the league. While a trade for Justin Verlander remains unlikely because of his salary, there is plenty of competition for Wilson.
The longtime left-handed specialist, now in a closing role for the first time in his career, owns a 2.68 ERA and 3.22 FIP in 40.1 innings this season with 12 saves and a personal-best 35 percent strikeout rate.
With the platoon advantage, Wilson has held left-handed hitters to a superb .214/.267/.366 slash line. More impressively, right-handed batters are only hitting .131/.232/.303 against Wilson this season — making him that much more valuable in high-leverage situations.
Wilson, under team control through the 2018 season, probably won’t cost as much as Britton, but there are many more teams in demand for him with Britton’s health being a question. If the Dodgers miss out on Britton, they could turn their attention to Wilson as an alternative.
The remaining elite southpaw of the trio is Hand, who’s quietly established himself as one of the game’s best left-handed specialists.
In 54 innings this season, Hand has posted an even 2.00 ERA, 2.52 FIP and 0.96 WHIP with a career-high 11.67 strikeouts per nine — en route to his first All-Star selection.
The 27-year-old has limited left-handed batters to a .172/.284/.328 batting line, and his showing against right-handed hitters is equally as good (.206/.257/.284).
Though the Dodgers and Padres are in the same division, deals between the two clubs aren’t out of the ordinary. In 2014, the Dodgers and Padres pulled off the biggest blockbuster of the offseason with Matt Kemp and Yasmani Grandal switching uniforms.
However, the Padres appear to have set an exorbitant cost for their left-hander. They are believed to have initially asked the Dodgers for Alex Verdugo in any deal for Hand.
An executive added that the Padres’ asking price is similar of what the Dodgers would request in a trade for Clayton Kershaw.
On Saturday, San Diego reportedly scouted the Dodgers’ High-A Rancho Cucamonga affiliate. One name that stands out is 18-year-old Keibert Ruiz, one of the fastest rising catching prospects in the system.
Whether the Dodgers are comfortable in dealing Ruiz, or any top prospect, remains to be seen, but the club has plenty of options and won’t be pressured to make a deal.
It’s a buyer’s market for relievers, and if the Dodgers are patient enough, they’ll likely find a bargain when it’s all said and done.