Nearly at the midway point of June, the Los Angeles Dodgers find themselves well on their way to a record seventh consecutive National League West title. They boast a commanding 9.5-game lead over the second-place Colorado Rockies and pace the rest of the NL with a 45-23 record — six games better than other division leaders, Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers.
To get to this point, the Dodgers have relied on excellent starting pitching and one of the more well-rounded lineups in all of baseball. While the club has thrived in those departments, the same can’t be said for Los Angeles’ inconsistent bullpen.
Entering Thursday’s series opener with the Chicago Cubs, the Dodgers’ relief corps rank near the middle of the pack in many statistical categories, including FIP (4.37; T-14th in Majors), FanGraphs’ WAR (0.9; T-15th) and ERA (4.48; T-18th). The unit has additionally been tabbed with seven losses this season — the seventh-most in MLB.
Given their well-documented struggles in the bullpen, it’s easy to speculate that Los Angeles will be among the many teams looking to improve the group with a midseason trade this summer.
Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman hasn’t been shy in wheeling and dealing in the past and recently admitted he will explore upgrading the unit in the coming weeks ahead.
Below is a list of hypothetical bullpen targets the Dodgers could look to acquire prior to the July 31 trade deadline.
Shane Greene: Linked to the right-hander last summer, the Dodgers could once again have their eyes on the Detroit Tigers’ closer.
In 27 appearances this season, Greene has posted a minuscule 1.00 ERA, 3.33 FIP and 0.82 WHIP with a Major League-leading 20 saves in 27 innings pitched.
The Dodgers in the past have explored the possibility of adding a second closer to pair with Kenley Jansen in the late innings, being linked to the likes of Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton and most recently, Craig Kimbrel.
Greene more than fits this mold and may be open to relinquishing his closing duties, considering his previous roles as a starting pitcher and setup man.
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Under team control through the 2021 season, Greene would instantly become one of the more coveted relievers on the market should the Tigers officially make him available. And all signs point to them doing so, considering their dreadful 25-39 record and 18-game deficit in the American League Central.
While the 30-year-old would instantly bolster the Dodgers bullpen, there are a few obstacles in the way of completing a deal. For one, Detroit would almost certainly command a significant prospect haul for his services.
If past trade deadlines have been any indication, upper-echelon relievers usually fetch the biggest returns for selling teams, and it is unclear if Los Angeles will be open to matching the presumably-high asking price.
Moreover, a left-handed reliever would better fit the Dodgers’ needs at present time. They recently lost Tony Cingrani for the season and saw Scott Alexander hit the 10-day injured list with left forearm inflammation.
The Dodgers’ left-handed options currently consist of Caleb Ferguson, who recently returned from the 10-day injured list himself, and Julio Urias, who is more of a multi-innings eater rather than a specialist.
Brad Hand: A southpaw with closing experience, Hand stands out as arguably the most appealing trade target for Los Angeles. In fact, the Dodgers have already internally discussed acquiring him should the Cleveland Indians opt to sell and make him available in the weeks ahead.
The 29-year-old is in the midst of a dominant season, having pitched to a 0.91 ERA, 1.63 FIP and 0.74 WHIP with 44 strikeouts and 19 saves over 29.2 innings of work (30 games).
Hand has experience pitching in the NL West, spending parts of the 2016-18 seasons with the rival San Diego Padres. He owns a career 3.86 ERA in 13 appearances at Dodger Stadium, in addition to a 1.86 ERA at Chase Field, 3.86 ERA at Coors Field, 3.36 ERA at Petco Park and 3.79 ERA at Oracle Park.
Hand is under control on a team-friendly contract through 2020, and he can be retained for an extra year by exercising his option for the 2021 season.
As is the case with Greene, the Indians would net a significant haul by trading Hand. Though, there is less certainty he will hit the market considering their win-now stance and the fact that they are only two-games out of the second Wild Card berth in the AL.
How the Indians fare over the next six weeks or so will likely determine whether Hand finds himself on the move.
Will Smith: The San Francisco Giants closer is in the midst of another fantastic season, having posted a 2.03 ERA, 1.95 FIP and 0.75 WHIP over 26.2 innings pitched (27 appearances) thus far.
Smith checks off all the boxes in what the Dodgers are looking for in a reliever, being left-handed and the added bonus of already being familiar with the division. Unlike Greene and Hand, he is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the season, which could make him cheaper in comparison.
However, trades between Los Angeles and San Francisco are almost non-existent. For perspective, the two clubs have only conducted three deals with each other since moving to California in 1958.
A silver lining is that former Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi is currently running the show for the Giants and sounds open to trading with his biggest rival under the right circumstances.
Zaidi believes trading with the Dodgers may be a positive if it means weakening their farm system. And any trade for Smith, one of the game’s best closers, would certainly do that.
Tony Watson: In addition to Smith, the Giants could fetch a respectable return for another of their left-handed relievers. Watson has thrived this season, posting a 2-0 record, 2.70 ERA, 3.90 FIP and 1.13 WHIP in 26.2 innings (29 games).
The 34-year-old has actually fared better against opposing right-handed batters this season, holding them to a .230 batting average. Left-handers, in contrast, are hitting .313 against Watson.
Like Smith, Watson is eligible for free agency at the conclusion of the season. The Dodgers previously acquired him prior to the 2017 July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, when he was also in his walk year.
Given the familiarity, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Watson end up back in Los Angeles for the stretch run. He figures to cost significantly less than the aforementioned names on this list, which makes him a more realistic option for the Dodgers.