2018 Dodgers trade deadline targets: RHP Jacob deGrom, Mets

(Via)

Next up in our trade deadline series is perhaps the biggest player on the market … maybe … it’s the Mets so who knows. But this article is about right-handed starter Jacob deGrom.

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Previous entries in the series:

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After the Dodgers landed Manny Machado, I made the case over at True Blue LA that the Dodgers should really go all-in and pursue deGrom.

“If the Mets were to truly make him available, the acquisition cost for any team would be exorbitant. We’re talking Chris Sale-to-Boston kind of a price because deGrom, 30, is under team control through the 2020 season. Since the Dodgers only gave up one premium prospect in the Machado deal, they still have a healthy stable of prospects from which to deal. Of course, the Mets would likely insist on Walker Buehler. Hell, they might even insist on Cody Bellinger. That makes sense for them, but not so much for the Dodgers. So, if I’m Andrew Friedman and Co., I tell the Mets “you can have any five prospects you want for deGrom,” and that still might not be enough. But because the Dodgers are in a prime position to return to the World World Series after a painfully slow start to the season (I’m sorry!), going all-in and trying to land deGrom, even if it means gutting the farm system, isn’t as crazy as it sounds. It definitely isn’t the Friedman way, but the Dodgers getting back to the Series just to lose to the Astros (again), Red Sox or Yankees — the class of baseball right now — would be doubly painful.”

Of course — depending who you believe — deGrom might not be available.

Jacob deGrom remains one of the more interesting names on the trade market, though one general manager isn’t sure the National League’s Cy Young Award favorite is actually on the trade market. ‘I’m not sure how serious they are about moving deGrom,’ the GM said of the Mets. ‘I don’t see them doing it. It feels like they’re just keeping the door open for someone to come in and offer them something absolutely insane. They don’t seem that motivated to trade him.'”

For the sake of this article, let’s just assume he’s available. Hell, almost every player is … for the right price.

Before we get to cost, let’s look at what makes deGrom so incredibly valuable. First, he’s in the middle of a career year, pitching better than he ever has at age 30. He has an NL-best 1.71 ERA, 2.27 FIP, 4.9 fWAR and 84.3 percent strand rate. He’s also second to Max Scherzer in K-BB% (24.6 percent), 14.5 swinging strike rate and is third in batting average against (.198). He’s pitching simply Kershawinan, something we may never see from one Clayton Kershaw again.

TL;DR: He’s really, really, good. Not only that, but he’s under team control through the 2020 season. In his second year of arbitration (he was a Super 2 guy), he is making $7.4 million. That’s a steal. When that number goes up to, say, $13-14 million next year, it’s still going to be a steal. When it gets to $20-22 million in 2020, yes, it’ll probably still be a steal. And this is what makes his situation so interesting. He’s not just a rental. He won’t be going to a team for 2 1/2 months only to hit the free agent market five days after the conclusion of the 2018 World Series. He’ll be around to anchor a team’s rotation for at least two more full seasons. Perhaps that rotation is in New York with the Mets, perhaps it isn’t. Bottom line is, deGrom’s value will never be higher and if the Mets are truly serious about rebuilding — something they should be serious about — then trading him now is probably the best option. If they trade him in the winter, they’ll still get a ton of value in return, but trading him now would next them another quality prospect/young player in the trade.

But I’m not a Mets’ blogger. I’m sure they don’t really want to trade him. The fact is, they kind of need to trade him before the start of the 2019 season. The Mets aren’t going anywhere and, despite a few nice 1st-round draft picks in 2016 (Justin Dunn), ’17  (David Peterson) and ’18 (Jarred Kelenic), it’s going to take a lot for this team to get back into contention. They have to deal with up-and-coming teams in Atlanta and Philadelphia, as well as a cash-rich team in Washington. If they don’t play their cards right, they could be firmly entrenched in fourth place for the next half-decade.

I’m always on the side of a full rebuild. The worst place a team/franchise can be is in the middle. It plagued the Dodgers from 2010-12 before the new ownership took over and righted the ship. But if the Mets hold deGrom, that’s fully defensible. The only thing is, deGrom is already 30. He didn’t debut in the majors until he was almost 26 years old, which means he isn’t your typical player a couple years away from free agency. And with teams being more and more cautious on the free agent market — even for top-end talent (Yu Darvish and J.D. Martinez signed late in the offseason) — the Mets risk holding onto deGrom and losing him in free agency after his age-32 season while getting nothing for him and potentially playing for nothing important. They probably don’t want to pay what it’s going to take to keep him when he hits free agency either. In fact, contract extension talks have gone nowhere. So, the best course of action in this writer’s eyes is to sell off deGrom for a massive return to replenish the farm system or acquire an established, young veteran player (and prospects) to help the Mets with their rebuild.

From the Dodgers’ side, getting deGrom would not only improve the team for this season, but it’d also be a bit of insurance for Kershaw opting out and/or not returning to form, as well as a safeguard against Buehler (if he isn’t part of the deal) regressing and/or being on the innings restriction and guard against Ross Stripling wearing down over the course of the season (his outing in Philadelphia last night wasn’t great). Stripling is at his MLB-high in terms of innings and is just 27 2/3 innings short of his professional high. For good measure, his high in college was 125 2/3 innings.

Getting deGrom would push (at least) one of the starters to the bullpen, thus strengthening the weakest part of the team without having to expend any resources on a reliever from outside the organization. The Dodgers could still target a reliever, but it may not be necessary.

