With so little actually happening for the Dodgers this winter, it’s only natural to look back on the moves that were made last winter. With the team short in the rotation and at second, the trade(s) that involved Dee Gordon & Andrew Heaney and left the Dodgers with neither one are an obvious focal point. (The Matt Kemp/Yasmani Grandal trade, an unqualified success, gets a fraction of the attention, because why be positive when you can complain?)
We loved the Miami trade at the time, and while it doesn’t look as good now, it’s still very defensible. Anyone who saw Gordon making the steps forward he did in 2015 is lying to themselves. Howie Kendrick did exactly what was expected, which was give the the team one solid year and a draft pick. Far too often, the deal is remembered without even including Enrique Hernandez (better than expected), Chris Hatcher (worse, though with an excellent finish that gives hope for 2016), and Austin Barnes (valuable depth and/or a trade chip).
But that wasn’t the whole deal, of course. Kendrick didn’t come from the Marlins; he came from the Angels, having been flipped within hours of the first deal for young pitcher Heaney. That was the part that was more controversial, because trading six years of a good pitching prospect for one year (and a pick) of a veteran isn’t usually recommended operating procedure. (Still unclear is the open question of whether the Dodgers explicitly targeted Heaney because they knew that’s what the Angels needed to move Kendrick, making the point of whether they “had Heaney” murky, but we’ll set that aside for now.)
I can’t find what I said about it at the time, but I was indifferent — the 2015 Dodgers were a win-now team with good prospect pitching depth, and while I didn’t love the idea, it made enough sense.
Now, with Kendrick leaving, Heaney coming off a successful season, and the Dodgers having gone through 16 starters in a year where they certainly could have used Heaney, I’m hearing a lot of angst about the move now, like this:
@mike_petriello actually Heaney for Kendrick was a terrible move IMO. The trade with Miami was fine
— Alex (@Alexi_G) December 20, 2015
Which is more than understandable. Heaney is 24, and just had a 3.49 ERA/3.73 FIP in 105 innings, which is useful. But I think the major disconnect here is that I’m just not a huge fan of his, thinking that he probably tops out as a mid-rotation guy at best (if even that), while a lot of the feedback I’m getting is that they gave up on the next big thing.
I think I know why.
This goes back to something I’ve been writing about since at least 2009: First impressions carry far, far too much weight. This was half of Hatcher’s problem — because of a rough start and an injury, it took him until September to get his ERA below 5, despite the fact that he’d been pretty good for weeks before that. It works the other way, too. Remember Luis Cruz? Do we even need to go through that again?
Something similar happened with Heaney. When he first came up in late June, he was excellent. He allowed two runs or fewer in each of his first seven starts, and carried a 1.97 ERA into his eighth start. That got him earning a lot of praise and saw him listed on all sorts of summer “breakout” pieces, which is fine: He deserved it. Of course, what went less reported is that from starts 8-18, he had a 4.65 ERA. His whiff rate dropped from 19.3% to 16.0%; his walk rate doubled from 4% to 8%. His HR/9 rate went up; his grounder rate dropped. His FIP went from 3.09 to 4.22. This is all after getting lit up in a brief debut with the Marlins in 2014.
The point here is not to say that the mostly ineffective late-season Heaney is the pitcher he’ll be. That would be disingenuous; after all, we’re all hoping that Joc Pederson can rebound from a similar trend. His slider is good. His change is improving. He’s just not the pitcher we saw in his first six weeks or so, which is when so many of those first impressions came. Steamer projects him for a 3.89 ERA/4.10 FIP, which sounds reasonable based on what we’ve seen so far; that’s also roughly what C.J. Wilson & Chris Heston did in 2015.
Right now, on Dec. 28, Heaney would still be one of the five best starters in the Dodger rotation, obviously. I’m not sure that’ll be the case by April, however, particularly if Hyun-jin Ryu makes it back. And while that’s a pitcher you absolutely want to have, it’s not one I’m losing a ton of sleep over.
I guess it comes down to that, really. If you think the Dodgers sold six years of a very good young pitching prospect for one (and a pick) of a veteran, it was a disaster. If you think they gave up on a decent prospect not that better than the ones they have (other than being ready immediately, which is of course valuable), it’s merely questionable. I know that sounds like carrying water for the front office, but not really; you certainly haven’t seen me saying this offseason has been good. This just hasn’t been a pitcher I’ve been a big fan of, and that was true at the time of the trade. Still true now.