The Los Angeles Dodgers made the biggest splash at the MLB trade deadline, acquiring Yu Darvish to become baseball’s Dream Team.
I don’t profess to be a basketball fan. Nevertheless, I understand the Golden State Warriors, particularly since acquiring Kevin Durant, have become the NBA’s latest version of a super team.
The New England Patriots have built a similar dream team roster in the NFL. Sources tell me the Pittsburgh Penguins are also very good at hockey. I don’t profess to be much of a hockey fan, either. Sorry. But it appears this dream team phenomenon is catching on all across professional sports.
Major League Baseball has done its best to quash such efforts to build super teams, at least since the New York Yankees won four of five World Series titles from 1996-2000 and appeared in the Fall Classic six times in eight years through 2003. In fact, 10 other clubs have won the World Series since the turn of the new millennium, and none has won two in a row in the 21st Century – showing the competitive balance in the league. Hell, the Kansas City Royals won it all in 2015, and the Chicago Cubs just scraped 108 years worth of dust out of the trophy case at Wrigley Field.
MLB has even designated draft picks for small market and low revenue franchises termed “competitive balance” draft picks to help spread the wealth of talent throughout the 30 clubs. There are also limits to how much money teams can spend on international free agents, and there is a hefty luxury tax for overspending on major league salaries.
However, by sending a trio of prospects to the Rangers for ace right-hander Yu Darvish (as well as lefty relievers Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson in separate deals) mere seconds before the trade deadline Monday, the Los Angeles Dodgers have staked their claim as baseball’s super team. As Bob Nightengale of USA Today put it, “the Golden State Warriors in spikes.”
Of course, it’s worth pointing out that the Dodgers aren’t one of the 10 franchises to win the World Series since 2000. And yes, speaking of competitive balance, 15 clubs have hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy since Tommy Lasorda led the Dodgers to their last World Championship in 1988. That’s half the teams in existence today, including such not-so bluebloods as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Minnesota Twins, no-longer Florida Marlins (twice) and no-longer Anaheim Angels.
And you’re right. Despite their struggles in the first half of the season, the Cubs have finally overcome their title-winning hangover and have emerged as a threat to repeat, with all the tools at their disposal to build a baseball dynasty.
But the Dodgers have been completely dominant. Allow me to run down some of the highlights.
- Won 74 of their first 105 games. As MLB Stat of the Day pointed out, only the 1998 Yankees (77) and 2001 Mariners (76) were better over that period.
- Hold a 14-game lead in the NL West over the team currently sitting atop the NL Wild Card standings (Arizona), and sit 14.5 games ahead of the No. 2 Wild Card team (Colorado). Those clubs have a six and 5.5-game cushion in the Wild Card race, respectively.
- Have a plus-185 run differential, which is the best in the NL by 61 runs and the best in baseball by 24.
- Have allowed 350 runs this season, 54 runs fewer than the No. 2 team in baseball (Arizona).
- Have won 47 games at Dodger Stadium. Arizona ranks second with 36 home wins.
- Enter Tuesday’s series opener against the Braves on an eight-game winning streak. It’s the club’s third winning streak of at least eight games since June 16. During that period, the Dodgers are 38-5.
- Have five of the top 50 position players in Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs: Corey Seager (4.5 fWAR, No. 6), Justin Turner (4.3, No. 7), Chris Taylor (!) (3.5, No. 18), Cody Bellinger (2.8, No. 39) and Yasmani Grandal (2.3, No. 50).
- Have four of the top 25 pitchers in fWAR: Clayton Kershaw (4.0, No. 4), Alex Wood (3.2, No. 11), Kanley Jansen (2.4, No. 20), and now, Yu Darvish (2.4, No. 23).
- Have a lineup that includes eight players with double-digit home runs, not including Adrian Gonzalez, who has 309 career home runs and is expected to return from the disabled list in mid-August.
- Rank first overall in team fWAR by pitchers (18.6).
- Rank first overall in fWAR by starting pitchers (13.0).
- Rank second overall and first in the NL in fWAR by relief pitchers (5.7).
- Rank second overall and first in the NL in fWAR among position players (22.5).
Also, with so many core players under team control for years to come, Los Angeles shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
Going piece-by-piece, Bellinger has hit .266/.349/.599 with 28 home runs and 69 RBI in 85 games as a rookie. He is 21 years old and won’t be a free agent until 2023 or 2024 depending on service time.
Seager has hit .304/.395/.529 with 18 home runs and 53 RBI as a second-year shortstop. He is 23, the reigning Rookie of the Year and finished third in the NL MVP vote last season. He will not be a free agent until 2022.
Grandal is the second best defensive catcher in baseball, according to Baseball Prospectus’ framing metrics. He has also hit .274/.321/.485 with 14 homers and 41 RBI in 85 games. He is 28 years old and won’t be a free agent until 2019.
Kershaw, though on the DL for four-to-six weeks with a lower back strain, has three Cy Young Awards and one MVP already to his credit. He is 29 and won’t be a free agent until at least 2021.
Wood is 12-1 with a 2.38 ERA and 2.52 FIP. He started the season in the bullpen because the starting rotation is so deep. He is also 26 and won’t be a free agent until 2020.
Jansen has a 1.36 ERA, 1.34 FIP, 0.691 WHIP and has 27 saves, 69 strikeouts and just four walks in 46.1 innings spread across 44 appearances. He is 29 years old and won’t be a free agent until 2022.
Taylor, hitting .312/.378/.529 with 12 home runs, 48 RBI and 12 stolen bases, has played five positions this season – left field, centerfield, second base, third base and shortstop. He is 26 and won’t be a free agent until 2022.
Turner leads the NL with a .356 batting average and leads the big leagues with a .455 on-base percentage. He is also slugging a career-high .543 with 11 home runs and 41 RBI. Turner is 32 (a dinosaur!) and signed through 2021.
The Dodgers also have a deep and talented farm system, and kept it largely intact despite acquiring Darvish. Los Angeles dealt infielder/outfielder Willie Calhoun, who was ranked fourth in their minor league system and No. 69 overall in MLB.com’s Top 100 prospect list, but still have five players ranked among the best prospects in baseball.
Oh, and the Dodgers have perhaps the deepest pockets of any MLB franchise. According to Cot’s Contracts at Baseball Prospectus, the Dodgers 25-man Opening Day team salary was a robust $241,149,167, the highest in baseball by more than $40 million. And that number has climbed with the addition of Darvish. There’s even enough money available to re-sign the impending free agent Darvish after the season, assuming both sides are agreeable, a la Jansen and Turner last winter.
And speaking of Darvish, the 30-year-old right-hander has established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball since signing with the Rangers out of Japan in 2012. A four-time All-Star, Darvish was the runner-up for the 2013 AL Cy Young Award, and has posted a 3.42 ERA and 3.30 FIP in five major league seasons.
Though his numbers are down this year, including a career worst 4.01 ERA, 3.98 FIP and 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings so far, there’s plenty of reason to believe he can anchor the Dodgers starting rotation until Kershaw returns to action.
Then, with Kershaw back, the Dodgers will have the top one-two starting pitcher punch in baseball. Then Wood. Then Kenta Maeda. Then Hyun-Jin Ryu. Then Rich Hill. And eventually Jansen.
Simply put, the Dodgers were already the best team in baseball, with the best pitching staff and one of the best lineups in the game, from top to bottom. The club has more resources than any other club in baseball. And then they traded for Yu Darvish.
Dream team indeed.