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By Jon Weisman
It’s a massive move that puts five established pitchers in the Dodger starting rotation from now through October.
It’s a win-now, win-later maneuver that deepens the franchise for years to come.
In a three-team deal with Atlanta and Miami, the Dodgers have acquired left-handed pitchers Alex Wood and Luis Avilan, right-handers Mat Latos, Jim Johnson and Bronson Arroyo, second baseman-shortstop Jose Peraza and outfielder-first baseman Michael Morse.
Going to the Braves will be infielder Hector Olivera and pitchers Paco Rodriguez and Zach Bird, while the Marlins acquire minor-league pitchers Jeff Brigham, Victor Araujo and Kevin Guzman. (Florida is also sending the No. 35 overall pick in the 2016 draft to Atlanta.)
Joining Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Brett Anderson, Wood and Latos give the Dodgers a starting pitching quintet deeper than any they’ve had heading into the playoffs this century.
While it doesn’t guarantee that the Dodgers wouldn’t turn to Kershaw on three days’ rest at some point, it does make increase the possibility that they can win more games without him or Greinke on the mound.
Most believe the top prize of the deal is the 24-year-old Wood, who has a 3.10 career ERA (3.17 fielding-independent ERA) in 368 2/3 innings. As Dave Cameron wrote at Fangraphs, Wood’s totals since 2013 compare promisingly to those of David Price and Cole Hamels.
“Certainly, he doesn’t have the track record of either of the two multiple-time All-Stars,” Cameron writes, “and his combination of a painful-looking delivery, a decrease in velocity, and a drop in strikeout rate make him a significantly more risky asset than the established stars, but clearly, the upside for him to pitch at a high level is there. He’s done it for roughly the equivalent of two full seasons, after all.”
Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles addressed the issue of the Dodgers not acquiring a big name.
“Let’s face it,” Saxon wrote. “A playoff rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Greinke and Price just sounds more unbeatable than one in which the third name is Wood, Brett Anderson or Latos. Then again, what did Price, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander get the Tigers last season in October? Not a single victory. In 2011, the Philadelphia Phillies had Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. They lost in the first round to the St. Louis Cardinals.”
What’s critical with Wood is that he not only brings the Dodgers a weapon for the stretch run this year, but also in the long term. He can’t become a free agent until after the 2019 season, when he will still only be 28, meaning the Dodgers get to enjoy him in his prime.
Joining Wood in the Dodger rotation is Latos, who is getting second billing behind Wood, but don’t sleep on him. He brings impressive credentials to the Dodgers at age 27. In 1,040 1/2 innings, he has a career 3.43 ERA with 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings, with a 1.18 WHIP.
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From 2010-2014, Latos’ ERA was 3.27 and never above 3.50 for a single season. This season, his ERA is 4.48, but heavily skewed by allowing seven runs in two-third of an inning in his season debut. A trip to the disabled list to treat left knee inflammation pivoted his season.
- April 7-May 21: 42 2/3 innings, 6.12 ERA
- June 13-July 26: 45 2/3 innings, 2.96 ERA
“He has averaged just above 93 mph with his fastball since returning from the DL (compared to just under 92 earlier in the season and throughout his injury-riddled 2014 campaign),” writes Cliff Corocoran of SI.com, “and hit 97 on the radar gun for the first time since July 2013 in his June 24 start against the Giants, per BrooksBaseball.net.”
Even including his rough start to 2015, Latos has a 3.34 fielding-independent ERA this season, nearly identical to his 3.40 career rate.
The trade unites Latos with Yasmani Grandal, who went to San Diego with Yonder Alonso, Brad Boxberger and Edinson Volquez in exchange for Latos in December 2011.
For more set-up options in the bullpen, the Dodgers have added Johnson and Avilan.
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Johnson, who turned 32 last month, has come back from a disappointing 2014 season to have a 2.25 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 48 innings for the Braves. He’s not automatic, but he’s capable of long streaks of effectiveness. For example, from June 9 to July 17, he pitched 17 2/3 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts against 18 baserunners, before allowing runs in two of his past five outings.
He has a 60.8 percent groundball rate, and leads National League relievers in groundball double plays with nine. Conceivably, Johnson is also a backup closer — he has saved nine games for the Braves this year, and saved 101 for Baltimore in 2012-13.
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Avilan, who turned 26 this month, hasn’t dominated the way he did in 2013 (1.52 ERA, 0.95 WHIP), but has still been solid with a 3.58 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 37 2/3 innings this season. Though he is a southpaw, right-handed hitters have a .265 on-base percentage against him this year.
At age 21, Peraza might be a September pinch-runner at most this year, but the middle infielder is ranked 30th in MLB’s Top 100 Prospects list, one spot behind highly regarded Dodger pitcher Jose De Leon.
“Peraza has raced through the Minor Leagues thanks to his feel for the game and his top-of-the-scale speed,” wrote MLB.com. “Peraza has a quick, short swing and excellent hand-eye coordination. His swing produces minimal power and he mostly tries to keep the ball on the ground to use his considerable speed to his advantage. He’s a threat to steal whenever he gets on base and has swiped at least 60 bases in each of his first two years of full-season ball.”
Arroyo, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery after facing more than 10,000 batters in his career, will be 38 when he attempts his comeback next season. The 33-year-old Morse had 16 homers and an .811 OPS in 482 plate appearances for San Francisco in 2014, but has been limited to four homers, a .592 OPS and 173 plate appearances for the Marlins this year.
Of the prospects the Dodgers are surrendering, none rank in the MLB Top 100, and only the 30-year-old Olivera is expected to make a near-term impact in 2016. Rodriguez, like Chris Withrow (who went with Juan Uribe to Atlanta in May), will be looking to come back from surgery, possibly in September but otherwise next season.
Among the players on the Dodgers’ 2014 playoff roster, these remain: Kershaw, Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu (60-day disabled list), Kenley Jansen, J.P. Howell, Pedro Baez, Carlos Frias, A.J. Ellis, Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke.