On Thursday afternoon the Los Angeles Dodgers made a trade to shore up their starting rotation, acquiring starting pitcher Bud Norris from the Atlanta Braves. The entirety of the trade involved the Dodgers getting Norris along with Dian Toscano, a player to be named later, and cash considerations from the Braves, in exchange for minor league relievers Phil Pfeifer and Caleb Dirks.
The Dodgers, who came into spring training practically overflowing with pitching depth, had become desperate for pitching help in recent days. The team had already lost Brett Anderson and Alex Wood for significant periods of time before Clayton Kershaw was placed on the disabled list earlier today with back troubles. The team’s rotation still holds Kenta Maeda at the front, who has been excellent in 2016, but the rest of the rotation consists of a struggling Scott Kazmir, and rookies Julio Urias and Brock Stewart. Norris will be required to immediately step in as the team’s fifth starter, likely taking Kershaw’s scheduled turn in the rotation tomorrow.
Thus far Norris has had a rollercoaster 2016. He began the year in the Braves rotation, pitching to an 8.74 ERA in five April starts before being pushed to the bullpen at the start of May. Out of the pen, Norris worked to a 1.96 ERA in 12 appearances before sliding back into the rotation on June 4 to face the Dodgers, against whom he threw five innings of one-run ball. Since his return to the rotation, Norris has been excellent, providing the Braves with a 2.16 ERA and improved peripherals (8.97 K/9, 2.47 BB/9, 0.00 HR/9). At the least, Norris should be able to eat some innings for a team that is desperately in need of arms, and at best, Norris may represent a bargain who improved his outlook thanks to a recent repertoire change. In all likelihood, Norris will probably play closer to the first option, but even that provides value to the Dodgers, who can prevent prospects like Jose De Leon and Jharel Cotton from being rushed into roles that they aren’t yet prepared for.
Aside from Norris, the Dodgers are also picking up the tab on Cuban outfielder Dian Toscano from the Braves. In January of 2015, the Braves signed Toscano to a four-year, $6 million deal, but he has been a massive disappointment thus far. Toscano didn’t appear in a game at all in 2015, and so far this season he has posted a .226/.310/.271 slash line as a 27-year-old in double-A. Toscano’s inclusion in the deal is nothing more than the Dodgers flashing their financial might in a trade once again.
Because the Dodgers were willing to take on the remainder of Toscano’s contract, the price in prospects was undoubtedly lowered. Along with taking on Toscano’s salary, the Dodgers also sent a pair of minor leaguers to the Braves for Norris.
The first prospect was the Dodgers third-round selection in the 2015 MLB draft, Phil Pfeifer. Pfeifer was the number-three starter in Vanderbilt’s rotation in 2015, slotting behind Carson Fullmer and fellow Dodgers draft pick Walker Buehler, but upon arriving in professional ball, the Dodgers transitioned the lefty to the bullpen. In 2016, the 23-year-old Pfeifer has split time between Low-A and High-A, working to a 2.67 ERA in 17 games across 30.1 innings. Pfeifer has shown good stuff, striking out well over a batter per inning, but he has also shown control problems, posting a 5.3 BB/9 on the season.
The second prospect was 23-year-old Caleb Dirks, who will be returning to the Braves organization after close to a year with the Dodgers. Dirks was originally picked by the Braves in the 15th round of the 2014 MLB draft, but he was sent to the Dodgers last summer, along with Jordan Paroubeck, in exchange for international bonus slot money. In 2016, Dirks had been working at the back of the bullpen at the Double-A level, posting a 1.44 ERA, 10.1 K/9, and 2.0 BB/9 in 31.1 innings pitched.
Overall, the deal provides the Dodgers with a necessary arm and does very little to hurt their future plans. The Braves, meanwhile, surrender a pitcher who was never going to be involved with the next winning Braves team and pick up a pair of arms who have an outside shot at being major league-quality relievers in the future.