Shortly after the trade deadline ended, I was busy sorting teams into arbitrary columns of “winners” and “losers.” The Dodgers, having acquired nothing but a pair of left-handed relievers, were losers. Getting Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani was the kind of tinkering that a team does when it’s overly satisfied with itself and its chances in the postseason.
Sure, the Dodgers are on pace to blow past 110 wins, and they didn’t need to make a deal to win their division, but they won’t get to take those 110 wins into the postseason with them. They needed to bully the rest of the National League in the postseason with the scariest roster they could build.
While I was busy moving them into the loser column, the Dodgers were busy trading for Yu Darvish.
It’s taken a few years, but finally the Dodgers made the trade they should have been desperate to make throughout the Guggenheim era. The post-McCourt Dodgers have been built with an urgency and a forcefulness that doesn’t leave room for moral victories, but that urgency and forcefulness was usually forgotten at the trade deadline. The Dodgers acquired Rich Hill and Josh Reddick last year, and that was a nice piece of transactionry. But check out the seasons before that:
2015: Alex Wood, Jim Johnson
2014: Darwin Barney, Kevin Correia
2013: Drew Butera, Carlos Marmol, and Ricky Nolasco
2012: Hanley Ramirez, Brandon League, Shane Victorino, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto, Joe Blanton
In other words, they’ve been building toward this. The sense of urgency has some compound interest about it, and it’s been growing and growing and festering and growing. The urgency was there in 2012, but that was coming from a different place. When the Dodgers absorbed a quarter-billion dollars in additional salary, they wanted to announce that the new owners were eager to win. They wanted to build the fans’ trust. And, sure, they wanted to win the World Series like every other team, but the message was what was initially important. It was a Hollywood introduction.
After that deadline, though, the Dodgers have been safe and prudent, hanging on to their best prospects, regardless of what was dangled in front of them. But the sense of urgency kept growing. There aren’t bonus points awarded for division titles in Dodgers land. There’s no sense of cheer and goodwill to share after a rousing NLDS victory — not unless it comes with the natural follow-up of winning the NLCS and World Series. There won’t be an at-least-you-gave-us-a-great-season standing ovation if they’re eliminated from the postseason this year. The Dodgers are World Series-or-bust like no team in baseball, with the exception of maybe the Yankees.
Take the Rays. If they make the postseason and lose in the ALCS, what will the general response be? What a fine season. What a good, encouraging, strong season that helped the franchise immeasurably.
Or for an example that actually happened, look at the Royals in 2014. It was disappointing for their fans when they lost in the World Series, sure, but it was clearly a net positive for them to claw their way back from the abyss, stun the world just to get past the Wild Card Game and mow through the rest of the American League.
If the Dodgers don’t win the World Series, they fail.
I’d love to take a straw poll of the front office to see how many team executives would try a few bites of human flesh if it would guarantee the Dodgers a pennant, even. I’d guess more than half.
Is it cooked? Could we, like, make a paprikash to put on it?
This brings us to Darvish. The Dodgers have had an opportunity to trade for several excellent pitchers over the past few years. David Price, Chris Sale, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, and Johnny Cueto come to mind, and that’s just since 2014. Every time, the Dodgers demurred. There were always reasons, and some of them were excellent. They already had Zack Greinke as Kershaw’s complement. They didn’t want to give up Corey Seager or Cody Bellinger or Julio Urias. There was logic behind their decisions to stay away from the premium trade targets.
It was a good thing the Dodgers didn’t succumb to whatever temptations they had to face in previous deadlines, but the urgency has been beating under the floorboards, like The Tell-Tale Heart. It would be dandy if they won 120 games with the help of Alex Wood and Rich Hill, but that wasn’t going to be a guarantee of postseason success. One rough start for Wood in the NLDS and one gnarly blister for Hill, and the Dodgers were likely to be swimming in liquid regret, all over again. They would have to start Kershaw on short rest again, which is basically baseball’s version of Sideshow Bob stepping on rakes, spread out over a multiyear postseason history.
Days of rest between Clayton Kershaw postseason appearances
|Days of rest||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|Days of rest||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|Number of starts||1||2||4||1||3||1|
Kershaw has appeared in more postseason games on short rest than games on regular rest. The Dodgers’ entire plan was predicated around Kershaw being worked extra-hard in the postseason, and it kept failing. It was an unfair burden for Kershaw.
Not only did the Dodgers get Darvish to be the clear, unambiguous No. 2, they still have their other pitchers. They get to stack the rotation with Kershaw, Darvish, Wood, and Hill and not worry about short rest. They can load the bullpen up with one or two of Brandon McCarthy, Kenta Maeda, and Hyun-jin Ryu, mix and matching.
The Dodgers aren’t built on short rest anymore. Scream it to the heavens, because that’s all they really needed. They might get to the seventh game of the World Series and decide that Kershaw on three days’ rest is the best choice, or they might bumgarner him into the game in a relief capacity, but that’ll be different. That’s a team making unorthodox decisions because it might help it win. It’s not a team continually trying the same strategy over and over again because it has to work eventually.
While Darvish is an exciting acquisition, it’s still worth tempering the expectations just a little. He’s not having the season that Greinke was having years ago, so the Dodgers aren’t heading into the postseason with the best 1-2 punch they’ve ever had. He isn’t having his strongest season. And Willie Calhoun is a mighty fine prospect who should thrill the Rangers for years.
But the Dodgers finally got the best starting pitcher available, four deadlines after the new ownership sent a very expensive message to the loyal fans. The Dodgers know as well as any team in baseball that October offers no guarantees and that the postseason sprays like a territorial cat all over the house when it smells confidence on a team. All they can do is assemble the best roster possible with the best players available.
They finally did it. Now all that’s left is the hard stuff.