The Dodgers Fill Their Only Need

To call the state of the current MLB offseason sluggish would be an understatement. While the activity of MLB teams has come to a screeching halt, the moves that do occur get to be analyzed in much more depth, which is why I am about to dedicate close to 1000 words about the Dodgers acquisition of Scott Alexander.

A week ago, the Dodgers acquired Scott Alexander in a three-team deal that sent prospects Erick Mejia and Trevor Oaks to the Royals, lefty reliever Luis Avilan and 3 million dollars to the White Sox, and Joakim Soria to the White Sox. While there are multiple moving parts in this deal, none of the names involved really jump off the page, making it an easy deal to overlook. Although this deal may not be a headline-grabber, it could be highly significant come next October.

Scott Alexander is probably a name you have never heard of, but this sinkerball specialist could wind up being an enormous addition to a Dodgers bullpen that lacked a lockdown left-hander. Alexander threw a power sinker 91.9% of the time last season, which was the highest percentage out of any pitcher in baseball (minimum 40 innings). Unsurprisingly, Alexander also led the MLB in ground-ball rate at 73.6%.

A ground ball heavy batted ball profile suited Alexander quite well, especially considering that the talk of the 2017 season was juiced balls, historic home run totals, and juiced balls. Alexander finished the season with a 2.48 ERA, 3.23 FIP, and an ERA- of 56, while only yielding 0.39 home runs per nine innings.

This acquisition is especially timely considering the departures of left-handers Tony Watson and Luis Avilan. It is worth noting that Alexander does not fit the profile of a left-handed specialist as he has been more effective against right-handers in his career (.314 v/ LHH, .292 v. RHH), but with this level of effectiveness against both righties and lefties, he affords Dave Roberts some flexibility.

Perhaps most importantly is the fact that the Dodgers were able to acquire Alexander while staying under the luxury tax. Alexander is cost controlled for five more seasons and is pre-arbitration, so he is set to make the league minimum for the next two seasons. With 184 million dollars currently committed to 2018 salaries and the tax threshold at 197 million, Los Angeles doesn’t have a ton of wiggle room if they are finally going to stay under the tax limit.

Comparing the cost of acquisition vs. performance of other free agent relievers, the Dodgers look even better. The table below will compare the projected performance of other free agent relievers based on projected fWAR multiplied by FanGraphs “Value” metric which assumes that for every win-above-replacement on the free agent market is worth roughly 8 million dollars. I will then take their projected value and subtract it from the amount they are set to earn next season to determine surplus vs. deficit they bring to their respective club relative to their earnings.

Player Contract Projected 2018 “Value” (Based on FanGraphs projections) Deficit vs. Surplus
Scott Alexander Pre-arbitration (525,000) 1.1 WAR = 8.8 million (+) 8.25 million
Jake McGee 3 years, 27 million (9 AAV) 0.5 WAR = 4 million (-) 5 million
Brandon Kintzler 2 years, 10 million (5 AAV) 0.4 WAR = 3.2 million (-) 1.8 million
Juan Nicasio 2 years, 17 million (8.5 AAV) 0.7 WAR = 5.6 million (-) 2.9 million
Steve Cishek 2 years, 13 million (6.5 AAV) 0.6 WAR = 4.8 million (-) 1.7 million
Pat Neshek 2 years, 16.2 million (8.1 AAV) 0.8 WAR = 6.4 million (-) 1.7 million

Of course, this table does not include the cost of acquiring Alexander, who required two mid-level prospects to reel in, but since neither prospects had any chance of impacting the big league club in the immediate future, I consider this cost negligible. More importantly, the Dodgers acquired one of the premier sinkerball relievers in the game while actually shedding 2.5 million off the books (Luis Avilan was owed 3 million in 2018).

This does not discount the fact that Trevor Oaks and Erick Mejia may be quality major leaguers in the future, but for the time being the acquisition of Scott Alexander looks like another example of how the Dodgers have capitalized on a market inefficiency while the rest of the baseball world was in hibernation.


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