I write a weekly Dodgers fantasy recap for Heater Magazine, and last night before I went to bed I wrote a short piece about how Ronnie Belliard was the big late-August trade acquisition. Hey, he even hit a homer in his first at-bat last night! Well, talk about having that shoved aside, because I nearly had a heart attack when I woke up to read the headlines and saw that the Dodgers had picked up both Jim Thome and Jon Garland. Say what you will about these deals – and we will – but no one can ever say that Ned Colletti’s not working his ass off to get things done, ever again.
Big splashes aside, these trades come with two completely different reactions. Remember, every trade now has to be judged not only on the talent given up but how much money was or was not taken on, in addition to how much it helps the club . So let’s start with Thome.
Did we need him? Hah. You think? Thome may not be the player he once was, but save for an injury-shortened 2005, he hasn’t hit less than 20 homers since 1993, when he got into just 47 games as a 22-year-old Indian. His OPS+ hasn’t been less than 120 since 1992, again excepting 2005. So yeah, the man can hit. Even at 38 years old this year, he’s got 23 homers and an .864 OPS. As the 12th-leading homer hitter of all time who’s almost completely avoided the taint of the steroid era, he’s a no-doubt Hall of Famer.
It’s true that he’s been almost exclusively a DH in recent years, so unfortunately he won’t be taking his 130+ OPS point advantage to replace the disappointing James Loney. Though Ned Colletti says that he won’t be a first baseman, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him get at least a few innings throughout September just to see if he’s passable, with Loney in reserve for defense. Whether or not he can play there in October is TBD (probably not), but either way the bench just got a huge boost. And if you don’t think a power pinch-hitter is worthwhile, just ask Jonathan Broxton how he felt about Matt Stairs last October. Besides, if the Dodgers do make it to the World Series, we just replaced Juan Pierre at DH with Jim Thome. How’s that for improvement?
But the money… Thome’s only got about $2.4m left on his deal before he’s a free agent this winter, and the Chicago Tribune reports that the White Sox are picking up at least part of it. So the financial obligation shouldn’t be a huge issue here.
So the talent going back… I use the word “talent” loosely here, because no offense to Justin Fuller, but guys who are 26 and hitting .254 as a backup in A-ball aren’t exactly top prospects. I can honestly say I’d never heard of him before today, and now that I’ve researched him I don’t even feel a twinge of loss. It’s basically a free pickup.
Survey says… Giving up zero talent and (presumably) paying less than $2m for a massive improvement to your bench headed into the playoffs? Oh, you better believe that’s a win.
Moving on to Garland…
Did we need him? Well, last winter this would have been a “yes”, when we all saw inning-eating issues in the future and I advocated signing him for just that reason. So, yeah, we needed him in January. We needed him in April. We probably needed him in July. But now, when it’s already September? What’s he going to have, 5 starts? Maybe? That’s nice and all, but with the division lead back up to 5.5 games and Colorado imploding, the playoffs seem safe. Vicente Padilla and Charlie Haeger aren’t All-Stars, but they’re serviceable to get through the month, and Hiroki Kuroda might return as soon as this weekend.
It’s not like Garland’s starting in the playoffs; Wolf, Billingsley, and Kershaw are your obvious top three, and if Kuroda’s as healthy as he seems to be you can’t see Garland getting the call over him for a Game 4. So this is just “September depth”.
Jon Garland’s not a guy who makes a difference in the short term. He’s a guy who can reliably take the ball every 5th day and provide average or slightly above performance over the long haul. I’m not saying there’s not value in that – there definitely is – but he’s also not someone you should be targeting in the late part of the season. But, okay, he’s not terrible, so let’s see what was given up to get him…
But the money… Well, the Diamondbacks are picking up every last penny. Hooray! A free pitcher! Wait a second. Aren’t the DBacks cash-strapped? And isn’t this how the Indians ended up with Carlos Santana for Casey Blake – because the Dodgers didn’t want to pick up any salary, so they give up a better prospect than they had to? Uh oh…
So the talent going back… It’s officially still “a player to be named later”, though Steve Gilbert of MLB.com is reporting that Dodger players believe it’s Tony Abreu. That’s hardly a confirmation, so I’ll withhold judgement until we hear that it’s actually the case. However, it would make sense; if it’s a PTBNL, it’s likely because the player would have to clear waivers first, and with the Dodgers needing to make the deal before the deadline to have Garland playoff-eligible, they made the deal this way until the player clears (or until after the season, if he does not.)
Look, if it’s Abreu, I’m going to be really unhappy. He’s a 24-year-old with a .991 OPS in AAA this year, and looks to finally have put his career back on track after two years of injuries. With Orlando Hudson headed back into free agency this offseason, I was strongly in favor of letting him walk and giving Abreu a crack at the second base job. Now – again, if it’s him – the Dodgers have just handed a division rival an excellent prospect for 5 mediocre starts of Jon Garland?
Survey says… We’ll of course have more to say on this once we know who the player is going back to Arizona. Right now, the feeling is more “worried” with a good chance of “horrified“.