It was the splash of the trade deadline.
Just before midnight on July 29, the day before the MLB July 30 trade deadline, word broke that the Dodgers had acquired Nationals ace Max Scherzer. But wait, they were also getting star shortstop Trea Turner.
Los Angeles was already the favorite to win the World Series at that point, but the huge move only boosted the star power emanating from that roster.
The Dodgers might not have been able to chase down the Giants, but they were able to get the better of their Bay Area rivals in the NLDS to reach the NLCS. And if the Dodgers are going to climb out of the early hole to the Braves, down early 2-0 as they head back to Chavez Ravine, they’re going to need to see these two midseason acquisitions step up and play a big role the rest of the way.
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Max Scherzer on the move
Leading up to the trade deadline, speculation swirled that Scherzer might be on the move.
It made sense. On July 29, the Nationals were sitting at 47-55, eight games out of first place behind the Mets, who were seemingly stocked up with talent. The 2019 World Series champions were stuck, and decided at the deadline to commit fully to a rebuild rather than trying to add a few pieces for a last-gasp postseason run. Not to mention, the 37-year-old starter was in the final year of his contract with Washington and could walk out at the end of the year with only a compensation pick in return for his departure.
So it became time to shop him. The Athletic’s Jayson Stark reported on July 27 that eight teams known to be in play for Scherzer were the Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, Astros and Mets.
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A few teams kept coming in here and there but, on July 29, the Padres emerged as the clear front runner. Per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, it sounded as if there might even be an agreement on players to be swapped. The biggest question was whether Scherzer would waive his no-trade clause.
Could Trea Turner be traded?
This always felt, at best, speculative. Of course the services of a perennial All-Star shortstop, still a year-and-a-half removed from free agency, was tantalizing for teams. He was coming off a season in which he homered 12 times and stole 12 bases with a .335/.394/.588 slash line in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season. He had previously swiped at least 30 bases in each of his previous four seasons and twice had nabbed 40.
There were just a few issues. For starters, the Nationals still had eyes to potentially rebound in 2022 with a young core that would include Turner, phenom Juan Soto, dynamic prospects Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia and — with any luck — the return of Stephen Strasburg to the rotation.
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Next was that, on the morning of July 29, the Nationals announced Turner and several other players were headed to the COVID-19 injured list. Players are still able to be dealt once placed on the list, but it certainly muddied the water.
However, New York Post’s Joel Sherman tweeted that Turner was still drawing trade interest from teams, even after the COVID-19 positive test. As it turned out, he wasn’t the only player placed on the COVID list that day who wound up traded: Daniel Hudson and Yan Gomes were as well, their moves coming on July 30.
Then it happened. MLB Network’s Jon Morosi tweeted late the night of July 29 that the Dodgers had landed both Scherzer and Turner in a move that rattled the baseball world.
The full return for Washington wound up being a haul of prospects, with catcher Keibert Ruiz, right-handed pitcher Josiah Gray, right-hander Gerardo Carrillo and outfielder Donovan Casey.
It was a stunner of a move, yet it made sense for the Dodgers to make the trade. One of the Dodgers’ top starting pitchers, Trevor Bauer, had been placed on administrative leave after he was accused of assault. Earlier in the year, Dustin May, who had been a huge success for the team early in the year and during the team’s 2020 World Series run, was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery. Adding Scherzer to a rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Julio Urias instantly made it the best rotation in baseball.
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The Dodgers did already have a star shortstop in Corey Seager. However, Seager is a free agent at the end of the season, and, according to Spotrac, the Dodgers already have a 2022 payroll of $198 million, with major contracts like those of Mookie Betts and Justin Turner taking up a fair amount of space. Trading for Turner gave the team perhaps the best middle-infield combination in the game, while also giving Los Angeles an insurance plan in case Seager does not re-sign with the team this offseason.
Since the trade
The deal has obviously worked out for the Dodgers.
Los Angeles finished the season with the second-most wins in baseball, and just beat the team with the most wins in the NLDS. Since Scherzer put on Dodger blue, no pitcher could match the 2.9 Fangraphs WAR he posted as he dazzled to a perfect 8-0 record with a 1.94 ERA and an absurd 34.1 percent strikeout rate in 74.1 innings with the team.
Turner won the NL batting title and finished the regular season with the most fWAR among position players at 6.9. Since the trade, he hit 10 home runs, stole 11 bases and slashed .338/.385/.565 for Los Angeles.
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And the Nationals have to be excited about their end of the deal as well. Gray immediately joined the rotation and showed promising signs. Though his 5.31 ERA and 5.71 FIP during his Nationals’ debut weren’t exactly sterling, they were largely ballooned by a four-game stretch during which time he allowed 22 runs in 17.1 innings of work. Remove those outings, and he had a much cleaner 2.99 ERA in his remaining eight starts. At only 23 years old, the ceiling is lofty for the young hurler.
The other big-name prospect in the return was Ruiz, who had just made his MLB debut earlier in the year with the Dodgers. Upon his acquisition by the Nationals, he posted a .308/.381/.577 slash line with five homers and an impressive 8.2 percent walk rate and 7.1 percent strikeout rate at Triple-A. He was promoted to the big leagues on Aug. 30 and recorded a .284/.348/.395 slash line with a pair of homers and a solid 6.7 percent walk rate to accompany a miniscule 4.5 percent strikeout rate. The 23-year-old backstop has long been regarded as one of the top catching prospects, and his combo with Gray figures to make a promising battery for the Nationals for years to come.