Possible Bullpen Trade Fit: Milwaukee?

francisco_rodriguez_2013-07-21We’ve talked a lot about what the Dodgers might do in the dwindling time remaining before the trading deadline, though it’s beginning to seem as though activity could be limited. As Ned Colletti indicated in the Los Angeles Times, when everyone is healthy, this team is pretty fully stocked and doesn’t have a lot of needs to fill. I think they’d like another starter but they don’t need one, and so they won’t be raked over the coals for Matt Garza and probably won’t be able to go after Cliff Lee. I also think they’d like an infield upgrade but won’t be able to find one, because there’s really just not a whole lot out there.

But the one place I do think they’ll make a move is in the bullpen, even though the relief corps have been very good over the last few weeks. So far in July, the Dodger relievers as a group have a 2.58 FIP, good for third in baseball, and they’ve been even better at run prevention with a 1.37 ERA, good for second. I wouldn’t put too much stock in that ERA because a .250 BABIP isn’t going to last, and neither is the current winning streak, so at some point the balls are going to start falling in again, but nonetheless, this group has been productive lately. Lefties J.P. Howell & Paco Rodriguez have been outstanding, but the improvement isn’t really a mystery, anyway: more Chris Withrow & Jose Dominguez, less Matt Guerrier & Brandon League. Easy as that!

That said, with Steve Ames & Josh Wall off to Miami, the team doesn’t have a ton of depth ready to step in if needed, unless you’re really dying to see more Javy Guerra or Peter Moylan or count on Carlos Marmol or add the untested Yimi Garcia to what is already a very young group. Besides, Dominguez — while exhilarating at times — has hardly shown enough in seven innings that it would be some sort of crime if he spent more time in the minors. So with the worry that Ronald Belisario could still fall apart at any moment and the fact that Kenley Jansen has yet to make it through a full season healthy, you start to understand the thought that maybe adding an arm isn’t the worst idea in the world.

Anyway, this is all a long preamble to Danny Knobler’s report that the Dodger focus is currently on the Milwaukee bullpen, where the Brewers are collapsing and have relievers Francisco Rodriguez, Mike Gonzalez, and John Axford all available. (They reportedly are not interested in trading Jim Henderson, though who knows; it seems silly to suddenly place a great deal of value on a guy who didn’t make his big-league debut until 29 and lost his closing job to Rodriguez this year.)

So should the Dodgers have interest, and would there be a fit? I can answer the last part first, because the Brewers are in such trouble from top to bottom that giving them anything resembling young talent is “a fit”. Only Houston & Miami have more losses than Milwaukee; only the Angels ranked lower on Keith Law‘s pre-season organizational rankings. They admirably went all-in in recent years to add guys like CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke, and while it paid off with some good seasons, they’re now in danger of wasting the remainder of Ryan Braun‘s prime. (Though they did manage to at least turn Greinke into Jean Segura on the way out.) So yeah, there’s a fit, and that’s ignoring Aramis Ramirez, who is unlikely to move before the deadline since he’s reportedly out for 10-14 more days with a knee injury.

As for the need…

Gonzalez: solid “meh” from me. I’ve long liked the 35-year-old lefty, now on his fourth team in four years, and he’s done okay this year with a 41/17 K/BB. He’s on a 1/$2.25m contract, so cost is no issue on either side, and I imagine he’d come pretty cheaply. But the Dodgers have two solid lefties in Howell & Rodriguez, and neither are true LOOGYs. Neither is Gonzalez, really, and if they went after another lefty I’d really prefer it to be a true “death on lefties” type like Randy Choate was supposed to be last year. It doesn’t help that his velocity is down below 91, the lowest of his career… if he came for a Grade C minor leaguer, fine, but otherwise I don’t see the point.

Axford: I like Axford more than most, I think, but that might be partially due to his ridiculous mustache and entertaining personality on Twitter. It’s a little unfair to look at his season stats as a whole, because he was atrociously awful in his first four outings (nine earned runs, four homers in 3.1 innings) and has been much better ever since. He’s allowed one earned run in the last 2.5 months, and the 1.64 ERA he’s put up since those first four appearances looks a hell of a lot better than the 3.46 he’s got on the season. (ERA for relievers, everyone!)

He’s still too wild to be counted on in big spots, but I do like the 38 whiffs in 38.1 innings since that bad start. He’s under team control through 2016 and with an average velocity of 95 MPH, would be an intriguing addition to a bullpen that already has some big heat guys. I wouldn’t give up a top prospect for him, but the more I think about him, the more I like him. Let’s put it this way: would I do Garrett Gould for him? Yes, I would, and some scouts liked Gould more than Zach Lee barely a year ago. Of course, it takes two to tango, and I’m not sure the Brewers would be so eager to do that.

Rodriguez: the biggest name and the one who seems to be garnering the most attention, Rodriguez has moved back into the closer’s role despite not even signing with the team until April. I assume you won’t be fooled by the record 62 saves he collected in 2008 or the 1.09 ERA he has this year, but the 31-year-old righty has actually been very good in his third season in Milwaukee. His velocity is down from the glory days in Anaheim, and a swinging strike percentage of 9.1% is well down from the usual 10-15% it was in the past, and is the second-worst of his career.

He does, of course, bring experience in the playoffs, closing, and as a setup man, if that sort of thing interests you — and let’s be honest here, that’s exactly what interests Ned Colletti — and it’s hard to argue with a 26/9 K/BB in 24.2 innings. He’d represent an upgrade to the bullpen — regardless of whether Dominguez goes down or League is simply frozen in carbonite — and he’s signed only through this year, so there’s not a long commitment required.

So with all that being said, I wouldn’t really mind at all if Axford or Rodriguez were added. Yet as always, it’s about the cost, and that’s where it’s always a bit difficult to predict. Rodriguez is merely a rental; Axford isn’t, but has less history. There were only two notable trades last July for late-inning relievers, and we know both of them very well. League was acquired for Logan Bawcom & Leon Landry, neither very notable on Dodger prospect lists — though League had already lost his job in Seattle at the time — and old friend Jonathan Broxton went from Kansas City to Cincinnati for Donnie Joseph & J.C. Sulbaran, also mid-level prospects. Last week, the White Sox traded declining lefty Matt Thornton to Boston for decent-but-not-great prospect Brandon Jacobs, and earlier this month the Rockies picked up failed Cardinal reliever Mitchell Boggs for only international signing money.

Based on that, the price, in theory, shouldn’t be high. But we say that knowing that this is the same front office that okayed “James McDonald and Andrew Lambo for Octavio Dotel” so, well, who knows, especially when Rodriguez is “a name” and looks to be one of the more desirable relievers available, assuming Glen Perkins isn’t moving. I don’t mind getting a reinforcement for the bullpen, and Axford & Rodriguez each fit the bill. It’s just not so urgent a need that I’d really be wanting to give up a top-ten organizational prospect to get that reliever, and that’s where I fear that Colletti feels otherwise.