The Brian Dozier Trade That Almost Was
Image courtesy of Jerome Miron, USA TodayIn our blueprint for last year's Offseason Handbook, we suggested trading Brian Dozier to the Dodgers in exchange for young right-hander Jose De Leon and additional prospects.
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The Twins, it turned out, were of a similar mind. As soon as the postseason ended, reports quickly arose that they were engaging the Dodgers over Dozier, with De Leon mentioned as a central piece. Based on media coverage, negotiations over the rest of the package turned into an extended saga, with little agreement over what those additional prospects might look like.
For Levine, it was a high-stakes game of chicken. The longtime right-hand man of Jon Daniels in Texas, Levine was still arranging his office after landing his first gig as a GM, and here he was, going toe-to-toe with one of the game's most heralded execs in Andrew Friedman.
And the player he was discussing giving up? Only the most popular and valuable one on the roster – one of the few marketable commodities on a club that just reached an all-time low. No pressure or anything.
It would've been irresponsible not to explore the possibility. Dozier was coming off a likely career year and approaching the end of his contract. The Twins were rebuilding. De Leon was a hot prospect on the rise – the premier strikeout artist in all of the minors, aligning with a drastic need in Minnesota's system.
But by all accounts, Levine took a hardline stance, refusing to accept anything less than a major haul in addition to De Leon. The thinking, I imagine, was that pitching prospects (especially those with recent injury history and unproven workload thresholds like JDL) are fickle assets, and you can't really afford to place all your chips on a single one.
Good call. The Dodgers ultimately ran out of patience with the Twins and made a pivot, shipping De Leon to Tampa Bay straight-up in exchange for Logan Forsythe.
I'm not sure anyone's regretting the deal at this point, but it certainly wasn't a slam dunk for either side.
Forsythe took a huge step back from his solid 2016 campaign, hitting 14 fewer home runs with a 100-point drop in OPS. The Dodgers still won 104 games and are still heading to the big show but when you're in go-for-it mode, there's only one ultimate goal. I wonder if they'll wish they had the dangerous Dozier instead of Forsythe in the World Series, and next year.
While the Dodgers didn't receive the major impact they initially sought, they're probably satisfied with the price they ended up paying. De Leon, sure enough, saw his first season in Tampa's organization ravaged by injuries, limiting him to 41 total innings and just one appearance for the Rays. It was more or less a lost year, casting further doubt on durability going forward.
How would that have looked as the headlining return for Dozier, while he was powering Los Angeles to an incredible season?
We'll probably never know what the best package Levine turned down was. But there were rumblings that the Twins were pushing for the likes of Cody Bellinger and Walker Buehler. If so, it demonstrates astute evaluative chops from the GM and his staff.
As we now know, Bellinger went on to have one of the great rookie campaigns in MLB history this year, slugging 39 home runs in 130 games, while Buehler returned from his Tommy John layoff in dominant fashion and even made a late-season debut for the Dodgers.
Getting one of those prospects would have changed the conversation. But if indeed the offer was never more than De Leon plus scraps, then Minnesota pretty clearly made the right choice. Dozier stuck around and was a driving force in the Twins' reinvigorating turnaround, earning our 2017 team MVP honor.
Coming off yet another strong campaign, and still a year from free agency, Dozier still carries significant trade value if the Twins choose to go that route, though that seems unlikely with the sudden flip to contention mode.
For Levine and Falvey, stubbornness paid off. I hope they'll exercise the same keen judgment and high standards as the trade talks heat up once again in the coming weeks.
- Cory Engelhardt, Oldgoat_MN, ToddlerHarmon and 2 others like this