After acquiring Danny Duffy earlier in the day for a player to be named later, the Dodgers are now finalizing a blockbuster deal with the Nationals for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. The cost was not at all cheap, as Andrew Friedman sent his biggest package of players the other way, dealing Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray, Gerardo Carrillo and Donovan Casey.
Scherzer is a future Hall Of Famer who has shown little sign of slowing down. In 105 innings in 2021, he has carried a 2.83 ERA, 3.47 FIP, and 3.23 xERA, striking out 35% of the batters he’s faced while walking just 6%. There’s some concern with the home runs and him recently missing a start with a triceps injury, but it’s clear he’s still a top of the rotation arm and he made a successful return from his injury earlier today.
Needless to say, he would be at the top of the rotation with Walker Buehler, but just as importantly he would push others back a slot and potentially allow Duffy and David Price to move to the pen. Replacing a quasi-pen game every fifth day with literally Max Scherzer should be a huge boost to their division and playoff ambitions.
Scherzer is in the final season of his seven-year, $210 million deal, and with 10-and-5 rights he had to waive his no-trade clause to approve the Dodgers after he perhaps didn’t do the same for the Padres, which makes this even more amusing.
Acquiring Scherzer was always on the minds of Dodgers fans, but getting shortstop Trea Turner in the same deal is truly a surprise. He’s quietly putting together a career year, building off his excellent but shortened 2020 with a line of .322/.369/.521/.890, far ahead of any slash he’s put together over a full season before.
At age 28 he’s in his prime and showing it, with quality defense at shortstop putting him on pace for a 6-7 WAR season. Turner also adds a new dimension to the Dodgers offense, stealing 21 bases to just three caught stealing. Batted ball data sees him overachieving a bit (.356 xwOBA/.381 wOBA), but even regressing to the former number would easily represent his best expected mark aside from the shortened 2020 campaign. Of course, he is currently on the COVID-19 list, and hopefully that gets squared away sooner than later.
Turner is making $13 million this year and will hit his final year of arbitration next year, so the Dodgers will have him for 2022 as well. There are questions about where he will slot in when Corey Seager returns, as well as what this means for the free agent to be, but acquiring a player of his caliber is hard to argue with. Trea has played second and center years ago, so that’s a possibility, and so is moving Seager off short somehow.
As exciting as that package is, the cost was extensive, probably the biggest return a team has got from Friedman yet.
The Dodgers sent their top two prospects in Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray to the Nationals, with Ruiz being a catcher who can stick at the position and is having his breakout offensive year in AAA, while Gray is currently in the Dodgers rotation and looks like a quality rotation arm at worst. They will likely be immediate contributors to the Nationals, and I anticipate they’ll be establishing themselves as soon as 2022.
Carillo and Casey are more lottery tickets type of prospects by comparison. Carillo has a live arm, emerging a couple years ago by touching triple digits. He has a 4.25 ERA in AA at 22 with an impressive 70 strikeouts in 59.1 innings. I always projected him as more of a potential back-end pen arm. Casey is a 25-year-old outfield prospect in AA with a .296/.362/.462/.824 line with a whopping 102 strikeouts against 26 walks, and seemed like a depth option.
In terms of surplus value, the Nationals are likely to come out ahead thanks to six years of control of both Ruiz and Gray, who are likely to be MLB-quality starters. And that could be supplemented further if Carillo and Casey are useful pieces in the future.
But it’s still hard to argue with the logic of the deal for the Dodgers. With Will Smith looking like a perennial All-Star and Diego Cartaya coming up behind him, Ruiz was expendable even if a top prospect. Of course, you don’t want to just give those guys away for anybody, and they didn’t. Similarly, Gray is a great talent and looked like a potential mid-rotation staple, but the Dodgers still have Ryan Pepiot, Bobby Miller, and Clayton Beeter coming up behind him, so it’s not like this empties the system on that front either. They were pieces that a team should hang onto unless they can get elite production in return, and the Dodgers got exactly that.
I’m still a bit of a prospect hugger at times due to how well the prospects have worked out for the Dodgers. However, it’s also hard not to trust their internal evaluations at this point to give up reasonable prices, especially for superstars.
And if there ever was a time to go for it on a trade like this it is 2021. With the team being struck by injuries and Trevor Bauer, and with the Giants surprising and the Padres providing an expected challenge, the division race is tighter than ever before. Avoiding a one-game Wild Card Game against possibly one of the best teams in baseball is a big advantage, and this trade makes the Dodgers clear favorites in the division, enhances their World Series chances, and should they get healthy down the stretch it’s hard to argue against them having the best roster in baseball now.