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National League

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Acquired LHP Phil Pfeifer and RHP Caleb Dirks from Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for RHP Bud Norris, OF-L Dian Toscano, a player to be named later, and cash. [6/30]

The Dodgers were kind enough to wait until a couple days after I saw and filed a report on their 2015 third-rounder Phil Pfeifer to trade him to Atlanta as part of the return package for Bud Norris. The Vanderbilt alum had served in a Swiss army role during the spring leading up to the draft, and there was talk of a rotation future after the Dodgers popped him for an under-slot deal with the 101st overall pick. He’s pitched strictly out of the bullpen this year, however, and based on my look that’s really the better place for him. He expends a bunch of effort and energy in the early stages of his motion, with extremely quick, jerking movement through his leg kick and takeaway. The arm swing is very deep behind a fully closed front shoulder, which creates extreme length to get around and over his body to his higher slot. That gives him a generous amount of deception, which helps his already crisp stuff play up. But it comes at the expense of any semblance of command profile at present.

The baseline stuff of a future big leaguer is there, highlighted by a low-90s fastball that topped out at 95 with life and two-way action. The ball can really sneak up on hitters and get into their kitchens, especially when he runs it in on the hands against lefties. There’s ample swing-and-miss potential when Pfeifer gets it close enough to the zone for hitters to offer, but that doesn’t happen nearly often enough. He supplements with a nice changeup that plays well off the fastball with hard vertical action and occasional slider-esque cut. The curveball is a third pitch, but while it has some depth he struggled to snap it off and command it down in my look.

There’s plenty of raw material here for a useful bullpen arm down the line, and given that he’s left-handed and has velocity it’s a given that he’ll get every opportunity to make it work. That he shows a decent changeup affords a higher ceiling than a strictly left-on-left track, as well. The delivery needs some significant ironing out, however, and the command even in a best-case scenario may still not be enough to get him there. —Wilson Karaman

If Dirks' name sounds familiar you might remember him as one of the guys the Dodgers acquired along with Jordan Paroubeck from the Braves last July.
Dirks is strictly a reliever, but he might be a pretty good one. The fastball touches 95 mph, but it's a plus pitch because it has a ton of sink, and his funky delivery makes it tough to pick up out of his hand. The slider doesn't have quite the same level of success, but it's a fine second offering with enough tilt to get ground balls and give right-handed hitters trouble. He'll throw a changeup to lefties, and while it's a bit firm, it should be a competent third offering that he won't have to throw much in the pen. He's not immune to self-inflicted damage, but in general he throws strikes with all three pitches, and he's generally within the margin of error of hitting his spots. A future closer he is not, but a guy who can give right-handers trouble and hold his own against lefties in the middle innings certainly has value in any organization. —Christopher Crawford

MIAMI MARLINS
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Acquired RHP Fernando Rodney from San Diego Padres in exchange for RHP Chris Paddack. [6/30]

Trading prospects for relievers can be a dicey proposition. Trading prospects for relievers with a history of up-and-down performance? Even dicier. But sometimes a team’s best and smartest play is to take a calculated risk like giving up a pretty good prospect for a reliever with a history of transforming into a pumpkin. Almost 40, Rodney is a great bet to fall apart at any moment, but for the Marlins, that’s probably fine.

Just last year, Rodney was a complete disaster. After starting the year as the Mariners’ closer, his formerly-impressive strikeout rate (10.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 2014) disappeared and he started giving up loads of homers (eight in 50.2 innings), despite pitching for the M’s. (One could also say he was missing his command and control, but that implies that he ever had those skills.) Everything culminated in Seattle DFAing Rodney in August, followed by an unheralded trade to the Cubs late in the month.

The arrow-slinging closer improved upon his arrival in Chicago, but he’s looked like a relief ace in southern California. The 0.31 ERA is the lead here; the 3.26 Deserved Run Average is the reality check. But despite his uncanny ability to strand runners and disallow runs this season, Rodney has improved his strikeout rate back to 2014 levels and eliminated home runs during his time in San Diego. That’s a pretty darn good reliever–a tier or two lower than perhaps A.J. Ramos–and a valuable piece for a team looking to swing into the Wild Card discussion.

The crux of this deal for the Marlins is proximity and possibility. Prior to the season, you might’ve expected the Fish to be far out of the NL Wild Card race, to say nothing of the NL East crown. But the Dodgers, Mets, and Pirates suddenly look much more fallible than one might’ve imagined, and the Marlins have benefited from very strong performances by unexpected contributors like Adam Conley, Ichiro Suzuki, and Derek Dietrich. They are, perhaps, the closest that they will be to the playoffs than at any other point in this decade–past or future. And if there’s one thing that we’ve learned from the Marlins, it is that this is a team that needs to take any possible opportunity, because the team in the future could look much, much different.

