With Juan Soto on the block, Andrew Friedman looks ahead to Dodgers trade deadline plans

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Washington Nationals' Juan Soto fouls off a pitch against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Washington Nationals' Juan Soto fouls off a pitch against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning on Saturday in Phoenix. (Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Andrew Friedman didn’t reference Juan Soto by name.

He didn’t have to.

As this year’s Aug. 2 trade deadline draws near, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations said the club has been running through the typical exercise of evaluating specific needs, taking stock of its farm system, and determining ways to plug holes on the roster of a team vying for a championship.

Those aren’t the only calculations at play.

Not in a year someone like Soto, the Washington Nationals’ 23-year-old star outfielder, could be on the move.

“It’s more about assessing the specific need, and also the top-end type players that aren't necessarily a need, but don't become available all that often,” Friedman said during an interview Saturday, leaning against the railing of the Dodgers’ home dugout.

“When they do, you always see that process through. That’s kind of our mindset heading into these last couple weeks.”

The Dodgers certainly don’t need Soto.

They lead the National League with a 64-30 record.

They are tied with the New York Yankees for the best team on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.777) in the majors and are ranked second in runs per game (5.18) to the Yankees (5.36).

According to Fangraphs, they are already a virtual lock for the postseason (100% computer projection odds), are nearly certain to win their division (97.4% odds), and have the second-best likelihood of winning the World Series (15.9% odds).

If there’s any area that seems most in need of reinforcements, it’s probably the pitching staff, which has overcome a wave of injuries but could be susceptible to problems until it’s back at full strength.

“We’re going to be adding some really talented pitchers back in the mix,” Friedman said, referencing the expected returns of Walker Buehler, Dustin May, Blake Treinen and other key pitchers by season’s end.

“So the question is, worst case, what if X number of them return, and where do we feel where we have that coverage to put together a championship-caliber pitching staff in October? Obviously, those are the questions we’re going to be wrestling with the next couple weeks.”

The sudden availability of a generational talent such as Soto, however, has added a wrinkle to this year’s deliberations.

Though Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo declared last month his club wouldn’t be trading Soto, the player’s recent rejection of a reported $440-million contract extension has altered the situation.

Now, the two-time All-Star and 2020 NL batting champion is not only potentially available, but already generating heavy interest from several clubs.

Andrew Friedman watches team drills.
Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman watches team drills at their spring training facility in Glendale, Ariz, in February 2018. (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

The Dodgers, with their seemingly endless financial resources, deep pool of prospects and well-established track record of swinging big trades, have consistently been rumored as part of the mix.

When asked how much the deadline market has changed in recent days, since news of Soto’s extension rejection first surfaced, Friedman smirked.

“Any time — and obviously not specifically related to him — but any time star-caliber players become available, they’re difficult to access,” Friedman said. “So whenever they do, you always have conversations. But obviously we’ve traded away a lot of really talented young players over the last five years. It’s the omnipresent challenge of balancing the now versus the future.”

During Friedman’s eight-year tenure in Los Angeles, the Dodgers have walked that tightrope well.

After trades for Yu Darvish in 2017, Manny Machado in 2018, Mookie Betts in 2020, and Trea Turner and Max Scherzer last year, the Dodgers have still funneled talent to the major leagues — Tony Gonsolin and Gavin Lux have been this year’s homegrown success stories — and maintained a developmental pipeline, their farm system currently ranked fifth in the majors by MLB Pipeline.

This year, they’ve constructed a first-place team that is full of depth — bolstered by offseason signings big and small, such as Freddie Freeman and Tyler Anderson — and have raised the club's level of play as the season has gone on, opening up a double-digit-game lead in the NL West.

“We have a special camaraderie among our group that we're sensitive to as we are looking to potentially add,” Friedman said. “We're really mindful of how guys will fit in.”

With just more than a week to go until the deadline, they’ll have to start making some final decisions.

Go all-in for Soto?

Try to nab a starting pitcher such as All-Star Luis Castillo of the Cincinnati Reds?

Stay relatively quiet and protect the most valuable parts of the farm system?

Or explore another route in pursuit of a championship?

“That’s just the hard part of what we do,” Friedman said. “We have to constantly have our finger on the pulse of not just now, but what the implications are in the future and how that ties into our pipeline of players coming, our financial commitments and doing everything we can to maintain this high level for as far as we can see out.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.