They should have done more. No offense to Joey Gallo, but the Los Angeles Dodgers messed up big time by not adding more at the MLB trade deadline. It's not hindsight, or even foresight, to point this out. It's seeing things how they are.
With the deadline coming, they already were missing right-hander Walker Buehler because of an elbow injury of undetermined severity. And with left-hander Clayton Kershaw always at the mercy of his tricky back, the Dodgers should have fortified their rotation with the best pitcher they could find.
Instead, the Seattle Mariners came away with right-hander Luis Castillo. It took a boat load, truck load, train load and mother lode of prospects to pry him from the Cincinnati Reds, but M's general manager Jerry Dipoto made the big move in large part because Seattle has missed the playoffs every season since 2001. Castillo not only helps the Mariners in their attempt to qualify for the postseason, but he also damages other teams once they get there.
And now, with Kershaw on the injured list because of his frequently bad back and with doctors confirming Monday that Buehler needs season-ending elbow surgery, the Dodgers are in deep trouble. Well, as deep as trouble gets for a team that is nearly 50 games over .500.
No kind of deadline deal was going to improve or inhibit L.A. from winning the National League West. The Dodgers led the Padres by 19 games in the loss column heading into Monday’s action, and they are going to win the division, short of an unprecedented disaster. They're also good enough, as constituted, to finish with the best record in the NL and gain a bye in the first round of the playoffs. They have a deep pitching staff with the lowest overall ERA in MLB, and they’ve gotten particularly strong starting pitching performances from hurlers not named Buehler and Kershaw.
The Dodgers are stacked — as it relates to winning the regular season.
The problems will come in the postseason, where not having Buehler and possibly Kershaw is going to leave L.A. significantly short. The Dodgers will go with a rotation of Julio Urias and Tony Gonsolin, along with Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney (health permitting). Three of them made the All-Star team, and their numbers have been great collectively. However, Anderson and Heaney are way over-performing their career results, and Gonsolin has never been counted on for significant postseason innings.
The playoffs are a roll of the dice for every team in every season. And the Dodgers are going to face the NL field with Urias and a bunch of maybes.
Where did things start to go wrong with the Dodgers in last year’s playoffs? When they misused ace Max Scherzer and he became diminished. The domino effect killed their best chance to repel the Atlanta Braves. Perhaps having Scherzer at 100% wouldn't have been enough to block the Braves' championship run, but we're never going to know for sure. We do know that Max not at maximum wasn't good enough.
L.A. faces the same kind of problem now. And it’s kind of fascinating how the Dodgers pour more money into payroll, scouting and player development than anyone, and they still find themselves short of a full deck.
That doesn't mean adding Scherzer at the 2021 trade deadline was some kind of mistake for team president Andrew Friedman. The Dodgers faced different circumstances a year ago, sitting three games behind the San Francisco Giants in the NL West and fighting to avoid the NL Wild Card Game. Even though L.A. already was heading for 100-plus wins and the postseason no matter what, it wanted to go big for its rotation and get the best bat-misser it could find for the playoffs, no matter how the matchups might shake out. The Dodgers also added Trea Turner in the Scherzer deal. No small moves, right? But come the postseason, it was the team that failed Scherzer, not the other way around. No matter, Friedman should have gone big again.
This year at the deadline, scuttlebutt had the Dodgers making a move for a big hitter — like Juan Soto or Josh Bell — even though they led the league (and continue to) in runs scored. They didn’t do that either, finally letting the San Diego Padres catch Soto, the biggest fish available, and add the capable bats of Bell and Brandon Drury.
The early returns on Gallo have been positive, and they had better continue to be because the Dodgers’ potent offense is going to have to keep on mashing in the playoffs. Are they going to regret not trading for Soto? They just might. But they’re also going to fret not getting a big arm because they have the scariest 2.74 starting pitcher ERA in history.