It is hard to make an argument that anybody did better than the Dodgers at the trade deadline. Yu Darvish is obviously the best player that the Dodgers acquired today, but they also decided to improve their bullpen by acquiring two lefty relievers in Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson. The Dodgers sent C Hendrik Clementina and OF Scott Van Slyke to Cincinnati for Cingrani, and SS/3B Oneil Cruz and RHP Ángel Germán to Pittsburgh for Watson.
What should come as no surprise to anybody is that the team with the .705 winning percentage already had an excellent bullpen. They lead the majors with a 2.91 RA9 and 7.3 percent walk rate, and their 27.6 percent strikeout rate leads the NL. Of course, Kenley Jansen’s superhuman season is a big part of that, but the Dodgers have other good relievers, too. Brandon Morrow has been extremely impressive himself with a 1.99 RA9, 32.2 percent strikeout rate, and 3.5 percent walk rate, albeit in only 22 2⁄3 IP. Pedro Báez has a 1.61 RA9. Josh Fields has a 2.89 RA9 and 28.4 percent strikeout rate.
As well as the Dodgers’ bullpen was performing, they needed more left-handed relievers. Luis Avilán was the sole dependable southpaw, and to his credit, he was having a great season with a 3.30 RA9 and a 30.2 percent strikeout rate, and that run average comes with a .378 BABIP. He has an excellent 2.44 DRA. The only other lefty they have in the bullpen is Grant Dayton, who has an RA9 of almost five with poor strikeout and walk rates. He also recently went on the DL with a neck issue.
Tony Cingrani used to be a starter, but he could not last there because he lacked good secondary offerings and had only an average fastball. He gets by on deception. Travis Sawchik of FanGraphs wrote about his attempts to develop a cutter in Spring Training. According to Brooks Baseball, he has not thrown a cutter at all this season.
Cingrani moved to the bullpen full-time in 2015, but has been ineffective in that role as well. Since 2015, he has a 4.89 RA9 and a mediocre 21.3 percent strikeout rate. He still has poor control, having walked 13 percent of batters in that time frame. Cingrani’s fastball has climbed to 95 MPH out of the bullpen, but it is not helping him much. Hitters are slugging .423 off it since 2015.
It is questionable whether or not Cingrani can be used as a lefty specialist because he has never shown a propensity to get left-handed hitters out. His career splits are rather small, though they do suffer from small sample size, believe it or not. Some might point to his terrible numbers against left-handed hitters this season, but it is important to note that a half-season sample of platoon splits for a reliever is basically worthless in terms of predictive value.
The Dodgers did not give up much for Cingrani. Hendrik Clementina is a catcher who is still in rookie ball and raking at the moment. According to scouting information relayed by the Cincinnati Enquirer’s C. Trent Rosencrans, Clementina is expected to really hit but might not have a position. Baseball America has some real questions about his ability to stay behind the plate. Baseball fans likely remember Scott Van Slyke from his epic 2014 season when he hit .297/.386/.524 in 98 games, good for a 161 wRC+. Unfortunately, he declined precipitously since then, hitting just .196/.280/.308 in the past year-and-a-half in between minor league stints. He is currently in Triple A.
Tony Watson is the better acquisition in the trade, though sadly the bar is not very high for that. He had an outstanding three-season run from 2013-2015 but has declined since then. He currently has a 3.86 RA9, which is respectable, but he is a bit homer prone and can’t strike anybody out. His DRA is abysmal, sitting at 5.64. He did flash some effectiveness against lefties last year, allowing a line of .206/.253/.324. What his true talent is against left-handers is harder to discern, however.
As with Cingrani, the Dodgers did not give up much to get Watson, just a couple of lottery tickets. Oneil Cruz was signed as a shortstop in 2015 but has outgrown the position. Baseball America had him ranked 27th in the Dodgers organization last year. Ángel Germán was ranked 27th in the organization at the end of 2015 but was not ranked last year, likely because he posted an 8.48 RA9 in A ball. He is doing much better this year with a 2.45 RA9 and 27 percent strikeout rate, but he is still struggling a bit with his control.
It is hard to see why the Dodgers wanted Cingrani and Watson. My guess is that they know something that we do not, and are banking on that knowledge to make these pitchers into something that is more than what they are. Frankly, that is a much better plan than overpaying for a Proven Closer®. It will be very interesting to see how these pitchers perform going forward. Watson is going to be a free agent, but Cingrani is under contract through 2019.
With what the Dodgers paid for Cingrani and Watson, the risk is pretty low. Furthermore, they have such a huge lead in the NL that they can afford to experiment. Avilán is quite good, but it is helpful to have more left-handed relieving depth. As for the Reds and Pirates, there was no way they were going to do any better than what they got from the Dodgers. There is nothing wrong with receiving low-end prospects in exchange for relievers that are no longer needed.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.