Hiroki Kuroda’s Trade Possibilities

I’m back from a fun weekend away (no thanks to Delta and their six-hour delays, of course), and fortunately for us all, none of the trade possibilities we jokingly brought up last week came to fruition. Yet with each passing day, it seems more and more likely that Hiroki Kuroda will be on the move this week, possibly making his Wednesday start against the Rockies his final outing as a Dodger.

Of course, that’s all dependent on Kuroda waiving his no-trade clause, which is far from certain, though rumors that he would not go to the East Coast appear to have been overblown. He reportedly refused Ned Colletti’s request to provide a list of teams he’d be willing to go to, instead preferring to choose on a case-by-case basis, and ESPNLA’s Tony Jackson reports that even if Kuroda is willing to go somewhere, the Dodgers might not really want to trade him. I agreed with that stance about ten days ago, when I said that if trading Kuroda would only bring back some financial savings that could end up in the pockets of some bankruptcy lawyer or far-flung McCourt subsidiary, then it isn’t worth it – you might as well keep him to protect rotation depth (particularly Rubby De La Rosa) and improve your chances of re-signing Kuroda for 2012.

Still, the market for starting pitching is weak, particularly when you consider that the top names we’ve heard – Ubaldo Jimenez, James Shields, and Wandy Rodriguez – are very unlikely to be moved. It’s not that hard to consider Kuroda as the top available starting pitcher, and with more and more teams reportedly showing interest in the 36-year-old righty, the odds of getting something decent in return for him are improving. Let’s be careful to set expectations: I’m not talking about a top prospect superstud type. Kuroda’s a quality arm, but he’s not this year’s C.C. Sabathia or Cliff Lee. Two months of Kuroda probably won’t get you a franchise cornerstone, yet it should be enough to land you a quality prospect or two, and there’s value in that. (Particularly if the idea that Kuroda would go somewhere else and then come back to Los Angeles next year anyway has any merit to it, though if that means his acquiring team offered him arbitration that required the Dodgers to give up a draft pick to get him, then pass.)

So far, the teams that have popped up most often in rumors are the Tigers, Indians, Red Sox, Rangers and Yankees, with Ken Rosenthal specifically commenting on the Yanks earlier today. Let’s spitball some potential players of interest from each of those systems, shall we? Keeping in mind, of course, that I’m familiar with the top 5-10 prospects from most teams; often, these deals will also include lower-level guys that many of us haven’t heard of. As we all know, the Dodgers have absolutely zero depth at third base or behind the plate, so teams with players there have to be priority, though I don’t think it makes sense to turn down a solid pitching or outfield prospect if that’s the best deal.

Let’s also pretend for the moment that this won’t be a straight salary dump, in which case you can forget about just about anyone noted here.

Tigers. No, don’t even think about Jacob Turner, and also count out third baseman Nick Castellanos, who received a $3.45m bonus as a first round pick in 2010. Tigers blog Bless You Boys suggests that Detroit might be willing to part with 23-year-old power lefty Andy Oliver, who has struggled in brief MLB stints (23/21 K/BB, 25 ER in 31.2 IP) but entered the year as Baseball Prospectus‘ #3 prospect. Oliver looks to have solid strikeout stuff with some control issues; I can’t say he really excites me all that much, though for what Kuroda’s value really is, that’s probably a pretty good return.

Yankees. I don’t really have to tell you that Jesus Montero isn’t in play, right? That’s the case for pitchers Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, too. If there’s one thing the Yankees have in spades (besides, you know, ungodly sums of cash), it’s catching prospects, as Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine are both coming up behind Montero. Sanchez is almost certainly too much for Kuroda, though I would consider getting Romine to be a huge win. I follow a ton of smart Yankee writers and fans on Twitter; many of them would not be happy with giving up Romine and instead suggested Huntington Beach native Kyle Higashioka behind the plate and 2B/3B Corban Joseph. Neither made BP’s Top 20 list, though that’s no surprise; like all of us, Yankee fans are overrating their own players just a bit. There’s also 23-year-old 3B/OF prospect Brandon Laird, who has 75 homers in parts of five MiLB seasons and just made his major league debut.

