Los Angeles Dodgers: If Kenta Maeda gets traded, a superstar will follow

Kenta Maeda is unhappy with his role with the Los Angeles Dodgers and because of that, the Japanese starting pitcher could get traded this winter.

Even with his ups and downs, Kenta Maeda has been a reliable starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers since 2016 and has done anything the team has asked him to do. Whether it was leading the team in innings pitched his rookie season or transitioning to the bullpen for October, Maeda has been reliable and deserves praise.

In fact, since 2016, Maeda ranks second on the team in innings pitched, strikeouts, and FanGraphs WAR, all behind Clayton Kershaw. While his 3.81 ERA in that span is not overly impressive, he still ranks 39th in WAR among starting pitchers in that time frame.

Maeda is a bonafide second starter in most rotations and because of the surplus of starting pitching in Los Angeles, he often gets overlooked.

The main way he gets overlooked by the team itself is by being moved to the bullpen for the postseason. Ironically, Maeda is electric out of the bullpen ane becomes one of the most reliable relievers the team has.

However, at the end of the day, he is still a starting pitcher with a contract that is incentive-heavy towards starting pitching, it is easy to see why Maeda would be frustrated with his role.

The comparison I have made is imagine being hired as a sales rep for a company where most of your income is commission-based only to be moved to accounting while keeping that commission-based income.

This frustration and desire to be a full-time starter has led Maeda and the Los Angeles Dodgers to reportedly discuss a potential trade. Nothing has gotten off the ground floor, but based on the reports, Maeda’s feelings and the countless number of teams who need starting pitching, it would be surprising if Maeda wasn’t traded this winter.

It would be a sad thing to see Maeda go but if we are looking at the glass half-full, a Maeda trade could be a precursor to the team landing a superstar, either via trade or a free-agent signing.

Trading Maeda opens up a spot in the rotation and gives the Dodgers more luxury tax space. Before incentives, Maeda’s contract only has a $3.125 million cap hit. That little sliver might not seem like a big deal, but it could be the difference between a penalty and no penalty.

More importantly, though, it opens a spot in the starting rotation and I am under the impression that the Dodgers would not simply open a spot if they did not plan on filling it. Yes, they have the arms to replace Maeda internally, but having fewer options (especially with Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu being free agents) is not how this team operates.

Without Maeda, a potential rotation would consist of Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urias, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin/Ross Stripling. There are a lot of question marks in that rotation and the Dodgers would absolutely be inclined to add an arm.

So selling on Maeda would tell us that they are in the hunt for Gerrit Cole, or at least they believe that have a serious shot of landing him.

The other way it can bring a superstar to LA is via trade, with one name, in particular, being Mookie Betts. The Dodgers are not going to get a stellar return out of Maeda, but if they play their cards right, they could get a similar return that the team got in the Yasiel Puig trade last winter.

Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray were promising prospects but were not top-100 prospects. However, the Dodgers did an excellent job in scouting and now Downs and Gray rank 87th and 75th, respectively.

If the Dodgers can get another prospect or two in a similar mold, they can send a package similar to the package they sent for Manny Machado for one year of Betts. The team would not be trading any elite prospects, like Gavin Lux or Dustin May, and could instead flip four solid prospects that the team received in other deals.

Next: Potential trade partners for Joc Pederson

Either way, I highly doubt the Los Angeles Dodgers give into Maeda’s requests and trade him without a follow-up plan in mind. So if that trade report does happen, be on the lookout for something big.