The Mookie Betts trade was just one component of what has been a crazy offseason across Major League Baseball. For a time, it looked like it might not even happen, but eventually the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers came to an agreement Monday. Betts and David Price went to the Dodgers, while Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs and Connor Wong were sent to Boston.
In the initial iteration of this trade (which was reported February 4), there was another reported deal involving the Dodgers sending Joc Pederson, Ross Stripling and Andy Pages to the Los Angeles Angels for Luis Rengifo. But that trade was contingent on the Betts deal being completed. And by the time it was, Angels’ owner Arte Moreno was reportedly tired of waiting and decided there would be no deal with the Dodgers.
To me, it stands to reason there might still be a trade involving some of these players. If your organization were about to dot the i‘s and cross the t’s on shipping you to another team, you just might feel your team doesn’t value your presence on the roster all that much. But then again, I can’t conceive of how Jeff Bridich and Nolan Arenado can exist in the same organization while not on speaking terms with one another, so perhaps Major League Baseball organizations are content with poor communication skills as long as everyone goes about their business.
But let’s say the Dodgers are still looking to pull off this deal. Who could they do this trade with?
Well, there just so happens to be a certain team out there who hasn’t done much to improve the roster this offseason. A team that hasn’t added any players via trade and the only team that hasn’t signed a free agent to a guaranteed major league contract. The Dodgers are their division rival, but perhaps it’s time to explore this if you are the Colorado Rockies.
Stripling and Pederson are both good players. And when you have a chance to add more good players to your roster, you should probably pursue that route. It’s kind of how a team like the Dodgers has gotten to have their sustained success.
Let’s first look at where these two players could fit on the Rockies’ roster, and then we’ll consider whom the Rockies would need to part with.
The Rockies currently have more questions than answers in their starting rotation. German Márquez and Jon Gray are a solid 1-2 combination, but Kyle Freeland struggled immensely in 2019. That leaves two slots for Antonio Senzatela, Jeff Hoffman, Peter Lambert, Chi Chi González or, who knows, maybe even Ubaldo Jiménez if he has an exceptional spring. Tim Melville was also in the conversation but suffered a cracked rib Tuesday and will miss six to eight weeks, according to Nick Groke of The Athletic.
Senzatela, Hoffman and González are all on the 40-man roster and out of options, so the Rockies will need to move at least one of them to the bullpen or risk losing them on waivers, though it’s not hard to imagine González going unclaimed and being outrighted to Triple-A.
Stripling would immediately slot in as the number three starter in the Rockies rotation. Stripling appeared in 32 games for the Dodgers in 2019, but only 15 of them were starts. That wasn’t because he was ineffective though. He was just on a team with enviable starting depth, and this year the Dodgers look to go with a starting five of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Price, Alex Wood and Julio Urías, so Stripling is once again out of a rotation spot. He would certainly make the cut for the Rockies’ rotation, and then the team would have more certainty, leaving them to focus only on the fifth starter as a spring competition.
Stripling pitched to a 3.47 ERA in 2019, with 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings against 2.0 walks per nine. The 30-year-old also generated ground balls 51% of the time. These numbers fall largely in line with his career averages.
The Rockies aren’t necessarily struggling to find left-handed hitting outfielders (one of the three known certainties in life, along with death and taxes): They have Charlie Blackmon, David Dahl, Sam Hilliard and Raimel Tapia. The Dodgers found themselves struggling to find a position for Pederson in 2019 with their depth as well, causing them to give him 149 innings of work at first base. That’s not a ton of experience at the position, but that hasn’t stopped the Rockies in the past. Pederson put up -3 Defensive Runs Saved in his time at first, which is not inspiring, but on the other hand, he is likely to put up much better numbers offensively than Daniel Murphy or Ian Desmond, who both produced collectively below-average seasons in the years they played first for the Rox.
Pederson, who will turn 28 in late-April, is coming off a career year in which he produced a batting line of .249/.339/.538 with 36 home runs. This was good for a 123 DRC+ and 3.0 WARP. This was the same WARP as Blackmon, who produced better offensive numbers but struggled more defensively.
How the Rockies would manage to split at-bats between five left-handed outfielders (and two more right-handed outfield options in Desmond and Garrett Hampson) remains to be seen. It does help that Blackmon and Dahl don’t have a tough time facing same-handed pitching and neither did Hilliard in 2019. Pederson, meanwhile, has struggled immensely against southpaws. Hilliard could be optioned to Triple-A to begin the season or Pederson could be largely utilized at first base, pushing Murphy to more of a bench role (which may be where his talents are better suited at this point in his career). As Rockies’ manager Bud Black has said, though, a “different Daniel Murphy” is expected in 2020.
Ultimately, adding Pederson would go a long way toward strengthening the Rockies’ lineup, as his DRC+ would have closely followed Arenado, Trevor Story and Blackmon for fourth best on the team in 2019. And as we’ve seen good teams like the Dodgers do, when they have a chance to add good players and make their roster better (even if there is already depth on the roster). It can go a long way.
What would it take?
A return of Rengifo would not have been a goldmine of a prospect return for the Dodgers in the initial trade. It’s possible they will want more from the division-rival Rockies, but I think Ryan Vilade and Tyler Nevin would be enough to get this done. I considered attaching Hampson or Hilliard to the deal as well, but these two Rox prospects are already more value than Rengifo, per the Baseball Trade Values trade simulator.
Pederson and Stripling are both very affordable compared to their talent thanks to baseball’s arbitration process. They will be making $7.75 million and $2.1 million in 2020, respectively. For Pederson, that salary comes after losing his case to the Dodgers at their arbitration hearing.
It’s time to take advantage of the impatience of the Angels and swoop in and make a deal!
Here’s why the Rockies won’t do this
Ultimately, financial reasons are why I don’t think the Rockies make this move. Given their habits on the free agent market this offseason, I frankly have a difficult time believing they were willing to spend as much as seven figures on any player not currently in the organization.
But in a season of inactivity, it’s fun to explore scenarios like this! Maybe if they pulled off this deal, the Rockies could win 97 games instead of just 94!