Is acquiring ‘elite-level’ talent in LA Dodgers’ future?
And these Dodgers collect prospects.Under Friedman and his baseball operations staff, the Dodgers’ farm system has become one of the deepest in baseball with six players ranked in Baseball America’s midseason Top 100 (a passel of prospects that doesn’t even include Julio Urias because of his brief graduation to the majors). Nearly a $100 million was spent (when overage taxes are included) on signing international amateurs in the past year.So — with this year’s delayed non-waiver trade deadline (Aug. 1, not the usual July 31) fast approaching, is it time for all that to change?“We’ve always been open-minded to anything that lines up and makes sense. It’s easier to line up now with more depth,” Friedman said. “But obviously there are certain guys that we are very reluctant to move. But I think that’s where depth comes in to make it easier to line up on something.”Prospect depth and the number of injured players the Dodgers anticipate returning in the next month or so “allows us to focus on (acquiring) elite-level talent” before the trade deadline, Friedman said, instead of just needing “to work down the list of available players to find a player” to address a very specific positional need. Elite-level talent has been available before — and the Dodgers have passed. In the days leading up to last year’s trade deadline, David Price, Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto and Troy Tulowitzki all changed teams. None came to Los Angeles. Instead, the Dodgers acquired Mat Latos and Alex Wood because of a very specific positional need.Given a chance to acquire an established player like Todd Frazier last winter, the Dodgers instead chose to scoop up some more young talent (Trayce Thompson, Frankie Montas and Micah Johnson) in the three-way trade that moved Frazier from Cincinnati to Chicago.As far back as spring training, however, Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi was saying strengthening the farm system was not the goal “it’s a means to an end.”“Being ranked the No. 1 system by Baseball America — we’re not putting that trophy in the trophy case,” Zaidi said then. “It’s so important for us to either incorporate that talent at the major-league level or, if an opportunity presents itself, move some of that talent for players that can help us at the major-league level.“Obviously, we have to be careful with that. Prospects are valuable currency.”It might be time to spend some of that currency.The Dodgers reached the All-Star break with a 6½-game chasm separating them from the first-place San Francisco Giants (sporting the best record in baseball). The Dodgers currently lead the National League wild-card standings. But four teams (the Mets, Marlins, Cardinals and Pirates) all lurk within four games.The addition of an “elite-level” player — Friedman would not define that player, saying “it varies” — could be the second-half separator. A year ago, the New York Mets were three games over .500, second in the NL East and fourth in the wild-card standings at the trade deadline. They acquired Yoenis Cespedes who helped pump life into a moribund offense. The Mets went 37-22 after the deadline and made it all the way to the World Series.The Toronto Blue Jays were similarly languishing on the fringes of contention before going all in at the deadline, acquiring both Price and Tulowitzki. The Jays had the best record in the American League (40-18) over the final two months and reached the ALCS.But that kind of move will cost the Dodgers some of their precious prospect depth.“I think everything is a negotiation. But I think our farm system is deeper than it’s ever been at this point,” Friedman said. “That allows us the opportunity to have more meaningful conversations with other teams.“Everything is market driven. If we can offer them more than someone else can, then they’ll do with the deal with us. If not, then they won’t and we’ll feel comfortable in knowing that we put our best foot forward to try and get something done.”The cynic might say the Dodgers are simply posturing so they can sit back on Aug. 2, having aimed high at “elite-level talent” but emerging with their prospect hoard still intact and pushing a narrative that getting their injured players back will be the equivalent of making mid-season trades.“That may very well be how it plays out,” Friedman said. “I don’t have a crystal ball.”DODGERS AT THE BREAKFIRST-HALF REVIEWThe Dodgers started the season with 10 players on the disabled list and reached the All-Star break with nine there. Some of the names have changed — most disturbing, Clayton Kershaw joined them with a herniated disc in his back. The injuries and slow starts by key offensive performers like Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig and Yasmani Grandal were a drag on the Dodgers and they spent much of the first half within a game or two of .500, relying on youngsters like Corey Seager and Trayce Thompson to carry much of the load. But a favorable schedule and a remarkable performance by an overtaxed bullpen allowed them to finish the first half with an 18-8 run — leaving them still a distant 6½ games behind the San Francisco Giants in the NL West.SECOND-HALF PREVIEWKEY: The Dodgers’ chances for a fourth consecutive NL West division title seem slim. A wild-card playoff spot seems a more realistic goal. What they do at the trade deadline could tip the scales one way or the other. If they make a significant addition — a Jay Bruce added to the lineup, a Chris Archer or Rich Hill to bolster the rotation or Andrew Miller to the bullpen — it would make them a wild-card favorite (and more of a second-half threat to the Giants). If they don’t make a big move, they will spend the second half with their fingers crossed that the bullpen doesn’t collapse, the returnees (Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy and Alex Wood) can produce a more robust rotation and the offense doesn’t lose its renewed vigor.TRADE POSSIBILITIES: Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has said the team will target “elite-level players” at the trade deadline. On the bright side, that would seem to eliminate the possibility of another blockbuster Mat Latos trade. On the other hand, “elite-level players” do not come cheap and the Friedman-era Dodgers have shown a greater interest in collecting prospects, not spending them. If you hear Dodgers decision-makers talking about returning injured players like Brett Anderson and Andre Ethier being the equivalent of midseason acquisitions — be afraid, be very afraid.BIGGEST CONCERN: Nothing should give the Dodgers greater pause than the state of Kershaw’s back, given how much he has carried them. His healthy return will have ripple effects. Without him, the other starters were barely able to average five innings a start, leaving the bullpen to pitch 75 innings over the final 19 games before the break. That kind of workload has a way of coming back to haunt a team.SCHEDULE: The Dodgers start the second half with a long road trip (to Arizona, Washington and St. Louis) and make another cross-country swing in mid-September — an odd time to send an NL West team to Miami and New York before returning via Arizona. Depending on how fast those Yankees fade in the second half, the Dodgers could play 30 of their final 45 games against teams out of the playoff race — and nine against the Giants (including the final weekend of the regular season in San Francisco). Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error LOS ANGELES >> The Andrew Friedman regime is in its second year in Los Angeles and a value system has been established.They don’t like big contracts.They have traded them away (Matt Kemp) and swallowed chunks of them (Carl Crawford). But, even though the payroll remains the highest in baseball (approximately $230 million), the Friedman-era Dodgers haven’t added them.In the past two years, the $62.5 million contract they gave Cuban infielder Hector Olivera is the Dodgers’ biggest single expenditure on a player — and he was traded before ever playing a game for the Dodgers, cutting that cost in half. So the $48 million contracts given to free-agent pitchers Brandon McCarthy before the 2015 season (a four-year deal) and Scott Kazmir last winter (a three-year deal with lots of deferred dollars) stand as the biggest commitments of the past two years.