My God, what have they done?
What plague have the Nationals just unleashed on the rest of the league? If you saw it happen in Fantasy Baseball, you'd be crying foul. Maybe even utter the C word: collusion! Imagine the defending champions and presumptive favorites acquiring two of the best three players from a team that's already out of it. Utterly absurd!
Don't all the other teams deserve a chance?
Well, they had their chance. In fact, just hours before, it looked like Max Scherzer was going to the Padres. But it turns out he, along with Trea Turner -- yeah, a perennial first-rounder just tossed in there -- are going to the Dodgers instead.
Thoughts and prayers, everyone.
So what did the Nationals get in return? The ubiquitous "prospect package," of course. OK, so two of those prospects, starting pitcher Josiah Gray and catcher Keibert Ruiz, are really good and could claim major-league jobs right away. The reason they hadn't already, instead making only brief cameos, is because the Dodgers are loaded.
They've been the most talented team for several years now, finally brought it all together to win a championship last year, and then didn't rest on their laurels in the offseason. So with this, there gets to be a serious question about how to make all the pieces fit.
Want even more analysis on what the trade means for the players involved alongside sluggers like Juan Soto from both myself and Frank? We've got you covered on an emergency FFT podcast:
Scherzer not so much. If there's one area where the Dodgers' depth has been tested, it's the starting rotation. They've lost Dustin May for the year. Possibly Trevor Bauer, too (though for very different reasons). Tony Gonsolin and David Price have both been slow to come around. Clayton Kershaw is sidelined for the time being. They just acquired Danny Duffy from the Royals earlier in the day, but he might be out another month with a flexor strain.
With Scherzer, the Dodgers' rotation lines up this way:
You could list that top three in any order, of course. Buehler has actually been the best this year, but Scherzer and Kershaw are both Hall of Fame-bound. The three are co-aces, basically. Scherzer and Kershaw are getting long in the tooth, but they're Nos. 1 and 2 in swinging-strike rate, at least among qualifiers, and still go 6-7 innings with as much regularity as anyone. Kershaw was looking as overpowering as he has in years, in fact, before the forearm injury.
It may have been a little banged up, but the Dodgers rotation was a dominant group already. Scherzer makes it more so while also providing some excess to hold it over until everyone's healthy.
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Now Turner's fit, that's a bit trickier. He's an All-Star-caliber shortstop, no doubt, but the Dodgers already have one of those in Corey Seager. Granted, they haven't actually had Seager since May 15, but he's close to being fully rehabilitated from a fractured hand and could return as soon as Friday -- the same time Turner comes aboard, in other words.
Early speculation has Turner moving to second base, a position he has played before in the majors. He's also gotten some time in center field, and we know the Dodgers value versatility. So do Fantasy Baseballers, and any additional eligibility will only add to Turner's value. There may be a little bit of a tradeoff there since it's possible he no longer gets to bat in the upper third of the lineup. I also wonder if he'll continue to run as much on a team that's built around power and on-base percentage, though for players who are most known for stealing bases, as I believe Turner is, those fears are usually unfounded.
More than what this trade means for Turner and Seager, though, is what it means for some of the Dodgers' other hitters -- and particularly their role players. Are "role players" what I should be calling them? Chris Taylor is an All-Star. A.J. Pollock a $55-million man. Cody Bellinger a former MVP.
Chris Taylor CF
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #3 • Age: 31
A.J. Pollock LF
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #11 • Age: 33
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #35 • Age: 26
Yeah, those three are the ones I'm worried about. It seems especially crazy that Bellinger, still only 26, would find himself on the outs, but with all the injuries and mechanical tweaks since his MVP season, he's just a mess right now. I mean, look at his numbers. The Dodgers are still three games back of the Giants and are of course heavily invested in this year. At some point, rehabilitating him has to take a back seat to winning.
Mostly, I think it comes down to whether the Dodgers sit Bellinger or Pollock more, perhaps treating them as a straight platoon in center field but perhaps not. Taylor will presumably still play every day, though maybe bouncing around the diamond more to give others a day off. In that way, a surplus is kind of bad news for everyone.
As for what the Nationals got back, again, it's possible Gray and Ruiz just step in right away. Gray was already filling in for Kershaw, and while he had struggled in his eight major-league innings, allowing six earned runs and four home runs, he had also piled up an absurd 33 swinging strikes for a 21.6 percent rate that compares favorably to Jacob deGrom (who's kind of in a class of his own as far as that goes). Gray hadn't gotten much minor-league action this year because of a shoulder issue, but you see (above) how good he looked between Double- and Triple-A two years ago.
For Ruiz, it's all about this year. His 16 home runs are four more than he's ever hit before, and they've come in only 52 games. Despite being only 23, he had fallen victim to prospect fatigue in recent years given that the bat didn't seem to be developing as hoped. He remained high on most rank lists because of his defensive prowess and exceptional contact skills, but enthusiasm was certainly on the wane, particularly after Will Smith got the chance to settle in first. Some adjustments at the alternate training site last year, though, have Ruiz making much harder contact now, and clearly, the power is showing up. It points to a high ceiling for a player who strikes out at a Jose Altuve-like rate.
Presuming he doesn't get sent down right away, Gray should be an immediate pickup. There's too great a need for pitching in Fantasy to pass him over. Catcher is lacking as well, of course, but at least in one-catcher leagues, I'd need to see Ruiz produce a little at the big-league level before making a play for him -- and that's presuming he's up right away.