Dodgers smart to deal from position of depth at trade deadline

The big trade at the deadline for the Dodgers was acquiring Rich Hill and Josh Reddick for Jharel Cotton, Grant Holmes and Frankie Montas. Chad did a good job with the breakdown of the deal, but the most important point is that the Dodgers dealt from their stockpile of right-handed pitching prospects.

All three placed in the Top 11 of my preseason rankings: Holmes at 6, Cotton at 8 and Montas at 11. In my midseason Top 30 update, Holmes went up to 5, Cotton down to 10 and Montas up to 7. It may sound like a high price to pay — three Top 10 prospects from a Top 5 farm system — for a couple rentals, but there are other things at play here.

None of the three are surefire locks to be starting pitchers at the next level. Montas debuted with the White Sox last year and was the centerpiece of the 3-way trade over the winter with Chicago and Cincinnati. A preseason rib injury led to surgery that kept him out until late-May, but during his rehab, he was sitting in the high-90s and touched 100 MPH a few times with the fastball. The Dodgers’ plan for him during that time was to come up and bolster the bullpen. Then, the injuries hit the starting rotation hard, so the Dodgers kept him in the minors to stretch him out to be a starter. During that time, he had some irritation around the incision spot. A further look revealed that one of his ribs was still fractured and required another surgery. From my midseason update:

“Montas might not have been eligible for this list if he had been healthy the entire season. But he still owns a high-90s fastball, a slider that touches 90-91 MPH and a frame that is conducive to starting. But he hasn’t been able to shake the rib injury that has caused him to miss most of the season — surgery in spring training and a fracture just last month. He showed a lot in his 16 innings in the minors this season (34.4 K%, 4.7 BB%).”

His Dodger career lasted all of 16 impressive minor-league innings — 2.25 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 3.9 H/9 — and he should be quite the arm for the A’s. I’m not sure what they’re going to do with him when he’s healthy, but his floor is as a power arm out of the bullpen. His ceiling is that of a No. 3 starter if he develops a third pitch and shows improved command.

Holmes, as Chad said, is the prize of the deal, as the 2014 1st-round pick is having some success in the California League as a 20-year-old. Here’s what I wrote about him in the midseason update:

“While the results aren’t going to mean much for Holmes, he has enjoyed success in the hitter-friendly California League (ERA, FIP, K%). His biggest bugaboo remains his command, but he is doing a better job this season of being more in control of his pitches. He’s still armed with a low-90s fastball that touches the mid-90s, a hammer curveball and a promising changeup. Holmes would be a Top 2-3 prospect in many other farm systems.”

He has the best chance of the three to remain a starting pitcher and reach his ceiling. But like Montas, there’s a solid chance his command and third pitch never develop and he ends up being a reliever.

Finally, Cotton turned out to be quite the investment as the 20th-round draft pick. He went from virtually unknown college pitcher to legitimate pitching prospect over the course of his time in the Dodgers’ organization.

“Cotton is having a solid season with OKC. He’s missing a lot of bats (29.5 K%), but the hitter-friendly confines of the PCL are wreaking havoc on his ERA (4.74) and FIP (4.34). He’s given up 12 home runs in 79 2/3 innings, which is the biggest reason for his struggles this season. But the talent is still there with a 4-pitch mix that includes a low-90s fastball, a plus-changeup that has flashed plus-plus, a curveball and cutter. His first taste of the majors might come out of the bullpen … or with another organization.”

Well, he’s definitely not a “junkballer,” as one national writer who kept claiming Reddick was a right-handed hitter would tell you. Guys who can touch the mid-90s with the fastball and don’t rely on a number of off-speed pitches are not “junkballers.” Cotton has struggled a bit in the PCL, but like the results of Cal League pitchers, the hitter-friendly environment doesn’t lend itself to low ERAs. At worst, Cotton is a middle reliever. At best, he’s a quality No. 4 starter. It all depends if his breaking pitches take that next step. The fastball and changeup are maxed out (and both good), but he’ll need one of those breakers to do something if he wants to remain in the rotation.

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So yes, the Dodgers gave up three pitchers, but they dealt from a position of depth in the form of right-handed pitchers. And the guys they dealt are a notch below the Jose De Leon and Yadier Alvarez type of prospects. Also, they have Brock Stewart (despite the rocky start to his MLB career), Jordan Sheffield and Walker Buehler (provided he comes back from Tommy John surgery OK) as some higher-upside right-handed pitchers to take the spot of the guys dealt.

Maybe Cotton, Holmes and Montas go on to be great starting pitchers, maybe they go on to be great relievers, or maybe they never amount of much of anything at all — only time will tell. Either way, the Dodgers had to give up quality to get Hill and Reddick, and while they definitely did that, it doesn’t really hurt the farm system as much as folks initially thought. If they had to move Cody Bellinger, Willie Calhoun or Alex Verdugo — their three best position prospects — it’d be a different story. When I first heard the details, I wasn’t a huge fan of the deal. But after a few minutes of digesting the information, the more I liked it and the more it made sense — especially for this team.

It could have been worse: Just look at what the Giants did on Monday.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin’ Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif., and has yet to be shot.