Cost

This is where things get hairy. You’re not going to like any of these proposals. But when you’re dealing with a player of deGrom’s caliber and team control, it’s going to take a ton to get him. Before my four proposals, I put this poll out on Twitter yesterday.

Obviously, the voters have the right idea with option 3. But options 1 and 2 are not as far-fetched and/or unreasonable as your initial reaction may suggest.

The benchmark for this kind of move is the Chris Sale deal. The White Sox got the No. 1 prospect in baseball (at the time) in Yoan Moncada, a Top 50 guy in Michael Kopech, a 20-year-old lottery ticket in outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and 24-year-old power reliever in Victor Diaz. Sale had three full years of control left on his deal at an extremely affordable rate ($38 million). deGrom has a chance to best that number in the final two years of arbitration by itself and doesn’t have as much team control as Sale did. So, the packages can be slightly less than what the Red Sox gave up to get Sale, but not by that much.

Oh, and Logan Forsythe‘s name is going to appear in all these packages for financial reasons.

Package 1

To New York: RHP Walker Buehler, SS Gavin Lux, RHP Jesus Vargas, 2B Logan Forsythe
To Los Angeles: Jacob deGrom

That’s steep, but it’s a fair price to pay for one of the five best starting pitchers in baseball. I wrote an article in January about the possibility of trading Buehler.

“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.”

deGrom didn’t come up, but if you’re going to trade your prized 24-year-old pitcher, sending him to get an established, elite pitcher like deGrom makes some sense. Lux is playing himself into being a Top 100 prospect (and even higher, according to some publications). Vargas is the low-level lottery ticket here. If it seems like a lot to give up, well, the Dodgers (or any team, really) will probably have to pay a little extra to convince the Mets to actually pull the trigger on a deGrom deal.

Package 2

To New York: 1B/OF Cody Bellinger, C Will Smith, LHP Robinson Ortiz, 2B Logan Forsythe
To Los Angeles: Jacob deGrom

A year ago at this time, this would have seem preposterous. Bellinger was well on his way to winning the National League Rookie Of The Year Award and was showing incredible power and some maturity at the plate. Fast forward a year later and Bellinger hasn’t been as good as he was last season (but he’s still been solid) and the Mets currently don’t have a true first baseman they could pencil in for the next decade. Dominic Smith is playing mostly left field and Peter Alonso, despite hitting well at Double-A this season, doesn’t have near the ceiling Bellinger does. Smith would be a great secondary piece for the Mets, while Ortiz — an 18-year-old holding his own in the AZL — is the lottery ticket here.

This might be a bit too much if you put stock into FanGraphs’ trade value rankings. On this list, deGrom and Bellinger are Nos. 25 and 26, respectively. Meaning, the Dodgers could — in theory — trade Bellinger straight up for deGrom and it’d be fair. I threw in a legitimate prospect and a couple lottery tickets to make it a bit more fair for the Mets. Also, Buehler checked in at No. 40 on the list, hence the reason that package looks better than this one.

Package 3

To New York: OF Alex Verdugo, C Keibert Ruiz, RHP Dustin May, RHP Dennis Santana/LHP Caleb Ferguson, SS Gavin Lux, 2B Logan Forsythe
To Los Angeles: Jacob deGrom

This is the “gutting the farm system” proposal. It’s not dissimilar to the deal with the Orioles in terms of quantity, but there’s a lot more quality here than what Baltimore got for Machado (as it should be). The Dodgers’ two best prospects would have to be involved, as would one of the lower-level pitching prospects (May) and an MLB-ready pitching prospect (Santana or Ferguson — their choice). Lux would be the sweetener in this deal.

If you’re worrying about the strength of the farm system afterward, I covered that in the TBLA article from last week.

“This would be a lot easier if the Dodgers had signed 2018 first-round pick J.T. Ginn, but there’s nothing that can be done about that now. They’ll have two first-rounders next year and are kicking the tires on one of the best international amateur free agents remaining, so the farm system could get restocked quicker than, say, the last two years.”

If they’re ever going to risk trading a bunch of quality prospects for the present, this is as good a time as any.

Package 4

To New York: LHP Julio Urias, C Keibert Ruiz/C Will Smith, RHP Mitchell White, 2B Logan Forsythe
To Los Angeles: Jacob deGrom

This one is hard to gauge because Urias is still recovering from his shoulder surgery (but the early reports are encouraging). If he were 100 percent and never had the surgery, we’re not having this discussion right now. But because of the uncertainty, the Dodgers will have to include some quality prospects to help offset the risk for the Mets, who could choose between Ruiz and Smith at catcher because they’d be wise to land one of the Dodgers’ premium backstops in this deal. The riskiest part of the deal outside Urias is White, who was a Top 100 guy by most accounts before the season started. This deal might have the most upside of any of the four, but it also carries the most risk.

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Even after all those words, this still might be enough to pry Jacob deGrom away from the Mets. They could just as well hold onto him until the offseason, which makes a lot sense for them. But if the Dodgers want to improve their chances of not only going back to the World Series, but winning it, maybe they take the plunge and trade the necessary assets. They would be taking a bit of a hit on the future, but not one that this group of nerds couldn’t recover from.

This probably isn’t going to happen (always bet on the field), but that won’t stop me from trying to will it into existence.

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.