Dodgers trade deadline targets: RHP Sonny Gray and LHP Sean Doolittle

(Via)

Second up in the trade deadline series is an Athletic duo (though, they’re not particularly athletic) in Sonny Gray and Sean Doolittle.

You have to look no further than 50 weeks ago to find the last time the Dodgers and A’s teamed up on a deal. Everyone knows it by now: Rich Hill and Josh Reddick for Jharel Cotton, Grant Holmes and Frankie Montas. It’s safe to say the Dodgers got the better present value, while the overall future value is still to be determined.

This duo would be a bit different in terms of price to acquire since neither Gray or Doolittle are rentals — far from it. Let’s start with Gray.

In 2015, Gray posted a career-best season almost across the board. He logged 208 innings (down from 219 the year before) and was on his way to being the next great A’s ace. But the last two seasons have been a struggle, as he has dealt with a trapezius, forearm and shoulder injuries. None have been serious, but they’ve been enough to hamper his performance.

Despite that, Gray, 27, is posting a career-best 93.2 MPH on his fastball, so velocity isn’t a problem. His main offspeed pitches are a curveball and slider, with the former being better than the latter when all is well. This season, though, he has seen a spike in his changeup usage — up to 14.7 percent (previous best was 8.6 percent). It has also been effective, as it’s the 16th-best in baseball among starting pitchers (minimum 70 innings pitched) and 9th-best among right-handers.

It’s no surprise he’s striking out more hitters per nine innings (8.5) and as a percentage of batters faced (22.8) than at any time that wasn’t his rookie season, in which he threw 64 innings. Overall, his swinging strike rate is up almost 2 percent from his career-high. That’s thanks to getting hitters to chase more — 32.4 O-Swing%, easily his best to date (and sandwiched between two similar pitchers in statue in Lance McCullers and Jose Berrios). He’s allowing less contact, too — 75.5 percent. If that weren’t enough, he’s still posting the 10th-best ground ball rate among starters at 53.3 percent.

Craig Edwards of FanGraphs made some notes about Gray’s plate discipline stats in late May.

“Gray has most frequently located his breaking ball right below the zone, and he’s getting batters to chase it. When Gray was good in 2014 and 2015, batters swung at pitches out of the strike zone 31% of the time. Last year, that figure declined to 28%. This year, though, it’s back up to 31%. Better still, the contact percentage against Gray on pitches out of the zone has gone down from around 60%, which includes last year’s tough season, to just 53% this year.”

Updated numbers show Gray’s O-Contact% is at 59.5 percent. Not as good as the 53 it was at earlier, but still acceptable. Where he has been a bit snake bitten — not unlike Clayton Kershaw — has been with the home run. He has allowed eight home runs in 78 2/3 innings (0.92 HR/9), this after allowing 18 in 117 last season (1.38 HR/9). To be fair, three of those came in his first start of the season, meaning he has a 0.61 HR/9 since then.

In the same article, Edwards examined what Gray’s trade value might be come the summer.

“That said, if Gray’s slider remains a pitch that hitters chase — and he keeps up his ground-balling ways with both the four-seam and the two-seam fastball, like he has in the past — this might be the best version of Sonny Gray that we’ve seen. And we’ve seen some pretty good versions of Gray. If Gray can stay healthy, some team might be willing to pay quite a price for potentially two-and-a-half seasons of potentially great pitching.”

With Jose Quintana going to the Cubs on Thursday for a package headlined by Eloy Jimenez, some would say the market is set. I’m not so sure.

I heard Ned Colletti on Dodger Talk last week or the week before talking about trades. He said something to the effect of: If a big name is traded farther out from the deadline, either one team got a steal or one team had to pay a premium. He referenced the Hanley Ramirez trade, where the Dodgers got an absolute steal in that deal because they took on all the money, even though they also gave up a quality prospect in Nathan Eovaldi. The Quintana trade, however, seems to be a case of the latter, as Jimenez is a Top 10 prospect in all of baseball. That kind of prospect could headline a package for a better starting pitcher in the offseason (and I’m not saying by any means Quintana isn’t good), so I’m not sure this deal shifted the price tag of others all that much. Remember, when the Red Sox sent Anderson Espinoza to the Padres for Drew Pomeranz, the Dodgers were still able to land Hill for a good price (different situations, I know).

Gray is under team control through the 2019 season via arbitration, and he could make anywhere from $15 to $20 million (or more) through the process. That makes him more valuable than a better pitcher who has fewer years of control remaining (hi, Yu Darvish). If he’s healthy, it’s a price well worth paying. And with Julio Urias out until 2019 (yes, I’m calling that right now), having Gray in the rotation to help make up for that big loss could be beneficial.

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Doolittle, 30, is a different beast all together. He’s logged just 73 innings of work since 2015. He was coming off a 2.7-win season as a reliever in 2014 and well on his way to being one of baseball’s best, but like Gray, Doolittle suffered injuries that made his career take a slight detour.

The thing is, when Doolittle has pitched, he’s still been good — including this season. His 3.54 ERA is fine, but his 2.51 FIP tells a better story. He also has a 35.5 K-BB% — 4th-best in baseball (minimum 20 IP).

He’s a lot like Jake McGee, a left-handed reliever who relies heavily on his fastball. Doolittle has thrown it 87.3 percent of the time this season, which is right in line with his 87.9 percent usage. He’s averaging 94.3 MPH on the pitch. He also has a slider that he throws 10.5 percent of the time and a changeup that’s there for show.

