Dodgers trade Michael Busch, Yency Almonte; avoid arbitration with Walker Buehler

Dodgers third baseman Michael Busch (83) gets high-fives after scoring against the Angels on June 20, 2023 in Anaheim.

The Dodgers avoided arbitration hearings with several players Thursday, including starting pitcher Walker Buehler, catcher Will Smith and closer Evan Phillips.

They also dealt a couple of notable pieces off their MLB roster, sending reliever Yency Almonte and infielder Michael Busch to the Chicago Cubs for a pair of young minor league prospects.

On its face, moving Almonte and Busch will clear needed 40-man roster spots for the Dodgers. The team has faced a roster crunch while making blockbuster free-agent and trade acquisitions this offseason. They’d yet to announce their newest signing, outfielder Teoscar Hernández, because their 40-man was full.

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Still, the departures of Almonte and Busch might be no small loss for the organization.

Almonte had shown flashes of productivity in the bullpen the last two seasons, though the 29-year-old had battled injuries and was out of minor league options.

Giving up Busch, the club’s minor league player of the year last year and No. 2-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline, represents an even bigger risk, with the organization deciding to part ways with its 2019 first-round draft pick.

Though Busch had impressed with his bat up through triple A (he led the Pacific Coast League last year with a 1.049 on-base-plus-slugging percentage), the 26-year-old never found a consistent role during his cameos in the majors with the Dodgers.

A former first baseman who spent time at second, third and left field as a prospect with the Dodgers, Busch didn’t even make his MLB debut until this season, when he batted .167 in 81 sporadic plate appearances.

With his primary infield positions mostly blocked by veteran stars (Freddie Freeman at first base, Mookie Betts at second, Max Muncy at third), Busch’s place on next season’s team seemed tenuous — barring a more permanent move to a corner outfield spot.

Dodgers relief pitcher Yency Almonte against the Tampa Bay Rays.

And although the Dodgers remained high on Busch’s potential at the plate, they entered this offseason seemingly ready to ship him somewhere.

On Thursday, a deal finally materialized. The only question: Did the Dodgers get enough in return for one of their most highly touted young talents?

The prospects the Dodgers received from the Cubs in the trade were left-handed pitcher Jackson Ferris and outfielder Zyhir Hope.

Ferris, 19, is the bigger prize. A second-round pick from IMG Academy in Florida in 2022, the southpaw was ranked as the Cubs’ No. 8 prospect by MLB Pipeline. Over 18 starts in single A last year, he had a 3.38 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 56 innings.

Hope, 18, was an 11th-round pick last year from Colonial Forge High in Virginia. Although he batted .286 in 11 rookie league games, he wasn’t one of the top 30 prospects on the Cubs’ MLB Pipeline rankings list.

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Both should help replenish the lower levels of the Dodgers’ farm system, which is still considered among the stronger pipelines in the majors. Neither has to go on the 40-man roster, giving the team some increased roster flexibility. And Ferris, in particular, gives the club another intriguing young arm to try to develop, a process the Dodgers have excelled at in recent years.

The move, however, comes at the steep cost of an MLB-ready bat and veteran reliever — with the Dodgers effectively betting they’ll be able to compensate in other ways for the production Busch and Almonte could have offered next season.

In more roster news Thursday, according to people with knowledge of the situation, the Dodgers agreed to 2024 salaries with all 10 of their remaining arbitration-eligible players.

Buehler settled at $8.025 million, the same he was paid last year while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Smith settled at $8.55 million, a record for a second-time-eligible catcher.

The rest of the group included: Phillips ($4 million), Ryan Yarbrough ($3.9 million), Brusdar Graterol ($2.7 million), Caleb Ferguson ($2.4 million), Dustin May ($2.135 million), Gavin Lux ($1.125 million), J.P. Feyereisen ($770,000) and Alex Vesia (terms not immediately known).

With all of the signings, the Dodgers will avoid arbitration hearings with any of their players for a fourth straight offseason.

Angels settle with four players

The Angels agreed to one-year deals with pitchers Patrick Sandoval, Jose Quijada and Griffin Canning and infielder Luis Rengifo, but they were unable to reach agreements with outfielder Taylor Ward and pitcher Jose Suarez, who will exchange salary figures and will likely go to arbitration hearings next month.

Sandoval, a 27-year-old left-hander who went 7-13 with a 4.11 ERA in 28 starts last season, signed for $5.025 million, up from his $2.75 million salary of 2023. Rengifo, a 26-year-old switch-hitter who batted .264 with a .783 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 16 homers and 51 RBIs, signed for $4.4 million, up from $2.3 million in 2023.

Canning, a 27-year-old right-hander who went 7-8 with a 4.32 ERA in 24 games, 22 of them starts, signed for $2.6 million, up from $850,000 last season. And Quijada, a 28-year-old reliever who went 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA in 10 games before suffering a season-ending elbow injury, signed for $840,000 in his first arbitration-eligible season.

The 30-year-old Ward, who hit .253 with a .756 OPS, 14 homers and 47 RBIs before undergoing season-ending reconstructive surgery on his face in early August, made $2.75 million in 2023, the first time he was eligible for arbitration. Suarez, a 26-year-old left-hander who went 1-3 with an 8.29 ERA in 11 games but missed most of the season because of a shoulder injury, is in his first year of arbitration.

Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this story.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.