On Monday morning, the Los Angeles Dodgers sent three pitching prospects to Oakland for outfielder Josh Reddick and starter Rich Hill. It was the kind of move contending teams are supposed to make: deal guys who might help you win later for guys who should help you win now.
Reddick is a charismatic righty-mashing outfielder who plays good defense. Hill, just one year removed from the independent league Long Island Ducks, has been arguably the best starting pitcher in the American League in 2016. Both are free agents after the season.
But by the afternoon, any goodwill the trade had generated amongst fans was gone—and in its place a lot of anger and confusion about Yasiel Puig and his place on the team. Ken Rosenthal reported that Puig missed the team flight to Colorado Monday, having stormed out of Dodger Stadium after being informed that he would either be traded or demoted. The Dodgers didn't comment.
Then Puig's agent told Rosenthal that his report was half true: the Dodgers did tell Puig that he would either be traded or demoted—and for that very reason, Puig hadn't come to the ballpark at all on Monday. After the Dodgers failed to trade him, Puig is apparently heading to Triple-A Oklahoma City.
On one hand, it's easy to look at the addition of Reddick, a right fielder, and think that the Dodgers don't need Puig anymore. On the other hand, Puig has been extremely productive since returning from the DL, and the Dodgers' starting outfield configurations have lately included an out-of-position Howie Kendrick and somebody named Andrew Toles. With Andre Ethier seemingly out for the season and Trayce Thompson on the DL, Reddick by no means makes Puig redundant. He fills a hole that exists even with Puig on the roster.
All of which is to say that there's something going on with Puig and the Dodgers' front office. While this drama was unfolding, GM Farhan Zaidi gave a press conference in which he offered a chuckling "no comment" about Puig. Later, this happened:
That's fine, I guess, if your goal as an organization is to let people pass around erroneous reports that make one of your most talented and marketable players look like an immature jerk. But it's worth noting here that Zaidi is actually the most charming member of the Dodgers front office—he's Bill Clinton on the campaign trail compared to Andrew Friedman and Stan Kasten.
This is all unfortunate—unfortunate for Puig, unfortunate for the fans, and unfortunate for a front office that just made perhaps its biggest move yet. This is the kind of deal that so far, Friedman and company have avoided. Over the last couple seasons, they have worked to deepen the farm system and improve the big club at the margins—adding depth to the bottom of the roster instead of heft to the top.
Last year's big deadline deal was a three-way trade that netted the Dodgers seven players—of whom none contributed significantly in the stretch run. In the offseason, they let Zack Greinke walk away and signed lower budget options like Kenta Maeda and Scott Kazmir to fill out the rotation. Meanwhile, the team's bounty of prospects grew plentiful.
Which brings us back to the trade with Oakland. The kids the Dodgers dealt—Frankie Montas, Grant Holmes, and Jharel Cotton—are all highly regarded. It's easy to question the long-term wisdom of exchanging what seems like unlimited potential for a platoon bat and an injury prone starter on expiring contracts.
In other words, this doesn't feel like the kind of trade that Andrew Friedman would make—it feels like the kind of trade Ned Colletti would have made. And that's not a bad thing.
Colletti, the Dodgers GM from late 2005 to late 2014, was often maligned as an old school baseball guy prone to handing out lavish free agent deals to mediocre players. And he certainly did that. (Juan Pierre, Jason Schmidt, the list goes on ... ). But he also did a pretty respectable job managing complicated personalities (Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Manny Ramirez, that list also goes on ... ). With the benefit of hindsight, it's pretty clear that under Colletti's watch, the Dodgers were actually good at another thing: trading prospects for veterans who could help them win.
Colletti understood that the truth about prospects is and was and forever will be that most of them don't work out. For all his flaws an executive, he was not shy about trading aggressively mid-season. The Dodgers never went to the World Series under his tenure, and the rosters he constructed were often flawed, but on balance, the team benefited from those trades.
In 2012, Colletti dealt Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough for Hanley Ramirez and Randy Choate. Ramirez would go on to hit .299/.368/.506 over two and a half dramatic seasons (and two division titles) in Los Angeles. Eovaldi, who at the time of the trade was lingering on the precipice between Triple-A and the majors, has so far failed to capitalize on his fastball, and now lingers at a different precipice: that between the New York Yankees' subpar rotation and the bullpen.
The following year, Colletti traded with the Marlins again—sending three right handed pitching prospects to Miami in exchange for Ricky Nolasco. None of them ever worked out. But Nolasco, who grew up a Dodgers fan, went 8-3 with a 3.52 earned run average, and entered games to a glorious Vicente Fernandez ranchera song.
Colletti's best such deal was sending Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris out in the three-way trade for Manny Ramirez in 2008. Manny electrified Los Angeles and led the Dodgers to a division title. LaRoche and Morris were never heard from again.
There is, of course, a flip side. Days before he acquired Manny Ramirez, Colletti sent Carlos Santana (then a highly regarded catching prospect) to Cleveland in a deal for third baseman Casey Blake. Blake performed solidly for the Dodgers—and re-signed with the team in free agency. Santana, predictably, blossomed into a power-hitting on-base machine far from Chavez Ravine. It's safe to say that Dodger fans would take that one back.
But it's also worth noting that in 2008, the Dodgers placed sixth in Baseball America's organizational rankings. They had a deep farm system. Russell Martin and James Loney appeared to be locked in at catcher and first base (both of Santana's possible positions) for the long term. The McCourt divorce was more than a year away. Colletti had the luxury of trading prospects because he had the luxury of many prospects.
The current Dodgers situation is not so different. Injuries aside, thanks to the work of Friedman's front office (and Colletti's, just saying), they have a loaded major league roster and an even more loaded farm system. Even if one of Montas, Holmes, or Cotton blossoms into a pitcher version of Carlos Santana—well, the Dodgers still have Julio Urias, Jose De Leon, and a gaggle of other fresh arms.
The mishandling and demotion of Puig notwithstanding, the acquisition of Reddick and Hill is proof that Friedman and Zaidi's process has developed to a point where they feel comfortable redistributing talent from the bottom of the roster to the top. After all, the point isn't to have Keith Law give your farm system a good grade. It isn't even to be good at handling the media (thankfully for them). The point is to win. Hill and Reddick may only be rentals—but they are rentals who give the Dodgers a better shot at doing just that.
Meanwhile, Puig and Rosenthal have mended fences.
We'll see if he and the Dodgers can do the same.
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