In one alternate universe, the hub of this particular Joctober is Joc Pederson’s living room couch.
That’s where the Dodgers outfielder might have experienced the team’s latest World Series run had an agreed-upon trade sending Pederson to the Angels been completed back in February. The short version is that Pederson very nearly wasn’t a Dodger anymore, and neither was flamethrowing reliever Brusdar Graterol -- two players who have helped move the Dodgers within one victory of their first championship since 1988.
“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster, but you kind of have to adapt,” said Pederson, who is coming off huge hits in Games 4 and 5 of the Fall Classic. “That’s baseball. You make the best of what I’ve got in front of me.”
To understand what’s in front of Pederson and the Dodgers, you must understand what’s behind them.
Feb. 4: A blockbuster
The rich were about to get richer. The Dodgers were getting Red Sox superstar Mookie Betts. In the first version of a three-way deal between Los Angeles, Boston and Minnesota, the Dodgers would have received Betts and pitcher David Price from the Sox for outfielder Alex Verdugo, then sent pitcher Kenta Maeda to the Twins, who in turn would have sent Graterol to the Red Sox.
Betts would have joined a packed Dodgers outfield with reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner Cody Bellinger, AJ Pollock and Pederson, plus utility men Chris Taylor and Kiké Hernandez. Hours later, that potential logjam looked like it might ease when it leaked that the Dodgers were on the verge of another trade to send Pederson, pitcher Ross Stripling and a Minor Leaguer to the Angels for infielder Luis Rengifo.
That Pederson was the odd man out, despite hitting 36 homers the year before, made sense considering he was entering his final year before free agency in 2020. Notably, that agreement was contingent on Betts formally becoming a Dodger.
Then, everyone waited.
Feb. 6: 'Some uncertainty'
MLB Network insider Jon Heyman was among the first to report trouble with the trade. The Red Sox were having concerns about the health of Graterol, the 21-year-old from Venezuela with a fastball exceeding 100 mph whom Boston envisioned as a starter. The Sox reportedly were asking for an additional prospect from Minnesota to agree to the deal.
Graterol had already planted his feet in the big leagues, with 10 appearances for the Twins during the 2019 regular season plus a scoreless inning in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. He had Tommy John surgery and missed all of ‘16, then missed some time with a right shoulder impingement in ‘19. Graterol was Minnesota’s top-rated pitching prospect and the No. 83 overall prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline, but the Red Sox apparently worried that what they were seeing in the medicals meant Graterol could be limited to relief.
At the same time, the Angels were getting anxious.
Feb. 9: Pederson stays put
With Boston’s concern about Graterol apparently persisting, the Dodgers, Red Sox and Twins engineered a workaround with two new trades involving many of the same pieces. Los Angeles would get Betts, Price and cash from the Sox for Verdugo and prospects Jeter Downs and Conner Wong. Then Graterol would wind up with the Dodgers, not with the Red Sox as in the original framework, in a separate trade with the Twins for Maeda, outfielder Luke Raley and international pool money.
All three teams had reportedly signed off on the medical reports and the trade was awaiting only the go-ahead from Major League Baseball because of the money involved when yet another roadblock appeared.
The Pederson trade was off.
Angels owner Arte Moreno later cited several factors, including the delay in the Betts deal for that decision.
So which teams benefited in the end from that frenzied, frustrating week? Certainly not the Red Sox, at least not yet, though Verdugo posted an .844 OPS in 53 games this season. The Twins did well getting Maeda, who was 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA over 11 regular-season starts and came within three outs of a no-hitter against the Brewers on Aug. 18.
But the Dodgers flourished, in spite of Price’s decision to sit out the 2020 season over concerns about COVID-19. Betts was an NL MVP Award candidate. Maeda’s departure -- even though the Dodgers remained on the hook for $10 million of his salary -- paved the way for more opportunities for rookies Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, who combined for a 2.45 ERA over 21 regular-season appearances (18 starts).
Graterol pitched 23 times in the regular season with a 3.09 ERA while holding right-handers to a .408 OPS. In the postseason, Graterol has pitched eight times, and he has held opponents to a .192 average (5-for-26). In seven of those outings, he has not been charged with a run, including a hold in Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday night, when he inherited a baserunner and a one-run lead in the eighth inning.
Plus, Graterol has five more years of club control.
Then there is Pederson, who, in the wake of nearly being traded by the only organization he’s known, produced some of the lowest regular-season numbers of his career on the verge of free agency. He slashed .190/.285/.397, his worst marks in all three categories since a small-sample callup in 2014.
But in the postseason, Pederson has again become a force. He has a .382/.417/.559 slash line with a pair of home runs in 36 plate appearances. Pederson’s go-ahead two-run single in the seventh inning of Game 4 was one of the Dodgers’ biggest hits in a stunning loss, and his home run leading off the second inning of Game 5 on Sunday night provided the winning run in the Dodgers’ 4-2 victory.
“You’ve got to be ready to hit,” said Pederson of his more sporadic playing time this season and postseason. “I’ve been facing some really good arms, and the last thing you want to do is get behind.”
In all, Pederson owns an .849 OPS in 13 postseason series for the Dodgers. With left-hander Blake Snell on the mound for the Rays in Game 6 on Tuesday night, Pederson will probably look to do his damage off Los Angeles’ bench.
“They don't call it Joctober for no reason,” Max Muncy said. “The guy performs on the huge stage. This is just what he does.”