The case for trading Walker Buehler

As a prospect guy, this article is a bit difficult to write. But given a number of factors (to follow), it might make some sense for the Dodgers to consider trading their top prospect Walker Buehler. It’s not as simple as that, but there are a number of reasons the Dodgers should at least consider the notion.

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Two of the names available via trade this offseason are Chris Archer and Christian Yelich. Chad wrote about Archer earlier this offseason and how he’d check a ton of boxes for the Dodgers, then I wrote about Yelich a few weeks ago and why he makes all kinds of sense, and those are about the two guys I’d even consider (or hope the Dodgers would consider) trading Buehler to acquire.

Archer is, indeed, still on the market, while Yelich has been available ever since Giancarlo Stanton was traded to the Yankees. While offers for Archer haven’t been made public, a name in a potential package for Yelich surfaced earlier this week.

Lewis Brinson is the Brewers’ top prospect and checked in at No. 18 on Baseball America’s Top 100 and No. 32 on Keith Law’s Top 100. It makes sense the Marlins would want a player of his ilk, which means if the Dodgers really want Yelich, they’re going to have to pony up the prospects. I’m not sure Yadier Alvarez or Alex Verdugo would suffice, and that’s where Buehler comes into play.

Buehler, 24, was ranked 12th by Law and 13th by BA this week, so he could certainly rival Brinson as a headliner in a package. And if Buehler is headlining, that would lessen the prospect/player cost for the remainder of the deal. For instance, I don’t see a scenario where trading Buehler for either one of these young stars would also require including Alvarez, Mitchell White or any other quality pitching prospect in the organization. I could see Verdugo being included, only because he’s close to the majors and there’s a bit of an outfield logjam with the MLB club. If not Verdugo, then a guy like Joc Pederson or Andrew Toles (or both) would make sense. Losing Buehler would hurt, but a lot of the rest of the farm system would be intact.

But why would I be willing to include Buehler in a deal for either Archer or Yelich? It has to do with his flaws as a prospect.

From Baseball America:

“Buehler’s slight frame gives a few evaluators pause, but most see him as an elite pitching prospect with top-of-the-rotation potential. He has yet to pitch more then 95 innings in a season and will likely start 2018 back at Triple-A Oklahoma City in an effort to increase his durability. If he can do that, Buehler has a long future in rotation ahead of him.”

From Baseball Prospectus:

“He’s had Tommy John. Also, while his delivery is consistent, it’s not exactly low-effort. He has two other pitches than the fastball and the curveball, but while the slider is not a bad pitch, the changeup showed as little more than a batting-practice fastball. If the Dodgers plan to work him as a starter, finding a solid third pitch will be his toughest decision. The real bad, though, is the injury risk.”

Most of it has to do with his frame. He’s listed (generously) at 6’2 and 175 pounds, and I believe the latter more than the former. Pitchers with his frame, his injury history and velocity don’t tend to survive very long in the starting rotation. Here’s a list of starting pitchers who were listed at 175 pounds or lighter since 1980:

Some choice company. The top three — Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine — are all Hall Of Famers. And since the list only includes a pitcher’s 1980 season and beyond, you can add Nolan Ryan to the list. Also, there’s no way he played his entire career at 170 pounds, but that’s beside the point. There are also several other quality pitchers here: Ron Guidry, Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum, Dennis Martinez, Ramon Martinez, Jamie Moyer, Bret Saberhagen. But even with all these positives, there are only 66 pitchers on this list, and half of them logged fewer than 350 innings as a starter. If you factor in the fact Buehler has an injury history and durability concerns, and there’s a non-zero chance he ends up not surviving the rigors of an MLB season in the rotation, even if the Dodgers continue to limit their starters’ workload.

Notably, Buehler has primarily been compared to Lincecum. He’s a little bit taller than the 2-time Cy Young award winner, but his high-effort delivery is similar. While Lincecum was dominant for a 4-year stretch, he wasn’t the same pitcher after his age-27 season. Buehler throws harder than Lincecum ever did, and it remains to be seen if he can sustain that velocity with his frame for any significant length of time. Odds are, he’s more likely to end up being closer to Ervin Santana or teammate Kenta Maeda than he is Pedro. That’s not a bad thing, but it certainly doesn’t make him an untouchable when it comes to trades. And as best as I can tell, none of the 66 pitchers possessed Buehler’s pitching profile (mid-to-high-90s fastball, plus-slider, plus-curveball). There are better pitchers, but none of them were blessed with what Buehler currently has.

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I’m not saying I want the Dodgers to trade Buehler, and I’m pretty confident that they aren’t going to. I am saying that if they have the chance to trade him for an established, controllable star like Archer or Yelich, it would absolutely be defensible. Archer is under team control for four more years and Yelich for five. Odds are, Buehler won’t contribute as much to the team in that amount of time as either Archer or Yelich would. Buehler could contribute in other ways (as a relief ace), but if you’re asking me who’d be more valuable over the course of those time periods, I’m going with the established big leaguers.

Oh, and there’s the always apt TINSTAAPP — There is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect. For a team like the Dodgers, which is set to contend for the foreseeable future and came within one win of winning it all just (nearly) four months ago, moving Buehler to land one of those two impact players wouldn’t be as outlandish as it may initially seem.

The best part is that the Dodgers could just keep and continue to develop Buehler. If that’s the worst-case scenario, then they’re in good shape.

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.