The Dodgers are at it again. Under Andrew Friedman’s leadership, the Dodgers have swung multiple three team trades, acquired All-Stars, and traded away and for Matt Kemp on the same contract. Just recently, they made another huge deal, this time trading away former All-Stars Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, and Matt Kemp (again), along with Kyle Farmer, to the Reds for Homer Bailey, Jeter Downs, and Josiah Gray. Bailey isn’t staying with the Dodgers (he was already released), so the real return here is Downs and Gray. Downs, a Competitive Balance Round A pick from 2017, and Gray, a Competitive Balance Round B pick from 2018, are real, legitimate prospects, who will help cover for the Dodgers’ recent errs in the past two draft classes.
It’s been a rarity over the past few years to see the Dodgers actually trade for prospects instead of trading them away, which is to be expected for any team on a six-straight-division-titles run, but the Dodgers actually have made some big trades for prospects during Friedman’s tenure. Right after taking over, the Dodgers acquired Andrew Heaney, Austin Barnes, and Zach Eflin at the 2014 Winter Meetings, but both Heaney and Eflin were immediately flipped for Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins, respectfully. In 2015, as part of a massive three-team deal, the Dodgers acquired Jose Peraza along with Alex Wood, but Peraza was later flipped to the Reds in another three-teamer, this one netting Frankie Montas. Montas was later sent to Oakland in the Josh Reddick/Rich Hill trade. While they weren’t flipped instantly like Heaney and Eflin, neither Peraza nor Montas spent a year in the Dodgers organization. The Dodgers are often wrongly perceived in the media as overly stingy with their prospects (which I wrote about here), but they certainly haven’t been with prospects who originated outside their organization. Downs and Gray, of course, are not close to being MLB-ready, unlike Heaney, Peraza, and Montas were at the time of their trades, so perhaps this time could be different.
If they stay in the organization, Downs and Gray help to add depth to a Dodgers system that was beginning to become heavier at the upper levels of the minor leagues. Downs, a 20-year-old middle infielder, slashed an impressive .257/.351/.402 with a 118 wRC+ in his age-19 season in the Midwest League, no small feat. He also added 13 homers and 37 stolen bases, along with a 19.7 K% and 9.9 BB%. His hit tool is promising, and his power is more than adequate for a middle infielder. His speed is his best tool, as evidenced by his stolen base total. Defensively, scouts are split on whether his best fit is shortstop, but he is likely athletic enough to stay there, and can easily slide over to second base if the team decides to move him. Some have speculated he could even move to center field, but it’s more probable at this point that he stays in the infield. He’ll almost definitely start next season at High-A Rancho Cucamonga, in the offense-friendly California League, where he could be poised for a breakout year. Josiah Gray was drafted just this year after dominating in college for Divison-II Le Moyne, the only school to offer Gray a scholarship. After transitioning to pitching full-time following his sophomore year, his draft stock soared, and Andrew Friedman even commented that the Dodgers liked him a lot during the draft. Scouts have been very impressed with his development as a pitcher already, as he pitched to a 2.58 ERA in 12 starts and 52.1 innings in the rookie level Appalachian League this year. Gray also added an impressive 10.15 K/9, 2.92 BB/9, and just 29 hits allowed. The 6’1” righty sits in the low-to-mid-90s with his fastball, touching 97, and his velocity has climbed as he’s added weight and focused solely on pitching. His best offspeed pitch is his mid-80s slider, and while his changeup is serviceable, both pitches have improved a lot with room for even more as Gray continues to get better. While some see Gray as a future reliever, he already throws a lot of strikes, and his low-mileage arm has scouts drooling with his potential. It’d be surprising if he started the year anywhere else besides the Single-A Midwest League, but he could move quickly if he pitches well. Downs and Gray will both go immediately into the Dodgers‘ top twenty prospects, with Downs solidly in the top ten.
In theory, it’s hard to totally analyze a trade that seems strange standing on its own, out of context. Its main goal (for the Dodgers, at least) is seemingly a salary dump for a move yet to be made (Bryce Harper? Corey Kluber? A.J. Pollock? The ghost of Duke Snider?). Regardless, let’s deconstruct. Kemp, Wood, and Puig all have one year left on their deals, and will be free agents at the end of this upcoming season. While all three are eligible to receive a qualifying offer, there’s almost no chance Kemp would’ve been offered one by the Dodgers, while Wood and Puig had better shots. Let’s just say that all three remained with the Dodgers, Puig and Wood were offered the QA and left, and the Dodgers didn’t exceed the luxury tax next year; in that case, the Dodgers would receive two picks between the second round and Competitive Balance Round B (if they exceeded the luxury tax, the picks would be after the fourth round). Instead, the Dodgers got… two recent draft picks, one from CBA and one from CBB. Looking solely through the lens of the transitive property, the Dodgers did better than they could’ve by just letting the trio walk at the end of the year. Additionally, the Dodgers get both prospects into their development system, rather than having to wait until the 2020 draft to select draft prospects.
While the Dodgers have done relatively well in recent draft years, nabbing Corey Seager and Ross Stripling in 2012, Cody Bellinger in 2013, and Walker Buehler in 2015, the past couple years haven’t looked up to par yet. In 2017, the Dodgers took Jeren Kendall, an outfielder with a world of talent but serious contact issues. Kendall, a Vanderbilt product, struggled this year to a line of .215/.300/.356 with a 32% K-rate in the aforementioned California League. He did add 12 homers and 37 stolen bases, and plays plus defense in center field, so it’s easy to see the potential there for a five tool player if the hit tool comes around. However, he’ll turn 23 this offseason, and with a repeat trip to the Cal League likely, the former Wisconsin prep product has already seen his prospect status diminish, and risks falling further behind on the age curve. In the second round of the same draft, the Dodgers took Morgan Cooper, who hasn’t thrown a professional pitch in the year and a half since he was drafted. He was hampered by a shoulder injury this year, and has already had Tommy John surgery while at Texas. He turned 24 at the end of last season, and will be well behind the age curve for whatever level he starts at in 2019, if he even does. In the 2018 draft, the Dodgers took two-way prep star J.T. Ginn, who opted to go to Mississippi State instead of going pro. Additionally, 2018 second rounder Michael Grove didn’t pitch this year as he recovered from his own Tommy John surgery, though he is expected to be ready for Spring Training.
So, needless to say, while it’s still quite early to be judging these past two draft classes, things haven’t exactly gone swimmingly, and this trade gives the Dodgers an infusion of talent that at worst helps make up for some of the draft mistakes, and at best adds to a talented group that took a little longer to develop. Given the likely benefits of trading for prospects now rather than waiting to select them in the draft (and having more control over which prospects they get, as compared to the draft, where they have to contend with 29 other teams), the Dodgers also get Downs and Gray infused into their system immediately, adding some depth to what’s become a system much heavier at AA and AAA in the last year or so. Only time will tell if the production from the quartet of Puig, Kemp, Wood, and Farmer can be properly replaced or improved upon, but as far as a return goes, the Dodgers did probably about as well as they could, while also unloading salary that could lead to a bigger move.