The Dodgers and A’s swung a trade with an infielder coming back to LA … but it isn’t Matt Chapman
Yes, the Dodgers have acquired infielder Sheldon Neuse and right-hander Gus Varland for Adam Kolarek and Cody Thomas. Let’s look at the Dodgers’ return first.
Neuse, 26, was the Nationals’ 2nd-round pick in 2016. He was sent to Oakland in the Sean Doolittle deal in 2017. He didn’t play in the majors in 2020, but he made his debut in 2019. Right-handed all the way (as Vin would say), in 61 plate appearances, he hit just .205/.295/.304 with a 63 wRC+. In Triple-A in ’19, he hit .317/.389/.550 with a 126 wRC+ in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
He was ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Athletics’ No. 5 prospect in 2020. He was No. 8 in FanGraphs’ rankings last year, while Baseball Prospectus ranked him at No. 9 in their most recent update. From BP’s report:
“He looked like a fast-moving, hit-over-power college bat, then the bat stagnated, then the power popped in Triple-A. All along he’s shown passable third base defense due to his strong arm, and he has spent time at all four infield positions in the minors—he was a college shortstop at Oklahoma. At the point where we click the shutter on this snapshot in time, Neuse has the potential for an average hit/power combo you’ll want to leverage against lefties whenever possible, and some defensive flexibility.”
Sounds very much like a player the Dodgers like. He’s still prospect-eligible, so he’ll be around for a while (and will make my Top 50 list). He probably won’t prevent the Dodgers from bringing Justin Turner back, but they have been on the hunt for a right-handed hitting infielder seemingly the entire winter.
Varland, 24, was Oakland’s 14th-round draft pick in 2018 out of Concordia University. He has just 64 1/3 innings of professional work due to Tommy John surgery in 2019. MLB Pipeline had him at No. 28 last year, while FanGraphs had him at No. 35. Here’s what Eric Longenhagen (FG) had to say about him:
“Thick and physical throughout the torso and thighs, Varland has a lightning-quick arm that generates mid-90s velocity at peak. His fastball has bat-missing life, and both his breaking balls have sufficient bite to avoid barrels as well, especially when they’re well-located. He had Tommy John last August and will miss all of 2020.”
He’s probably a reliever in the long run, but there’s an extreme outside chance he can make it as a starter. Either way, it’s always good to have pitching depth in the upper minors.
The Dodgers gave up Kolarek, who has been pretty good for them since being acquired from Tampa Bay at the 2019 trade deadline. He has a 0.88 ERA, 3.20 FIP and a 13.7 K-BB%. With a full bullpen and Kolarek being a more specialized guy, the Dodgers could afford to part with him. Still, it’s a bit curious to see them give up Kolarek with Caleb Ferguson being out for the 2021 season. That leaves just Scott Alexander, Garrett Cleavinger and Victor Gonzalez as the only true left-handed relievers on the 40-man roster. Gonzalez is the only inspiring one of the trio. Of course, there has been chatter of using Julio Urias as a reliever. After the Trevor Bauer signing, that chatter could get even louder.
Thomas, 26, is actually a bit older than Neuse. He made some noise in Spring Training with his big home runs and some sparkling defense in right field. Despite being 40-man eligible, the Dodgers opted not to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. He, obviously, went undrafted. The Dodgers have a few similar players to Thomas ahead of him on the depth chart (Luke Raley, Zach Reks), so the Dodgers aren’t likely to miss him. He’s been a favorite of mine for a couple years, so here’s hoping he gets a chance to play in Oakland.
I really like this trade for the Dodgers. They got the player with the highest upside and dealt from the fringes of the 40-man roster and from a position of minor-league depth. They’re probably still going to re-sign Turner, but adding Neuse as a depth option is pretty good on the surface. He and Zach McKinstry could compliment each other quite well.
Neuse takes Kolarek’s spot on the 40-man roster, so there will still need to be a move made if/when the Dodgers re-sign Turner.