The Dodgers have a solid trio of lefties in Luis Avilan, Grant Dayton and Adam Liberatore, but I’m not sure any of them can be counted on to get big outs in the postseason. Avilan has been inconsistent, Dayton has also been inconsistent and injured and Liberatore is suffering from a sore forearm, so his timetable is unknown. The Dodgers might actually need a left-handed reliever to add to the bullpen.

A lot of Doolittle’s value is not just because he’s really good (when healthy), but because he has a downright ridiculous contract. Here it is via Cot’s:

5 years/$10.5M (2014-18), plus 2019-20 club options
signed extension with Oakland 4/21/14
replaced 1 year/$0.505M deal signed 3/14
14:$0.6M, 15:$0.75M, 16:$1.55M, 17:$2.6M, 18:$4.35M, 19:$6M club option ($0.5M buyout), 20:$6.5M club option ($0.5M buyout)
performance bonuses based on 2015-17 games finished
salaries increase if Doolittle is arbitration-eligible after 2014 season: 15:$1.4M, 16:$2.45M 17:$3.65M, 18:$5M
2020 becomes mutual option with 100 games finished in 2018-19

Best-case scenario is the Dodgers would have Doolittle locked up through the 2020 season. If that’s the case, he will have been pitching quite well and will be easily worth it.

Cost

Again, we’re going to go with three packages here: One for just Gray, one for just Doolittle and one for the pair. And you’re going to see a lot of the same names repeated in this section throughout the series. This won’t cost Walker Buehler, but it could be more costly than what it’d take to get J.D. Martinez and Justin Wilson from the Tigers.

Package 1

To Oakland: Yadier Alvarez, Willie Calhoun, Keibert Ruiz, A.J. Alexy
To Los Angeles: Gray

Not quite the Quintana package, but the A’s would still get four quality prospects — two close to the majors, two not as close. The A’s have recently spent more on international prospects, so the chance to acquire a guy who signed for $16 million just a couple years ago without actually having to spend that money could be intriguing. Alexy is a nice low-level prospect having a breakout season who still hasn’t reached his full potential. Calhoun could step into Oakland’s lineup tomorrow without question. Ruiz is the wild card here. He’s a high-contact catcher who’s still a bit raw behind the plate but has shown good athleticism and has improved overall since signing out of Venezuela in 2014.

Package 2

To Oakland: Calhoun, Edwin Rios, Jacob Rhame
To Los Angeles: Doolittle

Calhoun will be the constant here. Rios gives the A’s a big-time power bat they could stick at DH if they needed to or give him a shot in one of the four corners. His profile is similar to that of their current third baseman Ryon Healy. Rhame could take Doolittle’s spot in the bullpen (literally just his spot; he’s not nearly that good).

Package 3

To Oakland: Alvarez, Calhoun, Dustin May, Alexy, Rios, Oscar Arzaga, Rhame
To Los Angeles: Gray, Doolittle, Kevin Richards

The new names here are Arzaga and May. Both are lower-level lottery tickets, but in different ways. Arzaga is a true wild card, while May has established himself quite nicely in the Midwest League, same as Alexy. Alvarez makes sense for them as they might not contend for another couple years. By that time, Calhoun could anchor that lineup and Rios might be hitting bombs in O.co, or wherever they end up playing. Rhame could not only step into the bullpen right now, they could make it more palatable for the A’s to deal their other relievers (Ryan Madson, Liam Hendriks) in hopes of replenishing their farm system. The Dodgers, on top of Gray and Doolittle, would get a low-level lottery ticket of their own in Richards, who is a speedy center fielder signed out of the Dominican Republic last year.

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Gray is a bit better than his overall numbers would indicate. His biggest impact on the Dodgers is that he’s the Game 3 or 4 starter of a 7-game series. I like Brandon McCarthy, but I’m not sure the Dodgers can count on him (without question) to take the ball in that kind of situation. The yips scare me more than anything else related to McCarthy’s performance. Also, Gray would make it so the Dodgers wouldn’t be forced to start Kershaw on short rest in the postseason, which would be the whole reason for trying to acquire another high-quality starting pitcher. A 1-2-3-4 of Kershaw, Alex Wood, Gray and (the good) Rich Hill would be awfully tough to top in the postseason. If Gray is in the fold and the Dodgers are leading a series with a chance to clinch, maybe they feel more comfortable going with him rather than running Kershaw out there to get them 18 outs and be ineffective in a subsequent start. The question must also be asked: Is Gray an upgrade over McCarthy, and is it worth the price? That’s what the front office has to determine.

Doolittle is an elite-level reliever when he’s actually able to take the ball. In 2017, he hasn’t allowed a left-handed hitter to reach base (24 batters faced), and he’s struck out half the lefties he has seen. For his career, he owns a .180/.213/.299 triple slash against lefties and a .214/.261/.341 triple slash against righties. He’s not just a LOOGY, but it’s nice to know that when he comes in against left-handed hitters, it almost always won’t end well for said hitters.

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I feel like a deal with Oakland is much more likely than it normally would be because Farhan Zaidi is the Dodgers’ General Manager. Even if he wasn’t, trying to find this quality a pitching duo from the same team before the deadline would be difficult. There is risk in every deal, and this one seems a bit more risky than others because of injury histories. But when Gray and Doolittle are healthy, they’re two of the best at their respective positions.

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 does contracts and depth charts for FanGraphs and 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 one-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, California, and has yet to be shot.