Hernández: Dodgers can avoid Angels-Trout debacle by getting Soto

Hernández: Dodgers can avoid Angels-Trout debacle by getting Soto

The phenom is now an old man.

Mike Trout has a back problem that he will have to manage for the rest of his career, the diagnosis trainer Mike Frostad relayed to reporters in Kansas City marking the latest round of trouble to strike the Angels.

The news provided a warning of sorts for the Dodgers, who are exploring a trade with the Washington Nationals for Juan Soto.

The lesson here shouldn’t be about the risks of placing a massive wager on a single player but of what can happen to teams that don’t take advantage of their opportunities.

Instead of discouraging the Dodgers from pursuing the 23-year-old Soto, the Angels’ failures with Trout should compel Andrew Friedman to complete a deal with the Nationals before the Aug. 2 trade deadline.

Windows close, as the Angels have been made painfully aware. Arte Moreno’s team is in no-man’s land. The Angels aren’t positioned to win with Trout as their centerpiece, the shortage of quality homegrown players and downtrodden state of their farm system giving them virtually no chance of contending in the near future. Shohei Ohtani will be eligible for free agency after next season.

They can’t trade Trout either. Trout will be 31 next month and is six years removed from the last season in which he played more than 140 games. His recent back problems, which Frostad attributed to costovertebral dysfunction at his T5 vertebrae, has kept him from playing since July 12. Forget about trading him for a handful of another organization’s high-end prospects. The Angels would be fortunate to just get a team to take on what remains of his $426.5-million contract.

Trout is now in his 11th full season in the major leagues. The Angels had 11 chances to build around him and messed up every time, Moreno’s roster-ruining impulse purchases often the reason why. Their punishment: inescapable mediocrity.

The Dodgers won the National League West in eight of the last nine seasons. Last year, when they finished second to the San Francisco Giants, they reached the NL Championship Series.

However, reaching the postseason isn’t enough for the Dodgers, who hold themselves to a higher standard than their neighbors down the I-5.

And as many games as they won under Friedman, the Dodgers have only one World Series championship to show for it.

They now have an opportunity to win another championship or two in the next few years, as they have a high-powered offense anchored by two of the most dangerous hitters in the league in Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman.

Betts is in the second year of a 12-year, $365-million contract. Freeman is in the first year of a six-year, $162-million deal.

The Dodgers didn’t sign them to long-term contracts because they expected them to maintain their currents levels of production until their deals expire. Betts and Freeman were signed to help the team win now.

Freeman will be 33 in September. Betts will be 30 a month later.

The Dodgers should be looking to maximize what remains of their primes. They should be looking to trade for Soto, who has 20 homers for the last-place Nationals.

Washington Nationals right fielder Juan Soto (22) puts on his sunglasses before heading out to the field in between innings against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers will have three Octobers with Soto if they trade for him this year, as he won’t be a free agent until after the 2024 season.

The Dodgers’ most pronounced shortcomings are in pitching, but there’s no reason the team can’t acquire both Soto and a reliever. As for starting pitching, the Dodgers have plenty of arms. They could use an ace — who couldn’t? — but none are available.

Concerns about Soto have less to do with his .243 average and more to do with the cost of acquiring him.

The Dodgers would have to send the Nationals are package of their high-end prospects, but, remember, prospects are just prospects. Last year, the Dodgers made a deal with the Nationals for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. The return included two prized prospects, Josiah Gray and Keibert Ruiz. Gray almost certainly wouldn’t be in the Dodgers’ rotation if he were still here; Ruiz would be stuck behind Will Smith at catcher.

But what if Soto, who already rejected a $440-million extension offer from the Nationals, comes to Los Angeles and eventually leaves the Dodgers with no choice but to re-sign him as a free agent?

Well, that would mean he performed exceptionally well and won over the city in the process. That would mean the Dodgers will have found the player who could replace Betts as the team’s cornerstone.

The day after Freeman agreed to his deal with the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw mentioned the Dodgers now had two of the three best hitters in baseball in Freeman and Betts.

The other hitter Kershaw put in that category was Soto.

The Dodgers now have a chance to have a lineup that includes all three of them — and for the rest of this season, Turner as well.

They have an opportunity, and they should take it. Passing on this chance is too great a gamble.


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