In those harrowing hours leading up to the 2008 non-waiver trade deadline, the Los Angeles Dodgers – mired at .500 but sitting just two games back of the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks – decided to go big, acquiring a 36-years-old-but-still-raking Manny Ramirez from the Boston Red Sox in a three-team trade.
Immediately, the Dodgers were transformed.
With Ramirez hitting a preposterous .396/.489/.743 (210 wRC+) down the stretch, the Dodgers went 30-24 over the final two months of the season, eking out their first division title in four years thanks to a revamped lineup that ranked sixth in the majors in wRC+ from August through September.
A decade later, with their now longstanding hegemony over the National League West loosening a bit, the Dodgers are reportedly running the same play again: they’re getting Manny.
On Wednesday, more than 24 hours after the deal was reportedly agreed upon in principle, the Dodgers acquired shortstop Manny Machado from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for a package of five prospects highlighted by 21-year-old outfielder Yusniel Diaz (who, incidentally, hit two homers in last weekend’s Futures Game). While the Orioles aren’t paying down any of the roughly $6.6 million left on Machado’s contract, according to Jon Heyman of FanCred, the Dodgers will remain under the luxury-tax threshold.
So, in summary, a rebuilding team liquidated its most prized expiring asset, and the Dodgers – whose five successive division titles have yielded one National League pennant and zero World Series titles – made a characteristically outsized move to try to snap their 30-year championship drought.
For a second year in a row, now, the Dodgers bolstered their roster ahead of the trade deadline with the top talent available for rent. This time around, however, the circumstances are different. Last July, when they plucked right-hander Yu Darvish from Texas, the Dodgers were easily the best team in the majors, sitting 14 games above the second-place Diamondbacks in the NL West at 74-31. This year, they’re merely very good, better even than their 53-43 record suggests (by Pythag record, which is derived from run differential, they should be 57-39). Still, when the league adjourned Sunday for the All-Star break, their division lead over the Diamondbacks was a mere 1/2 game.
Primarily, that regression can be attributed to declines in defensive performance, and, to a lesser extent, pitching.
While the Dodgers might well address their pitching staff (and bullpen, specifically) via trade over the next couple weeks, they opted in the meantime to significantly improve their offense, adding a top-10 hitter to a lineup that’s already sixth in the majors in wRC+ (106) and is tied for the NL lead in that department. It’s a sound strategy (adding star-level players usually is): Offense is exponential, and having the most prolific lineup in the majors can make up for a leaky defense or an unreliable bullpen. High-leverage appearances for, say, Daniel Hudson, start drying up if the Dodgers are routinely chasing the opposing team’s starter in the 4th.
Frankly, thanks to Machado, who enters the final leg of his platform season boasting career-bests in batting average (.315), OBP (.387), slugging percentage (.575), isolated power (.260), walk rate (10.9 percent), strikeout rate (12.3 percent), hard-hit rate (49.8 percent), and expected wOBA (.401), subsequent additions might not even be necessary. Justin Turner, after all, could be the worst hitter in the Dodgers’ lineup – by wRC+, at least – for Friday’s second-half opener against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Turner finished eighth in NL MVP voting last year.
This configuration, mind you, doesn’t really solve the Dodgers’ relative defensive shortcomings – Muncy has only 42 professional games at second base, and Machado’s performance at shortstop this year has graded out extremely poorly – but, again, with this lineup, it probably won’t matter much. (It also bodes well for their defense that the Dodgers’ staff has been missing bats like crazy of late; since Clayton Kershaw rejoined the rotation June 23, the club’s collective 26.5 percent strikeout rate ranks second in the majors.)
Moreover, the addition of Machado helps insure against the possibility of regression from Muncy, Kemp et al in the second half, though there isn’t much evidence to suggest any of the Dodgers’ unlikely mashers are headed for a drop-off. Most, in fact, are actually underperforming their expected wOBAs – figures based off their recorded exit velocities and launch angles.
|Player||Actual wOBA||Expected wOBA||Diff|
Don’t be surprised, in other words, if the Dodgers field the majors’ best offense down the stretch. Really, left-hander Ross Stripling put it best Tuesday, suggesting that the addition of Machado makes the Dodgers “almost a superteam” now that their rotation is fully healthy.
Yes, the acquisition cost is high, and most teams could ill afford to dip into their prospect reserve in successive years. The Dodgers aren’t most teams, though. Their payroll is infinite, their appeal as a free-agent destination undeniable, and their front office uncannily prescient (see: Chris Taylor, Muncy, Stripling). Hoarding prospects is for teams who can’t spend their way out of a mistake (reminder: they didn’t have to part ways with top prospect Alex Verdugo), and with their history of futility in October, the Dodgers would be unwise to leave anything to chance. As they should be, perched in their customary spot atop the NL West standings as the stretch run looms, the Dodgers are trying to win a World Series.
And with a Manny once again in tow, they just might.
Jonah Birenbaum is theScore’s senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.