This move certainly does not address the team’s most pressing need: a very sketchy starting rotation. However, it does address the greater issue of run prevention. Although Miami is well-stocked with live-armed and effective relievers, there are still more innings that need to be filled because of guys like Tom Koehler and Justin Nicolino and the suddenly-bad Wei-Yin Chen. Perhaps instead of trying to track down a starter that can give them 100 solid innings, they’d rather leverage someone who can give them 40 pretty good ones. Perhaps Rodney is a slightly different calculated risk than spending more prospect capital to snag a starter. Dare I say it, but this trade could pay off big time, which is odd for a team known for making questionable deals. —Bryan Grosnick

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Acquired RHP Bud Norris, OF-L Dian Toscano, a player to be named later, and cash from Atlanta Braves in exchange for LHP Phil Pfeifer and RHP Caleb Dirks. [6/30]; Purchased the contract of RHP Brock Stewart from Triple-A Oklahoma City. [6/29]

Things aren’t good for the Dodgers. As impressive as the theoretical depth they stockpiled this winter was, it’s been shredded by (somewhat predictable) injuries, and now that Clayton Kershaw has hit the DL, the three-time defending NL West champions are really swimming in the shallows. Norris is, more or less, exactly what he has been for every moment of his big-league career. He still throws 95 miles per hour, still mostly attacks hitters with his fastball and slider, still can’t find a way to get left-handed batters out, still can’t find the third pitch that might change that, and still doesn’t have good enough command to turn over a lineup card three times.

When Norris has attempted transitions to the bullpen, they’ve ended pretty badly, which is why he keeps getting chances to start—though the last two teams to give him that chance (last year’s Orioles and this year’s Braves) haven’t had compelling alternatives on hand. He’ll get a chance to start in LA for a while, too, as the Dodgers try desperately to get some semblance of the five-man rotation they envisioned before the season healthy and back onto the Dodger Stadium mound. For however long his audition lasts, expect him to keep being the pitcher described above: hard-throwing, right-handed, not very good, but usable.

If there’s profit to be found here for the Dodgers, it might lie in the promise of moving Norris to a right-handed specialist relief role late in the season. He’s perfectly capable of getting right-handed hitters out in short bursts. He’s really good at that, in fact. He just needs to be cornered into it.

The cost for Norris looks like about what you’d expect, given his tepid track record and the small investment it took for the Braves to sign him in November: two high-strikeout, limited-upside relief arms. Dirks was a Braves draftee in 2014, before the Dodgers got him in exchange for an international bonus slot allotment last summer. In effect, they purchased Dirks from Atlanta, and he rewarded their small gesture of faith early this season. That the Braves now have him back effectively means that the Dodgers just dealt away that bonus slot, alongside 2015 third-rounder Pfeifer, for Norris.

I’m neck-deep in the Audible version of In Pursuit of Pennants right now, so I have observed that Andrew Friedman and company also managed to wrangle Toscano and some extra considerations out of the Braves in this deal. Depending on what you think of the arms the Dodgers sent (and they’re valuable, in however unsexy a fashion, because they both have a legitimate chance of becoming a useful middle reliever in the majors), perhaps that amounts mostly to an evening out.

However, Toscano (who’s been unable to play much since defecting from Cuba and signing with Atlanta, because of major visa issues) is the kind of player I’m inclined to watch a little more closely after a front office like this one signs him. He might never be more than a spare outfielder. In fact, that would be a pretty good outcome for him at this point, given his watery numbers (.226/.310/.267 as a 27-year-old in Double A) in the Braves organization. If the Dodgers are able to extract anything more, though, they’ll really win this trade going away. —Matthew Trueblood

A little over two months ago, Stewart was the definition of a fringe prospect; a former sixth-round pick who had shown the ability to miss bats in his first two professional seasons, but hadn't done anything to suggest he was ready to make a start at the big-league level. Fast forward to June, and boy have things changed. Stewart has put up dominant numbers at three different levels–a cumulative 1.47 RA with 99 strikeouts in 86 innings.

Stewart won't put up those kind of numbers as a member of the Dodgers, because, he's not Clayton Kershaw, but he does have stuff that suggests he can get major-league hitters out. His fastball is close to plus-plus–65 in you believe in such grade–and it sits 92-94 while touching 97 with late life. He'll also throw a "slower" sinker, but the four-seam fastball is the out-pitch. The big difference-maker here has been the improvement of the changeup; a pitch that has late fade and comes from a very similar arm speed to his fastball. The slider is a step behind these pitches, however, and if he's going to start long term, he's going to have to show more depth with this part of his arsenal. He does throw all of his pitches for strikes, and there's nothing in his delivery that suggests immediate danger. —Christopher Crawford

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Acquired RHP Chris Paddack from Miami Marlins in exchange for RHP Fernando Rodney. [6/30]

Paddack was a relatively well-known hurler coming out of Cedar Park High School in Texas, and his eighth-round selection is a bit misleading, as his fault had more to do with bonus demands than a lack of talent. The Marlins gave him $400,000, and he quickly established himself as one of the best pitching prospects in the Miami system.

Paddack still has some projection left, but the fastball is already above average, touching 95 and sitting 91-93 mph. While the fastball is impressive and likely to get better, the out-pitch here is his changeup. If there's even a negligible difference in arm speed you can't tell, and there's late tumble action that makes it a true swing-and-miss offering. He's also made some strides with his curveball, but it doesn't have the same kind of upside as those pitches and likely becomes nothing more than an average offering. When you have a plus and possibly a double-plus pitch, that's okay.

On top of having projection and that stupid change, Paddack also pounds the strike zone. He's walked just two hitters in 28 innings, and he isn't afraid of challenging anyone. He'll need to improve the command, but that should come with time. A future ace is not likely, but Paddack has the kind of stuff/feel for pitching we see in pitchers who end up pitching in the middle of the rotation. What a great get for the Padres when you consider they're giving up a reliever, and an old one. —Christopher Crawford

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djswinger
7/02
"Get into their kitchens".... excellent line, Mr. Karaman. Is that some scouting slang we've never heard before? I'm going to have find some way of sneaking that into conversations.