Dodgers approach trade deadline eyeing ‘premium talent’

This year’s trade deadline arrives Monday with a set of unique challenges in a one-of-a-kind season.

For the Dodgers, though, the biggest challenge of all might be this – how do you improve on a team that already seems complete with no obvious needs?

“I think from our standpoint we’re not viewing this deadline in a way that we have an acute need that we need to go out and address,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said as the hours counted down to Monday’s deadline, rescheduled a month later than usual due to the season’s late start. “Our mindset is to be opportunistic in that if a really good player becomes available and fits and works, then we’ll be aggressive to pursue. But we feel really good about our roster and also the depth behind it. So we’re mindful not to do something just to do it and block guys that deserve an opportunity.

“Kind of similar to our approach at all the various trading cycles – we don’t want to miss out on a premium talent that gets moved without having a conversation.”

Rich Hill, Yu Darvish and Manny Machado certainly qualified as “premium talent” at the time the Dodgers acquired them in past deadline deals. But it is questionable whether anyone of that level is moved this year. The expanded playoff format – 16 teams will make it this year – has made it easier for more teams to consider themselves in the hunt for a postseason spot, limiting the number of clear sellers.

“It’s definitely unusual, I think in part because 2020 has been so unusual and in part because of all the teams that are within shouting distance of a playoff spot,” Friedman said.

“I think there are probably more teams that are looking to buy or hold than there typically are.”

There does appear to be a healthy number of front-line starting pitchers available – or at least open for discussion – like Rangers right-hander Lance Lynn, who started Saturday against the Dodgers, and Angels right-hander Dylan Bundy. Reds right-hander Trevor Bauer seems to be the subject of more speculation than actual substantive movement while the Indians’ displeasure with right-hander Mike Clevinger, after he and Zach Plesac blatantly disregarded coronavirus protocols, could create movement.

If the Dodgers are motivated by need, starting pitching is one area they could address. Behind Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, Ross Stripling (Saturday’s starter) and Julio Urias have underachieved. That leaves the inexperienced duo of Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin as potential third starters in the postseason – a role David Price would have filled and Alex Wood, who is on the Injured List,  still could.

Posturing or transparent, Friedman said he does not see more experienced starters as a necessary target.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “It was similar with Walker in ’18. I think getting those guys experience and believing in the competitor and the talent makes us more confident about them.

“From our standpoint … at some point, we have to get them (May and Gonsolin) playoff experience and it’s about believing in the competitor and the talent, which we do. So if we didn’t do it this year, then we’d be looking to do it next year and it would be, ‘They still don’t have experience. Let’s wait another year.’”

Statistically, the Dodgers’ most glaring weakness is a significant dropoff in hitting against left-handed pitching. Going into Saturday’s game, their batting average against left-handers (.220) was more than 40 points lower than when they faced right-handers. The team OPS (.662) was nearly 200 points lower.

Mookie Betts (a .176 average and .506 OPS against lefties), Justin Turner (.206 and .613), Kiké Hernandez (.179 and .555) and Chris Taylor (.152 and .516) have fed those lopsided splits by hitting well below their career marks against left-handed pitching. For that reason – and an uncertainty where at-bats would come from if he did add a “lefty-killing” bat – Friedman doesn’t see the urgency to look for an answer outside the current roster.

“I think that improvement is just going to have to come from within,” he said. “Obviously we’re talking about a really small sample for these guys. If you were facing a left-handed starter, I would bet on their track record rather than these 30 at-bats. We have like five guys who are very far below their established watermarks and some of the underlying information – in terms of quality of contact for a number of them – support that it’s more bad luck on balls in play than them just struggling. But again, I will bet on the established track record and reverting back to that.”

TURNER OUT

Turner was out of the lineup Saturday and won’t play until Tuesday at the earliest, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. Turner left Friday’s game after suffering “a low-grade strain” of the left hamstring while running the bases in the seventh inning.

“I think today he’s going to just go with the rest and recovery, treat it up. Probably do the same tomorrow,” Roberts said.

“I think we’re all in agreement where the next couple days, have him down, use that off day (Monday) then we’ll see where he’s at on Tuesday.”

Turner also missed one game last weekend with an injury to the same hamstring.

Infielder Edwin Rios, who is on the Injured List with a hamstring strain, is expected back Tuesday or Wednesday, Roberts said.

LUX RETURNS

For the second time this week, Gavin Lux was activated from the taxi squad and started at second base Saturday. Right-hander Mitch White was optioned back to the alternate training site after making his big-league debut with a scoreless inning Saturday.

Roberts indicated Lux could stay with the team for a while this time. A late arrival to Summer Camp for unspecified reasons, Lux was slow to find his swing mechanics, but Roberts praised him for continuing to work on that during workouts and intrasquad games at the alternate training site.

“It’s really come along. Gavin, to his credit, has put the work in at the secondary site,” Roberts said. “He cleaned up his swing, took a lot of at-bats and feels that he’s in sync.

“I think right now the plan is to play him against right-handed pitchers. We see him as an every-day guy going forward. But we have some other good players as well.”

Hernandez started 18 of the Dodgers’ first 34 games at second base, but went into Saturday with a .209 batting average and .624 OPS.