Logan Forsythe started his career with the Padres and was traded to the Rays. He’s played parts of six major league seasons, but he’s never been on a team that’s finished over .500. Those are different ways of saying that he wasn’t a household name. There are a lot of casual-to-hardcore Dodgers fans this morning whose response to the trade was, “Wait, who?”
Picture these fans reading up on Forsythe right now, learning more about their new second baseman. They don’t know your WARs, your wRC+, your park effects. They don’t have time to listen to your dissertation about what makes a generic player secretly excellent. They’re looking at a .264 batting average, 20 home runs, and a fair amount of strikeouts. Heaven help them if they’re into runs batted in.
Over here in the land of smug baseball fans, we know that’s not the whole story. Tropicana Field quietly strangles offense. A second baseman with 20 homers is still something of a rare bird, especially when he’s equipped with fine defense. If Forsythe just manages to post his 3.4 WAR from last year, he’ll be the most valuable Dodgers second baseman since Orlando Hudson in 2009. If he bounces back to repeat his 2015 season, he’ll be the most valuable Dodgers second baseman since Davey Lopes in 1975. I’m not going to argue passionately for or against this deal, but you can understand why the Dodgers made it. Dude’s good.
What the trade is, though, is a continuation of a theme. When Guggenheim Partners bought the Dodgers, they were ... not subtle. They traded for Carl Crawford because he was an Adrian Gonzalez tariff, which meant they were willing to eat more than $100 million on a bad player just to get the fancy good player. They traded for Hanley Ramirez, who was just a couple years removed from being one of baseball’s best players. They signed Zack Greinke for millions and millions. They gave millions more than anyone expected to relative unknowns on the international market.
These were all moves designed to scream, “WE ARE NOT FRANK MCCOURT. WE ARE SERIOUS ABOUT WINNING” to the fans. They worked, both in the arena of public opinion and on the field, with the Dodgers winning their division every season since 2013 and drawing 3.7 million fans every year.
Since the Dodgers turned the roster building over to Andrew Friedman, Farhan Zaidi, and 37 other executives with impressive résumés, though, they are not making moves that scream at you. They wink. They nudge. But they don’t scream. Forsythe isn’t just a trade to fill a roster hole, it’s the most new-Dodgers trade possible. It’s not a screamer of a deal, it just makes the roster better.
This has been a pattern in the offseasons and in the regular seasons. When the Dodgers were looking for a third starter to complement Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, they didn’t trade their best prospects for David Price or Johnny Cueto. When the Diamondbacks stole Greinke away, the Dodgers didn’t respond with Cueto or Price then, either. They chipped away at the rotation, building a staff that would bend without breaking, building depth. Sweet, unremarkable depth.
When the Dodgers went to make a trade for a starting pitcher and outfielder last year, they somehow made the quietest splashy move you’ll ever see, giving up a substantial price for two excellent players who have never made an All-Star team. This offseason, they’ve spent most of their millions on players they already had, and then they traded for Logan Forsythe. It’s been a long time since they’ve made a caps-lock-on, jaw-dropping, multiple-exclamation-points-followed-by-a-one deal.
The Dodgers are still going to have the highest payroll in baseball, and it isn’t even close, so don’t get me wrong. This is still a big-market bully. Their roster moves aren’t commensurate, though. There’s a lot more skulking than stomping, and that’s surprising, considering that they haven’t won a pennant or championship since 1988. Doing something more than winning the NL West would seem to be the obvious goal for an organization spending this kind of scratch, and you would think the urgency and pressure would force them to make a big move for the sake of making a big move.
Long point short: You kind of want to praise the Dodgers for their relative restraint, but you also want to slap them awake at the same time.
There’s a twist ending to the Forsythe trade, to the modest Hill deal, to the idea of holding on to Julio Urias and Corey Seager, regardless of the aces that teams surely dangled in front of them. Their reasonable moves are only to set up another era of unreasonable moves. That’s what the Dodgers are building toward, that’s what all of these moves are about. That’s why the Dodgers are far more interested in someone like Forsythe instead of a player like Ian Kinsler, who would have demanded an extension to waive his no-trade clause. That’s why the Dodgers will give up a little less for Forsythe than they would have needed to give up for Brian Dozier, even if the 40-plus homers would have been an easier sell to the fans.
It’s all to juggle the sensible and the necessary, the urgency and the moderation. The Dodgers have been reloading without arson and pyrotechnics for a very simple reason: They want even more arson and pyrotechnics than the first post-Guggenheim rosters offered. That’s the goal of Seager and Urias and the top-10 farm. That’s why they didn’t follow Greinke’s rejected offer with a larger offer to another pitcher. It’s why they’re interested in players like Hill and Forsythe, who are more sneaky good than household names. They’re building toward the explosion.
And when it’s time to light the fuse, they’ll be there. Bryce Harper? Sure, whatever. Manny Machado? Makes sense. Carlos Carrasco, Dallas Keuchel, and Matt Harvey? Nothing like a little competition for the No. 5 spot, so they might as well sign them all. All of these under-the-radar moves are setting up future moves where they attack the radar with AT-ATs. We’ll remember these quaint, smaller moves with a measure of nostalgia.
Until then? Yep, Forsythe is a pretty good player, alright. So is Hill. So are the other players on the Dodgers’ roster, and they’ll have plenty of high-level prospects to fill in the gaps, even after their trades over the last six months. The Dodgers haven’t been explosive in a while, but that’s just because they’re stockpiling the gunpowder in very unsafe conditions. They just have to settle for being really, really good until further notice.