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Dodgers trade for top starter Tyler Glasnow, but risks abound — Law
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Dodgers trade for top starter Tyler Glasnow, but risks abound — Law

Dodgers trade for top starter Tyler Glasnow, but risks abound — Law

Trade details: The Los Angeles Dodgers acquire RHP Tyler Glasnow and OF Manuel Margot from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for OF Jonny Deluca and RHP Ryan Pepiot

On the same day when they introduced Shohei Ohtani as a Dodger, the team swung a big trade, agreeing to a deal that would add right-hander Tyler Glasnow and outfielder Manuel Margot from the Rays in exchange for two young players, right-hander Ryan Pepiot and outfielder Jonny Deluca, who haven’t even reached arbitration and have five and six years of team control left, respectively. (The deal is contingent on Glasnow and the Dodgers working out a contract extension, but that’s not part of the trade itself, as the Dodgers are only acquiring one year of Glasnow’s service and the $25 million he’s owed for 2024.)

Glasnow is one of the best pitchers in baseball when healthy, which he has not been for any significant length of time in his major-league career. He struck out a third of batters he faced in 2023 after his return from Tommy John surgery, and his 2.91 FIP would have ranked second in the AL if he’d qualified, between league-leader Sonny Gray and Kevin Gausman. Glasnow was even better in 2021 before the surgery, with a 2.77 FIP and 2.66 ERA that both would have led the league if he’d qualified — although that year he only threw 88 innings before the injury.

Glasnow is 6-foot-8 and makes incredible use of his height, with some of the best extension out front of any pitcher in baseball at 7.5 feet. He sits 96-97 mph with two plus breaking balls in his slider and curve. The slider has much more power — Statcast has him throwing several at 93 and change, which is illegal in several states — while the curveball has above-average vertical break that plays up because of that extension. He barely uses a changeup and over the course of his career has shown no platoon split, but last season he had some trouble with lefties, something that bears watching in case anything has materially changed post-surgery.

The bigger issue, of course, is durability: His total of 120 innings in 2023 was actually a career high in the majors, and the most he’s thrown in any season since 2016, when he had his professional best of 140 innings and made his major-league debut. The Dodgers need quality in their rotation, but they also need quantity, with so many question marks as it is between inexperience and guys coming off injuries. Glasnow gives them quality, but I have no real idea how many innings they can count on him throwing.


Margot may be a platoon candidate with Jason Heyward. (Orlando Ramirez / USA Today)

Manuel Margot is a high-contact hitter with very little power whose value largely came from his plus defense anywhere in the outfield, but since a knee injury in 2022, that defensive value hasn’t been on display. From 2017-21, he was at 9-12 Runs Above Average (per Statcast) in every full season, but dropped to minus-1 in 2022 and 1 this past season. He’s definitely lost a step or two, a decline that was already in progress even before the knee injury, so I’m not that sanguine that he’s going to bounce all the way back on defense.

If the Dodgers want him to platoon with Jason Heyward in right field, facing left-handed pitching (against whom he’s hit .281/.341/.420 in his career, versus .244/.294/.370 versus righties), he’ll have value. I’m not sure they can count on him to do more. He’s under contract for one year at $10 million and has a $12 million mutual option for 2025.

I mentioned in my write-up of the Shohei Ohtani/Decoy contract that Ryan Pepiot “was outstanding in five September starts, throwing more strikes than he ever has in pro ball, although four were against some of the lowest-scoring offenses in baseball.” That’s obviously still true, and he’s not going to face that many low-scoring offenses while pitching in the AL East, which had four teams above the league median for runs per game, and the fifth just added Juan Freaking Soto.

Pepiot has at least a grade-70 changeup, and after a disastrous debut in 2022 where he had no command and struggled to get to the change or finish it, he had it back last year, and his fastball played better because of it. The changeup has a ton of late movement, especially down, and hitters struggle to distinguish between it and his mid-90s four-seamer because he releases the ball so far out over his front side. His slider has improved to be a viable weapon against right-handed batters, although in 2022 the story was that using the slider more threw off his delivery and compromised his command and his changeup. None of that was evident in 2023 once he returned from a four-month layoff due to an oblique injury; he threw strikes in the minors and did so in the majors, with all three pitches proving effective in his major-league time.

There’s definitely risk here, because his history of having even average control is limited largely to 2023, but the Rays like taking risks on guys with this sort of upside (e.g., a grade-70 or better pitch) and also have a good track record in pitching development. He slots right into their rotation into the spot vacated by Glasnow.

Jonny Deluca, no relation to NWH manager Whitey, was a 25th-round pick out of Oregon in 2019, debuted last year at age 24 and showed plus speed and reasonable pitch recognition for a rookie, albeit with less power than he’d shown in the low minors. I’d written before last season that he was more of a 55 runner and might move to a corner, but the speed and defense he showed in his cup of coffee last summer makes center field seem more viable.

Deluca was a strong fastball hitter in the minors, and his issues with breaking stuff carried over to the big leagues, which is hardly surprising but is obviously his biggest risk factor. He also didn’t make much hard contact in the majors in a tiny sample, but that’s out of character with his time in the minors, where he at least made enough to project to average power. The Rays gave Jose Siri and his heinous .267 OBP the majority of playing time in center last year, as he’s an elite defender with plus power, and he still managed to be worth 2.7 fWAR, which just aggravates me on a level I can’t even explain. A .267 OBP is a crime against an offense. Anyway, maybe Deluca can unseat him at some point, either this year or when Siri becomes arbitration-eligible in 2025.

If you’re sensing that I have reservations about everyone in this deal, you’re right, and I think this entails a lot more risk for the Dodgers because the stakes are higher for them. It’s World Series or bust for Los Angeles this year, and they just added one of the best starters in baseball who is also one of the most unreliable (from the perspective of innings pitched, at least). There’s a small but real chance that Pepiot gives the Rays more in 2023 than Glasnow gives the Dodgers, if Pepiot’s apparent steps forward last year hold up over a full season in the majors.

There’s also a chance this works out for everyone — Glasnow has his first full season as a starter, the Dodgers sprinkle their fairy dust on Margot and he and Heyward combine for 5 wins in right field, while Pepiot becomes a mid-rotation starter and Deluca develops into a regular. I just see wide ranges of possible outcomes for three of the players, all but Margot, and that increases the risk for everyone involved.

(Top photo of Glasnow: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)