Red Sox. I’ve always liked catcher Ryan Lavarnway, hitting .372/.449/.752 in 36 AAA games, though his recent hot streak after being promoted probably means Kuroda alone won’t get him. There’s also the concern that Lavarnaway, a native of Burbank, doesn’t have the defensive chops to stay behind the plate, though it’s not like the Dodgers don’t have a big hole at 1B too. There’s also perhaps Yamaico Navarro, who has shown decent on-base skills in the minors while playing all over the infield. He’s done little in brief big-league stints, though he’s also quite blocked in Boston by Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie, Kevin Youkilis, and Jose Iglesias (and for the moment, Marco Scutaro). Speaking of being blocked the Sox also have 22-year-old 3B Will Middlebrooks, Boston’s #11 prospect entering the season, who is having a big year in AA. I’d be thrilled to get either Lavarnway or Middlebrooks in a Kuroda deal.

Indians. I would be surprised if the Tribe took their surprising success this season seriously enough to trade for Kuroda, while their top two prospects – 2B Jason Kipnis and 3B Lonnie Chisenhall – would both be fantastic fits, they’ve each been promoted to Cleveland recently and aren’t being moved for Kuroda. (No, not even if you toss in Jamey Carroll, who Cleveland has reportedly been interested in re-acquiring.) The Indians aren’t in much better shape behind the plate than the Dodgers are – their top catcher, Alex Lavisky, has just a .251 OBP in A-ball this year – and I’m going to just stop talking about Cleveland right now, because it’s just not going to happen. (I don’t know, Cord Phelps, maybe.)

Rangers. My affinity for taking a lottery ticket on Chris Davis is well-known, though I would hope that isn’t the best the Dodgers can do. The Rangers have a ton of top prospects who we shouldn’t even dream on – Jurickson Profar, Martin Perez, etc – so we’ll have to keep this reasonable. I would live to get 3B Mike Olt, who has a solid glove and has shown good life with the bat, though it might be a bit much to ask Texas to trade a 2010 first rounder. Catcher Jorge Alfaro is probably too far away – he’s only 18 – as is Kellin Deglan, another 2010 first rounder.

Seems to me that the best outcome for the Dodgers is for Boston to step up to the plate. Their system has the best fit for the Dodger needs, they have a good history with accommodating Asian players, and whenever the Sox and Yankees bid for the same player, good things always happen for the seller. The main concern there is Theo Epstein convincing Ned Colletti that taking John Lackey in return is a great idea.

So there’s your most likely destinations… and then there’s Colby Rasmus, who I shouldn’t be wasting time thinking about, yet whom I can’t seem to get out of my mind. Reports that Rasmus and Tony LaRussa cannot coexist have been surfacing for nearly a year now, and it seems that the conflict is coming to a head.  Twice a Baseball America top-10 prospect, Rasmus’ .366 wOBA was second only to Carlos Gonzalez among NL CF in 2010, when he was just 23. The numbers this year haven’t quite been to that level as he’s struggled with a stomach injury and clashed with LaRussa, but a player with that talent at that age would be a nice get for any team, with rumors heating up that he may be headed to the White Sox.

It may seem that outfield is the least of the Dodger worries, with Jerry Sands and Trayvon Robinson on their way up to join with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Yet as we saw with Sands, there’s no guarantee that any prospect will immediately come up and contribute, and while Rasmus is under team control through 2014, Kemp and Ethier are both free agents after 2012. At the very least, he’d improve the offense while filling the left field black hole (no matter who ends up there, likely Ethier), but he’d also allow you to explore trading Ethier and/or protect you if one or both left as free agents. Sands could keep his first base glove handy, as well.

It’s almost certain not to happen, of course, but indulge me for a moment. The White Sox have reportedly made starting pitcher Edwin Jackson (a free agent after the season) or lefty reliever Matt Thornton available, along with prospects. Couldn’t the Dodgers beat that? Kuroda would be a given, of course. In the bullpen, perhaps the Cards would take a shot on Hong-Chih Kuo – when he’s right, no one is better – but hell, other than preferring to hang on to Kenley Jansen, give the Cards their pick. You want Kuo, Mike MacDougal, and Javy Guerra? Sure, why the hell not. Then for a prospect, perhaps one of the highly-touted pitchers who clearly have talent but have struggled to pull it together, like Chris Withrow or Ethan Martin. Kuroda, a reliever or two, and a prospect for Rasmus? You’re damned right I’d do that.

Oh, and finally, this: Rosenthal reports that the Pirates are nearing a crisis in the outfield now that Alex Presley is joining Jose Tabata on the injured list, and KABC’s Joe Block has a suggestion: Tony Gwynn. Gwynn has played well of late for the Dodgers, though his time as a starter may be growing short since Don Mattingly confirmed we’d be seeing Trayvon Robinson at some point this season (plus we expect Sands to return, too.) Gwynn’s trade value can’t be much, but turning a player who came in with zero value and has little future into anything of use would be outstanding.