While activity has been largely quiet over recent days leading up to the July 31 trade deadline, the first major domino may have fallen. On Saturday, the Kansas City Royals traded Jake Diekman to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for Dairon Blanco and Ismael Aquino.
Diekman had been a noted Dodgers’ target, and his removal from the market gives president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman one fewer option in acquiring bullpen help. L.A. at one point was identified as a frontrunner to complete a trade for Diekman.
When looking at the Dodgers’ current roster, there are eight pitchers who look like locks to be active during the postseason, barring injury:
Hyun-Jin Ryu, Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Julio Urias, Kenley Jansen, Joe Kelly and Pedro Baez
From that list, there are three starting pitchers, three relievers, and two who will probably be used out of the bullpen but could start. The Dodgers have usually gone with 12 pitchers on postseason rosters, with four starters and eight relievers.
We know the Dodgers are going to improve their relief options, and we know they probably need another lefty. With Diekman off the market, that narrows down their available options, and Diekman would’ve been relatively cheap.
This is gonna help us start to gauge how this reliever market will play out. Neither of these two guys were listed on the A's rankings on FG (top 38) or MLB (top 30). Blanco is 26th on BA's midseason update.
A's have FG's 18th ranked farm system, for reference. https://t.co/Vrxqe9Hu3W
— Future Dodgers (@FutureDodgers) July 27, 2019
Diekman was suggested in a very-nondescript-but-very-plausible trade deadline scenarios for the Dodgers. It can be reasoned the hypothetical package is superior what the Royals actually received for Diekman.
Cristian Santana and Cody Thomas for Jake Diekman.
Santana and Thomas are both Rule 5 eligible this upcoming offseason, and it might be hard to fit them on. Both bat first guys, though Santana might be allergic to walks and Thomas is a little older.
— Future Dodgers (@FutureDodgers) July 27, 2019
In Aquino and Blanco, the Royals got a reliever (Aquino) who’s still in the Arizona League and not near the Majors, and a potential fourth or fifth outfielder (Blanco).
Aquino is another example of teams becoming more willing to trade for players still in complex ball and hope they strike gold (see Fernando Tatis Jr.). Blanco is intriguing as an older Cuban who’s only in his second year of pro ball, and reportedly has 80-grade speed.
In constructing a relatively equivalent Dodgers’ package, let’s give the Royals a similarly organized package: an older, higher-floor, likely bench bat, and a younger relief arm.
For the bat, we’d look at someone like Connor Joe or Zach Reks; they both fit the description above, have been tearing it up at Triple-A Oklahoma City, and don’t have clear spots with the Dodgers moving forward.
If we’re looking at lower level arms who probably end up relievers, we could add in a Guillermo Zuniga or Julian Smith.
It’s not a steep price, and one the Dodgers could’ve certainly matched or beaten without much effort, assuming the Royals’ evaluations of Aquino and Blanco aren’t too far off from what the consensus perception is.
But, they didn’t, and they’ve got other lefties to look at now. Let’s take a look at some of them, and the packages they could move for.
Vazquez isn’t just the best relief pitcher who might be available, he also comes with another four and a half years of team control. His contract includes two club options that would make him a Dodger until after the 2023 season, should they choose to keep him that long.
He’ll cost a haul though, especially after the Pittsburgh Pirates have been burned in trading Gerrit Cole and trading for Chris Archer.
They’ve reportedly asked for two or more from the quartet of Gavin Lux, Dustin May, Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith, which is laughable. So we won’t entertain that here.
One of those four is, at the very least, reasonable, so we’ll start from there. If the Dodgers were to move one of the big four, Ruiz is the clear candidate. He has nearly no shot to help the big league club this year, unlike the other three.
Package: Keibert Ruiz, Tony Gonsolin, Jacob Amaya
Ruiz gives the Pirates a catcher of the future, and one with the potential to be one of the best in the league. He’s got ridiculous contact skills for his age level, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is representative of that.
As you zoom in to that lower left part of the graph where comparable seasons are, it becomes apparent. This chart area is DENSE with superstars, future stars & ex-elite prospects. As always, there are some names that didn’t pan out, but theres FAR more studs than busts. (2/5) pic.twitter.com/hCh8PiqwGx
— Connor Kurcon (@ckurcon) August 27, 2018
Ruiz’s defense is also outstanding for his age, and he has all the makings of a stud backstop. With Smith at the Majors and Diego Cartaya down the line, the Dodgers are one of the few teams in baseball who can afford to move someone of Ruiz’s caliber.
