There are no sure things.
When the Padres went starting pitcher wild in the offseason, layering Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and Blake Snell onto an already deep, talented roster, San Diego felt like it might just overtake the Dodgers in the NL West. But Los Angeles responded by retaining Justin Turner, signing NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer and sending its payroll beyond $260 million.
It wasn’t just the division. It was the National League. Maybe the whole sport. Dodgers or Padres, Padres or Dodgers.
But when the Giants completed winning two of three over the Dodgers on Thursday, it was upstart San Francisco that led the NL West by three games. San Diego was further out of first place (six games), than it was ahead of Cincinnati for the second wild card.
The Dodgers responded with yet another move that accumulated stars and — against better judgment — provided the sense they were a sure thing: They fortified to try for a ninth straight NL West title and to become the first team since the 1998-2000 three-peat Yankees to repeat.
Los Angeles was in agreement with Washington to obtain Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. That would be the best starter and the best position player who will be moved in this trade cycle going to the roster that already had the most talent.
The Dodgers’ blessing is depth in finances and prospects. They have one of the majors’ best young catchers in Will Smith and two of the best catching prospects in Keibert Ruiz and Diego Cartaya. So the Dodgers could mortgage Ruiz, who was generally viewed as their top prospect.
In December 2018, Los Angeles did a mutual salary-dump deal with Cincinnati and yet somehow the mega-market team ended up with the two prospects in the trade. One, Jeter Downs, was a key piece used last year to acquire Mookie Betts, who was central to the Dodgers winning their first World Series since 1988. The other, Josiah Gray, tucked in behind Ruiz as their second-best prospect and now also was going to Washington.
Two other prospects were to be included, but the inclusion of Ruiz and Gray and the aggression to get both Scherzer and Turner felt like when the Cubs surrendered Gleyber Torres for a few months of Aroldis Chapman. But Chicago had not won a World Series in 108 years. The Dodgers won one 10 months ago.
But the Dodgers are not only trying to win consecutive World Series for the first time in franchise history, they are trying to turn the subject away from Bauer, the folly of signing him despite concerns about his makeup and the fallout now associated with his sexual assault case that might possibly lead to him never playing for the Dodgers (or in the majors) again.
At least on the mound, Scherzer is an apt page turn for Bauer. The three-time Cy Young winner (who will now, among others, be teammates with three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw) did not start Saturday because of triceps discomfort. He did throw six audition innings Thursday in a matinee against the Phillies, allowing one run to drop his ERA to 2.76 in his walk year.
Turner is currently out after testing positive for COVID-19. When he is in, Turner would join Betts in providing the most diverse, threatening 1-2 in the majors — both capable of delivering average, power and elite baserunning. Corey Seager, the regular shortstop, has been out since mid-May with a hand fracture. He is expected to return this weekend, which means Turner likely plays second. But Seager is a free agent after this season, so the Dodgers already have his replacement — Turner is a free agent after 2022.
The Dodger muscle flex comes with a ripple. What will the Giants do? They weren’t expected to crash the Padres/Dodger party, but they have. So do they go for Kris Bryant, Craig Kimbrel or Twins ace Jose Berrios? The Padres, perhaps the biggest surprise to exceed the luxury tax, would be a disaster if they somehow weren’t even a wild card. Which is why they pushed for Scherzer and now are players for Berrios. If the Mets have designs on doing more than trying to win the NL East, do they feel compelled to try to bulk up in anticipation that all NL title roads probably will go through Chavez Ravine?
Again, there are no sure things. But the Dodgers just made themselves a lot tougher to beat.