It doesn't involve Matt Chapman, as most Dodgers fans hoped it would, but the organization and the A's completed an intriguing four-player trade on Friday.
Dodgers get: INF Sheldon Neuse, RHP Gus Varland
A's get: LHP Adam Kolarek, OF Cody Thomas
Dodgers get: LHP Alex Vesia, RHP Kyle Hurt
Marlins get: RHP Dylan Floro
Neuse, 26, was a second-round pick by the Nationals in 2016 after a strong collegiate career at Oklahoma. He was one of the key pieces in the deal that sent Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to Washington in 2017. Since then, Neuse has continued to develop in the Minors, including a 27-homer season with Triple-A Vegas in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League in 2019.
According to MLB Pipeline, Neuse was the No. 5 overall prospect in the A's organization, and his ability at the plate is a big reason why. Varland was the No. 28 prospect in the A's organization.
Because of Chapman's presence at third base, Neuse hasn't had many opportunities to make an impact at the big league level. He made his Major League debut in 2019, hitting .250 with seven RBIs in 56 at-bats. He didn't get any playing time last season, spending his time at the A's alternate training site. Neuse still has two years of Minor League options remaining.
Adding Neuse doesn't shut the door on a reunion with Justin Turner or the pursuit of another right-handed bat. Neuse gives the Dodgers a much-needed depth piece at the position and a player that is capable of filling in nicely at multiple positions, including second base and left field. Zach McKinstry and Chris Taylor are expected to fill in for the departed Enrique Hernández in the utility man role. Neuse gives them another option.
In the seemingly unlikely case that the Dodgers don't add another third baseman to the roster, Los Angeles would give the bulk of the playing time to Edwin Ríos, with Neuse serving as a good right-handed platoon option at the position. The club, however, is likely not done adding this offseason.
Varland, 24, is 2-2 with a 1.54 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 18 career Minor League games. He gives the Dodgers another depth piece in the Minors.
Trading Kolarek and Thomas wasn't an easy decision for the Dodgers, but it's representative of what the organization thinks of Neuse. Kolarek, 32, went 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA in 20 appearances with Los Angeles last season. He went 5-0 with a 0.88 ERA in his Dodgers career. Kolarek was particularly excellent against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .077 average last season. He'll always be remembered for his duels against superstar Juan Soto in the postseason. Neuse will replace Kolarek on the 40-man roster.
Vesia was a surprise addition to the Marlins’ Opening Day roster in 2020 before becoming one of the players affected by the team’s COVID-19 outbreak at the beginning of the season. Once he returned to the mound, Vesia was never able to get comfortable, allowing nine earned runs in 4 1/3 innings of work.
But while Vesia struggled in limited big league time last season, his Minor League numbers indicate there could be better days ahead for the 24-year-old left-hander.
In his first full Minor League season in 2019, Vesia went 7-2 with a 1.76 ERA, striking out 100 batters over 66 2/3 innings of work. He began the '19 season at Class A, but was quickly promoted to Class A Advanced and then Double-A due to his performance out of the bullpen.
During last year’s Spring Training, Vesia showed off an impressive four-seam fastball, changeup and slider mix. He relies heavily on the four-seamer, throwing the pitch 72.9 percent of the time. He won’t overpower hitters with velocity, as his average velo was 91.7 mph last season, but the left-hander gets elite spin on the pitch. In limited big league time last season, Vesia had an average spin rate of 2,370 rpm, which surely intrigued president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
It remains to be seen what Vesia’s role will be on Opening Day. He has three years of Minor League options remaining, making it possible for the Dodgers to keep him in the Minors in order to continue his development. But if he’s on the big league roster, he’ll help fill the void left by Kolarek’s departure. The Dodgers have Vesia, Victor González, Garrett Cleavinger and Scott Alexander as the four lefty relievers on the 40-man roster.
Floro, 30, was a big part of the Dodgers’ bullpen over the last two seasons. He also recorded one of the biggest outs in the World Series last season, striking out breakout star Randy Arozarena in a key spot in Game 6. Losing Floro will be a blow to the Dodgers’ bullpen, but the organization has plenty of right-handed options moving forward.
Outside of the core bullpen arms, the Dodgers have Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin available to come out of the bullpen, if needed. Edwin Uceta, Mitch White, Josiah Gray, Dennis Santana, Gerardo Carrillo and Andre Jackson could also help. Tommy Kahnle, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, could be ready to make an impact toward the end of the season.
Hurt, 22, was selected by the Marlins in the fifth round of the 2020 Draft out of the University of Southern California. In the pandemic-shortened '20 NCAA season, the hard-throwing righty had a 3.71 ERA in four starts.