Leading up to the MLB trade deadline, most everybody wants to see their team do something big, something substantial. It's not even so much about a move being wise; it's about a team making headlines, or, in the contemporary parlance, making a splash. People want to get caught up in the trade-deadline spirit. Fans of bad teams want their teams to bring in some haul of prospects. Fans of good teams want their teams to bring in somebody talented and recognizable. There are few things that drive people more insane than trade-deadline inactivity, and a lot of people just won't stand for it.
Of course, it is important to be wise. It's always important to be wise, at all times in all things, and around the trade deadline's no different. Everybody would prefer that their team make a smart move instead of a dumb move, because as much as a dumb move can still be exciting, no one wants to hear about how their team screwed up. People want to hear about how their team improved, and about how their team did well for itself.
There's not really any such thing as a perfect trade-deadline trade. I guess a hypothetical perfect trade-deadline trade would look something like Alfonso Soriano and his contract for Mike Trout, from the Cubs' perspective. It's completely unrealistic, and you have to remember that at all times there are 30 front offices trying to improve their respective organizations. But I think there are such things as perfect or near-perfect deadline trades within reality, and I think Tuesday the Dodgers pulled one of those off. At the very least, I think the Dodgers came the closest out of everyone who made a move.
Tuesday morning, the Dodgers shipped Josh Lindblom and Ethan Martin to the Phillies in exchange for Shane Victorino. Victorino will slot right in as the Dodgers' everyday left fielder, and I'll try to explain my thinking below. I don't think my thinking is quite as sharp as it usually is, so if this all sounds like complete nonsense, blame the trade deadline. I'm so sleepy!
The Dodgers, up to the deadline, had gotten precious little out of left field. Dodgers left fielders combined to bat .259/.329/.348, and the majority of the starts had been given to Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera, who contribute next to nothing in the field. Abreu's decent on-base ability partially masked that left field has been a black hole. Left field hasn't been the Dodgers' only black hole, but it's been one of them.
Fortunately, it's just as helpful to upgrade a black hole as it is to upgrade something better than that, and with one move the Dodgers' left-field situation went from disastrous to all right. Victorino's offense is down from where it was in 2011, but he's something like an average hitter. He moves around well in the field and will turn more fly balls into outs than the guys who came before him. Victorino also frees up Abreu to come off the bench, Rivera to get some more reps at first base, and Jerry Hairston to help out everywhere, as he does. Shane Victorino is nothing like an MVP candidate. He doesn't need to be. He just needs to be fine, at a position where the Dodgers haven't been fine. That's a good gamble.
Fan sentiment shouldn't be a priority consideration for any front office, but it never hurts to get the fans whipped up into an excited frenzy, and Shane Victorino most definitely counts as a splash to those who wanted the Dodgers to make a splash. He's a very recognizable player, having achieved a certain level of fame with the Phillies, and he's a two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner. For five straight years he's been featured in the playoffs. People know who Shane Victorino is, and if anything many of them probably think he's better than he is, too. This isn't like if the Dodgers acquired, I don't know, Ben Revere. Ben Revere might help, but fans wouldn't respond to him, not immediately.
Of course, Victorino's a bit of a pest, and an easy guy to hate when you're playing against him. Plenty of Dodgers fans probably hated Shane Victorino. They'll like him now, now that he's on their side.
Just as Victorino's a big name to fans, he's a big name to players, and Dodgers players and coaches should be excited to add Victorino to the mix for the stretch run. They'll feel like they have the support of the front office, if they didn't already feel that way after the Hanley Ramirez trade, and Victorino's an energy guy who can theoretically keep players fired up and focused. I'm not going to even try to assert whether this is in any way meaningful, but the mood in the Dodgers' clubhouse probably isn't more somber now that the team has added Victorino. It is probably the opposite of that.
It is not that Josh Lindblom and Ethan Martin are without talent. Far from it. Lindblom has been pitching in the major leagues! Martin has been pitching in double-A, which is also very hard! More than that, Lindblom has been succeeding in the major leagues, and Martin has been succeeding in double-A. However, Lindblom has been just a moderately effective middle reliever, and Martin is raw, with trouble commanding powerful stuff. It is not difficult to find middle relievers who are nearly as good as Lindblom is. It is not difficult to imagine Martin never making it, or never making it as a starter. Martin has thrown just 60 percent of his pitches in double-A for strikes, and that isn't good enough.
Lindblom's capable, but he's far from special. Martin has talent, and was once a first-round pick, but there's a lot of work left for him to do. Martin was not one of the Dodgers' most prized pitching prospects, and so it's unlikely that they'll suffer his loss. Once you get past the best talents, it's a crap shoot. Even with the best pitching talents, it can be a crap shoot.
I don't want to oversell this, which I might have already done in the headline, which is the thing I wrote first. Shane Victorino isn't going to make all of the difference for the Dodgers down the stretch. But you can't expect any one player to make all the difference, and given the circumstances, I think the Dodgers made about as good a move in getting Victorino as you can realistically make. They made an undeniable improvement to the team that will get people excited and that cost only two arms and no legs. It's rare that I've felt compelled to praise Ned Colletti, but in this instance I think he did good, and critics can freely continue to wonder why it took Colletti this long to find a left fielder who doesn't kind of suck.