Editor’s Note: This is the Friday December 4 edition of the Inside the Dodgers newsletter from reporter JP Hoornstra. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, Register here.
The Dodgers took over righthanded pitcher Corey Knebel from the Brewers on Wednesday, the day of baseball’s tender / non-tender deadline. The timing was interesting. Fifty-nine players eligible for salary arbitration became free agents that day. The number (20) were auxiliary jars. The market is suddenly flooded with right-handed relievers who had less than that a 1.725 WHIP and 6.08 ERA in 2020. Why trade for Knebel?
The 29-year-old didn’t pitch in 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. A popular notion is that Knebel is this year’s Blake Trains, a former closing off from a lower year and heading into a bounce-back season. In the case of Knebel, it is reasonable to assume that in his first full season after surgery he will be a better pitcher than he was in 2020. So the Dodgers are not counting on a bounce-back as much as on a natural progression of one. pitcher recovering from major elbow procedure.
There is also a strong element of bargain hunting in this trade. The timing of the deal would indicate that the Brewers had decided not to offer Knebel a contract, which would have made him a free agent. Maybe the Dodgers wanted to jump the market by swinging a trade. If so, the main downside to this deal for the Dodgers was the possibility that Knebel would cost less to sign in the open market (he’s expected to be $ 5.1 million in 2021) or that for some reason he would not want to sign with the World Series defending champion.
But the risk that Knebel will pay too much in arbitration seems small. This is what Robert Murray from FanSided reported yesterday:
Ten minutes before the no-tender deadline, a Brewers executive with direct knowledge of the situation said that it “looked like Corey Knebel wouldn’t get a (deal) done” and that a no-tender was imminent. Five minutes before the deadline, the Brewers reached an agreement to send Knebel to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a player who would later be named or to save money. The deal came at the eleventh hour, sending one of the Brewers’ best relievers to the defending World Series champions. Had Knebel not had a tender, his free agency market would have been strong, with a high-ranking National League official saying his team was “drooling” when reports surfaced that he was reaching the free service.
The terms of the trade are generous to the Dodgers. “A player called later or cash” offers quite a wide variety of possibilities. Here’s one: The Blue Jays have until the end of February to send the Dodgers in the second PTBNL the Ross Stripling trade. Perhaps the Brewers front office is more into someone in the Jays system than the Dodgers, and Toronto is willing to send that player to Milwaukee (via Los Angeles). In that case, the Dodgers would basically take over Knebel for nothing. That is the definition of a bargain.
From here, Knebel looks more like a low-risk acquisition than a high-upside play. The Dodgers would prefer him to be both, of course. Knebel was the best relief pitcher I personally saw in 2017, point, but he doesn’t have to be that good to consider the trade a “win.” As I wrote earlier this week, it would be nice to have a “safety net” for Kenley Jansen in addition to Joe Kelly and the other usually younger pitchers in the bullpen. Could Knebel be that guy? Let’s hope for some good spring training where we can find out.
What’s next? Between the expected salary of Jansen, Kelly and Knebel, the Dodgers owe about $ 34 million to three relievers next season. You think they can add to that area, but not at the expense of, say, Justin Turner, Kiké Hernandez, Joc Pederson or any other position player they would like to sign up with free agency. (That’s a poorly-founded guess, mind you. I have a very limited sense of how the pandemic will affect the Dodgers’ budget in addition to the dozens of employees they have already laid offBe prepared for the possibility that the Dodgers will be done adding their bullpen from the outside – at least for a while.
The number of right-handed relievers who are free agents in the Major League is more than 100. That is probably a record in all the years since players first got the right to free agency. There is probably another arm in that group whose benefit outweighs its risk. But with supply outweighing demand, it’s hard to see a team rushing to sign someone not named Liam Hendriks, Blake Trains or Brad Hand. The Dodgers have three vacancies on their 40-strong roster, and I doubt Hendriks, Trains or Hand will get one now.
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