The MLB trade deadline has come and gone, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are roughly where they started. Sure, they got St. Louis Cardinals infielder Jedd Gyorko and Tampa Bay Rays left-handed specialist Adam Kolarek, but the team didn’t acquire a true impact arm to fortify its bullpen, by far its biggest weakness.
Felipe Vazquez is still a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Shane Greene went to the Atlanta Braves. A bunch of other top relief options stayed put.
Maybe Gyorko will pay off as injury insurance and Kolarek will deliver a big out here and there, but it’s easy to see why the Dodgers got leapfrogged by the Houston Astros as World Series favorites in Vegas.
The thing is, the Dodgers could have acquired Vazquez. The problem was the Pirates had eyes for at least two of the Dodgers’ top prospects: shortstop Gavin Lux (Baseball America’s No. 10 overall prospect), right-handed pitcher Dustin May (No. 26) and catchers Keibert Ruiz (No. 51) and Will Smith (No. 55).
Reports from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman indicate the the Pirates demanded at least one of Lux or May in particular for Vazquez. Evidently the Dodgers balked, then went ahead and added May to their own team.
Dodgers call up Dustin May
The Dodgers plan to call up May from Triple-A Oklahoma City on Friday, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports.
The Dodgers didn’t make a big move at the trade deadline, but they’ve got reinforcements coming: Dustin May, their top pitching prospect, will make his major league debut Friday, sources tell ESPN. May, 21, is nicknamed Gingergaard: his long hair is red, his stuff is like Thor’s.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) August 1, 2019
May’s nickname and Noah Syndergaard comparison don’t only come from his flowing mane of red hair (see below). Like Syndergaard, May is a load at 6-foot-6. Like Syndergaard, the former third-round pick is a power pitcher capable of hitting the high 90s. Like Syndergaard, he possesses a sinker-cutter combo with a power curve, according to Baseball America.
There may still be some developing to do for the 21-year-old, but it’s clear why the Pirates would have been giddy to land him and the Dodgers were even more eager to keep him.
The Dodgers haven’t been afraid to part with significant minor league talent around the trade deadline in the past (see: the Manny Machado trade of 2018, the Yu Darvish trade of 2017 and the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick trade of 2016).
Of course, the Dodgers have also stuck by blue chip prospects like Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Julio Urias and Walker Buehler. It appears May, and especially Lux, have fallen into that category, even if it means the team still has some choppy bullpen waters to navigate.
How will the Dodgers bullpen shape up in October?
Without Vazquez or other relief help beyond Kolarek, the Dodgers will stick with a bullpen that ranked ninth in MLB entering Wednesday with a 4.17 ERA. While ninth sounds solid enough, the eight teams preceding them are all in the playoff race. It’s the year of enormous bullpen ERAs, and ranking ninth still means you could have major problems.
Closer Kenley Jansen is still around, though he currently holds a career-worst 3.59 ERA. Jansen is supported by names like Pedro Baez, Urias and Joe Kelly who all have their issues, though Kelly has been turning a corner lately. The Dodgers still have MLB’s best record and run differential at 71-39 and +165, but it’s easy to visualize any of the team’s late-inning relievers surrendering a tide-changing homer come playoff time.
However, the Dodgers bullpen should still be due some reinforcements come playoff time, even without the trade deadline.
Right now, the Dodgers’ playoff rotation starts with Hyun-jin Ryu, Buehler and Clayton Kershaw. If Hill can return at 100 percent from a flexor tendon strain, he probably gets the last playoff spot. If he doesn’t, one of Kenta Maeda or Ross Stripling could slot in. The one that doesn’t likely goes to the bullpen, and both have strong track records there. If the bullpen gets both, that’s two strong relievers.
A third could be May, as the Los Angeles Times’ Jorge Castillo speculated that the rookie is a bullpen option for October. We’ve seen rookie pitchers break through in a postseason bullpen and subsequently transition to the rotation before.
Vazquez would almost certainly have been the best pitcher in the Dodgers’ bullpen, but he wasn’t coming over for cheap. Several players could form the Dodgers’ alternative to the Pirates southpaw, including the prospect the team decided it wasn’t letting go.
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