Tony Gonsolin has already reached the Majors, and the former ninth-rounder is another great example of the Dodgers’ player development machine.
Gonsolin is an MLB-ready starter who would and another top-10 prospect, and just him and Ruiz would be an impressive package for any reliever. Then add in Jacob Amaya, a middle infielder in Low-A Great Lakes with solid all around tools and a great plate approach who’s enjoying a breakout year, and the package becomes even more impressive.
Make no mistake, with how volatile relievers are, this package is an overpay. But it’s one the Dodgers can afford to make, and Vasquez isn’t just left-handed, he’s one of the best relievers in baseball, and has the chance to from a lethal pairing with Kenley Jansen.
To be clear, this is San Francisco Giants’ lefty reliever Will Smith, not the newly promoted Dodgers’ catcher. He earned his first All-Star appearance this season and was one of the best relievers in the first half, but San Francisco’s recent run complicates matters for president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi.
Zaidi was likely intent on selling off impending free agents Smith and Madison Bumgarner to help improve a beleaguered farm system, but now that the Giants are back in Wild Card contention, might have to hold on to both to make a postseason run.
However, we know from his days with the Dodgers that Zaidi isn’t afraid to get creative, and he could decide to both buy and sell if he thinks he can improve the Giants long term outlook without hampering the team’s momentum.
He could move soon-to-be-free-agent Smith and trade for another reliever, but would he trade him to the Dodgers?
Package: Omar Estevez, John Rooney
Estevez, though hampered by a leg injury, is another middle infielder in the middle of a breakout year as one of the Texas League’s youngest players. While his power hasn’t shown up just yet, his bat control skills have scouts thinking it will as he ages, and especially so once he reaches the juiced ball levels of Triple-A and the Majors.
Combine that with his improving defense at shortstop, and you’ve got a pretty coveted asset in an organization that also includes the more highly-touted Gavin Lux and Jeter Downs.
Rooney, the Dodgers’ third-rounder from last year, is a gigantic 6’5, 235 lbs., and has maybe the best pickoff move in the organization. The left-hander was recently promoted to High-A Rancho Cucamonga.
He’s got a great feel for pitching, and while he doesn’t have the ceiling of a May or Josiah Gray, he’s got a pretty good floor as a potential back end starter. Estevez ranked ninth in the organization in my most recent midseason update, and Rooney ranked 26th.
Out of these three relief pitchers, Garrett seems the most attainable, as he isn’t quite at the elite level of Vasquez, or even Smith, but is still pretty good in his own right.
Even better, he’s under team control through the 2023 season, and the Dodgers have a seemingly solid relationship with the Cincinnati Reds, after the Yasiel Puig trade over the winter and Dylan Floro deal last July.
Package: DJ Peters, Mitchell White, Logan Salow
Peters has lit the world on fire since his promotion to Triple-A, with 10 homers in his first 26 games. Most impressively, his walk rate is up and his strikeout rate is down, which is notable for a player of his stature.
While Peters can play a passable center field, he’s a corner outfielder in the future. And, can you imagine him playing in the launching pad otherwise known as Great American Ball Park? In this current juiced ball era, he’s easily got 40-homer potential, and that could easily be realized playing in a hitter’s park.
White has taken a step back this year, and has not been having much fun since his promotion to the the Pacific Coast League, otherwise known as the Pitcher’s Catastrophe League. His value has dipped significantly since his peak in 2017, but he’s still got the ability to be a backend starter or reliever, and is close to the Majors.
Salow is already a reliever, but has broken out as one of the organization’s most promising relief only prospects, and is also a lefty. Salow can pitch multiple innings if need be, has put up a ridiculous 83 strikeouts in 53.2 innings this year.
He’s ranked as my 50th prospect in the organization, while Peters is 11th, and White is 13th.
The likes of Roenis Elias, Andrew Chafin, Jace Fry or Aaron Bummer, among others, would cost a lot less than these three relievers listed above, but would still be solid options.
We know Friedman isn’t fond of paying a high premium for relief pitching, so Elias and Co., and others, may prove to be more plausible choices for the Dodgers.
With the Diekman (and now Sergio Romo) trades in the books, the market will start to pick up, and we should see some deals happening pretty quickly as 1 p.m. PT on July 31 draws closer.