Analysis: Dodgers, Angels take the conservative route for teams headed in opposite directions

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Major League Baseball’s trade deadline is, if nothing else, an annual invitation to embrace a sense of desperation about your team. This is an easy invitation for fans to accept. Front offices occasionally join in.

This year, the Dodgers and Angels had a chance to blow up their farm system and major league roster, respectively. Neither team did so. North of San Diego, these are not desperate times.

We’ll get to Juan Soto in a minute. The Dodgers and Angels were both involved in big rumors that did not materialize, including a trade that would have sent Soto to the Dodgers for a package of multiple prospects, and another that would have sent Shohei Ohtani up the 5 Freeway to Los Angeles.

Still, for two teams headed in opposite directions, Tuesday was a busy deadline. The same question now faces each team: did they bet on the right personnel?

For the Dodgers, the calculus is slightly less complicated than, well, calculus. Their big get was outfielder Joey Gallo, who arrives with more modest expectations than his resume would suggest. At 28, he’s a two-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award winner. The Dodgers sent Double-A pitcher Clayton Beeter to the New York Yankees in return.

For this trade to make sense, Gallo merely needs to be an upgrade over reserve outfielder Jake Lamb, who was traded to Seattle for cash or a player to be named later. Defensively, that’s not much to ask.

Offensively, Gallo has been essentially the same hitter away from his home park this season with the Yankees as he was from 2015-21 with the Texas Rangers. Gallo’s brand of hitting is (pun intended) an acquired taste. Away from Arlington prior to this season, he slashed .194/.308/.441. Away from Yankee Stadium in 2022, he’s slashed .178/.312/.407. Power numbers are down around the league this year, so Gallo is less of a reclamation project than the boo birds in the Bronx would have you believe.

Gallo will seldom face a left-handed pitcher with the Dodgers. He’s healthy, according to President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman.

“(Gallo’s) true talent level is still in place,” Friedman said.

The Dodgers were among the finalists for Soto, the Washington Nationals’ All-Star outfielder, who is the best hitter to be traded at a deadline in recent or non-recent memory. The Padres acquired Soto and first baseman Josh Bell for a quintet of coveted prospects, as well as veteran first baseman Luke Voit. Years from now, this will be the defining trade of the season.

There is a significant gap between the true talent levels of Soto and Gallo. The Dodgers’ interest in Soto, a 23-year-old perennial MVP candidate who has been compared to Ted Williams, is understandable. Other than Freddie Freeman and Gavin Lux, the Dodgers aren’t getting the offensive production they coveted from their left-handed hitters.

Though he would have come at great cost in terms of prospects, Soto would have papered over the offensive shortcomings of Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy, allowing each to either come off the bench or bat no higher than sixth on any given day. Moreover, Soto would have kept an elite player from a division rival for the next two-plus years.

“They made their team way better the last couple days,” Friedman said of the Padres. “We look forward to that competition. It wasn’t surprising to us.”

By limiting his haul of major league talent to Gallo, Friedman tacitly endorsed his own prospects – and, to an extent, the abilities of Muncy and Bellinger to help the Dodgers win a World Series in 2022. One coveted prospect, Miguel Vargas, received his first major league promotion Tuesday. Did Friedman bet on the right players? Time will tell.

Deciphering the Angels’ desired window for contention is much more difficult. They traded Noah Syndergaard to the Philadelphia Phillies for outfielders Mickey Moniak and Jadiel Sanchez. In a separate trade, they sent Brandon Marsh to Philadelphia for catcher Logan O’Hoppe, a top-100 prospect who recently appeared in the Futures Game at Dodger Stadium. Closer Raisel Iglesias went to Atlanta for pitchers Jesse Chavez and Tucker Davidson.

The trades of Syndergaard and Iglesias are a step in the right direction for a rebuilding team. Ideally, it amounts to another signal to the Angels’ front office that merely signing a couple of big-name free agents each offseason amount to a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.

The largest impact of the trades can be measured in terms of salary relief; the Angels will save a little more than $59 million in all after those three trades. If that money is not re-invested into the roster (by signing free agents or by extending Ohtani’s contract), these moves are a waste.

“It’s not fun trading really good players,” Minasian told reporters. “We just haven’t played well, and looking at where we’re at and where we want to go going forward and looking at our needs, we felt this was the best way to go.”

Trading Marsh is still a tough sell. His defense in left field was elite. His baserunning and base-stealing skills endeared him to fans. His attitude endeared him to teammates. For all his struggles at the plate (a .226/.284/.353 slash line), Marsh’s ability to make hard contact suggested a bright future. He’s 24 and will be under team control for five more seasons – the kind of player a GM can build a roster around. Marsh has drawn interest from other teams in the past, when his trade value was likely even higher.

Now, Minasian has endorsed Jo Adell and Taylor Ward as the future corner outfielders around Mike Trout. The jury is very much out on Adell, the former first-round pick who was rushed to the majors at 21 and has since done more sinking than swimming at the major league level. Ward and Trout have both dealt with injuries that the Angels must hope are not long-term concerns.

The trade can still make sense if O’Hoppe delivers on his potential. Max Stassi is under contract through 2024 with an extension for 2025. In theory, the Angels just ensured their chain of succession at catcher for the next several years. That’s putting a lot on a 22-year-old and the scouts who identified him, but that’s the biggest risk the Angels took Tuesday.

For a front office, the conservative route is easier to justify to fans. Desperation would be trading Ohtani for a package of players who could upgrade several roster spots at once. That’s a tougher sell when Ohtani fills two roster spots simultaneously better than perhaps any player in history. In the end, Minasian was active but not reckless at the deadline.

Still, he is left facing the same problem as his recent predecessors, playing out the string on the current season while contemplating how to shoehorn the Angels’ generational talents into the postseason. The Angels’ rite of August is in full bloom.