Dodgers bolster infield depth with Brian Dozier, add John Axford to bullpen

ByAlden Gonzalez ESPN logo
Wednesday, August 1, 2018

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers acquired a difference-making position player in Manny Machado, but never picked up the dominant back-end reliever that they seemingly needed. The non-waiver trade deadline came and went Tuesday, and the Dodgers added a couple more names. They picked up former Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, who should bolster their look against lefties. And they acquired right-handed relief pitcher John Axford from the Toronto Blue Jays.

Axford has experience as both a closer and a setup man, but he fashions a 5.00 ERA over the past two seasons and will join an eclectic mix in the middle innings. The bridge to standout closer Kenley Jansen remains unsettled, but the Dodgers seem just fine with that.

"I don't know that we're going to evolve into a team that has a pure eighth-inning guy, as opposed to sort of matching up and playing out the end of games that way," Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi said.

In exchange for Dozier, the Twins acquired a couple of minor leaguers in left-handed power hitter Luke Raley and starting pitcher Devin Smeltzer. They also absorbed the contract of veteran infielder Logan Forsythe, who carried almost the same price tag as Dozier, keeping the Dodgers under the luxury-tax threshold.

The Dodgers parted with relief-pitching prospect Corey Copping in the deal for Axford -- but they will still mix it up late in games.

Lefty Scott Alexander, who has a 2.21 ERA in 37 appearances since returning from the minor leagues, will probably get the most looks in a setup role. But the likes of Dylan Floro, Pedro Baez and Axford are expected to factor into that mix, among others.

Eventually, if all goes right, the Dodgers may build enough starting-pitching depth to be able to add bullpen reinforcements through their rotation.

The Dodgers had six capable starters until Ross Stripling was placed on the disabled list with a minor foot injury. He is expected back next week. Hyun-Jin Ryu, who will begin a minor league rehab assignment on Thursday, should follow shortly thereafter. Julio Urias, a prized prospect coming off shoulder surgery, is on track to be a September call-up. Kenta Maeda, who pitched out of the bullpen last October, also could help.

"Everything is going to be on the table, especially as we get into September," Zaidi said. "We have a pretty strong stable of starting pitchers who can take the ball every fifth day and give you a quality start. But as you get into September and teams are looking to maximize their chances of winning with an expanded roster, I think you start looking at some different ways to game plan the 27 outs."

Dozier, who was expected to join his new teammates midway through Tuesday's game against the Milwaukee Brewers, finished within the top 13 in American League Most Valuable Player Award voting each of the past two years and won a Gold Glove in 2017. He sports only a .224/.305/.402 slash line this season, but has totaled 16 home runs and owns a .351 on-base percentage against lefties.

"He's going to play against left-handed pitching, and he's going to play against right-handed pitching," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "But to say 'every day,' I think that's a little extreme. We have a lot of good players that I still think we have to keep them involved. But to have him on our roster certainly makes us better."

Roberts' lineup configurations will get tricky once third baseman Justin Turner makes his expected return from the DL later this week.

That will move Machado back to shortstop and make Dozier the primary second baseman. Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger can share time at first base, with Bellinger also an option in center field. Joc Pederson, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig can thus forge a rotation at the corner-outfield spots. But Roberts would also like to continually make room in his lineup for utility players Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez.

"They understand that there's got to be some unselfishness there," Roberts said. "Brian is used to the American League game. It's a different game in the National League. And I'd argue that they [the Twins] didn't have the depth that we have. So there's players that we're going to play. I don't think it'll be a problem."

The bullpen was the biggest question mark facing the Dodgers when the season began, but that unit has turned it around lately. In 25 games this month, Dodgers relievers sport a 2.68 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP, striking out 99 batters in 80 innings.

Roberts likes Axford's experience and sees him as someone with "some value and some upside."

But he is one of many.

"If you look at the 'pen specifically, the dynamic and the pitch mixes from the guys -- they're different," Roberts said. "We have spin-rate guys, we have guys who can put the ball on the ground, we have slider guys, we have guys who throw the 12-to-6 curveball, guys who can cut the ball in on a lefty."