Dodgers acquire Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn from White Sox, fortifying pitching staff

Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly, left, exchanges words with Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa on Tuesday.

With their first pitching trade before next week’s deadline, the Dodgers added veteran depth — though hardly surefire improvements — to their rotation and bullpen.

The team completed a trade Friday with the Chicago White Sox to acquire starting pitcher Lance Lynn, the 12-year veteran and two-time All-Star, and right-handed reliever Joe Kelly, a former Dodger who was part of their 2020 World Series team.

The Dodgers sent outfielder Trayce Thompson and minor league pitching prospects Nick Nastrini and Jordan Leasure back in the deal, which was first reported by USA Today.

Read more: Will Dodgers rotation woes force them to be more aggressive at trade deadline?

Neither Lynn nor Kelly were having strong seasons on Chicago’s south side.

Lynn’s surface statistics have been some of the worst in baseball this year.

In 21 starts, he has a 6-9 record and 6.47 ERA, highest among qualified MLB starters. He has given up the most hits in the American League, and the most home runs (28) in all the majors. His WHIP is 1.462, the second-highest of his career. And even his fielding independent pitching (a stat similar to ERA that tries to control for the variables of defense) is 5.22, the highest of his career by almost half a run.

So where exactly is Lynn’s upside?

Evaluators point to a couple areas.

The 36-year-old has a strong strikeout rate of 26.9%, aided in part by his low-velocity but high-spin fastball (it only averages 92.4 mph but generates whiffs more than a third of the time).

He has extreme splits (a .652 OPS vs. righties; a 1.037 OPS vs. lefties) and an unusually poor home run to fly ball rate (an MLB-worst 20.6%) that could normalize over larger sample sizes.

The eye test has been better than his numbers would suggest, too. As one rival scout described it this month: “His results have been trash. But he’s still not terrible.”

General manager Brandon Gomes was optimistic Lynn could prove to be a “difference maker” for the Dodgers’ pitching staff, too, not just someone to help raise its floor.

“His under the hood [numbers] aren’t that different than they’ve been in the past,” Gomes said. “We feel like there are some suggestions that we’ll have on pitch selection that should be helpful.”

Lance Lynn delivers during a game between the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins on July 21.
Lance Lynn delivers during a game between the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins on July 21. (Bruce Kluckhohn / Associated Press)

The arrival of Kelly — a former fan favorite for his high-leverage heroics and off-field antics, such as sporting a mariachi jacket to the White House and instigating a benches-clearing altercation with the Houston Astros in 2020 — should be more warmly welcomed.

The 12-year veteran spent three seasons (2019-2021) in Los Angeles and went 2-0 with a 2.67 ERA in 60 games over his final two seasons, giving up one earned run in 3⅔ innings of five playoff games to help the club win the World Series in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

The former Corona High School and UC Riverside standout, who also pitched for the World Series-winning Boston Red Sox in 2018, parlayed those two strong seasons for the Dodgers into a two-year, $17-million deal with the White Sox.

Kelly went 2-8 with a 5.59 ERA and 1.470 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) in 74 games in Chicago 2022-2023, including a 1-5 record and 4.97 ERA in 31 appearances, with 41 strikeouts and 12 walks in 29 innings, this season, but it’s not because of diminished stuff.

The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Kelly actually boosted the average velocity of his two-seam sinking fastball from 97.9 mph in 2022 to 99.0 mph this season, and the average velocity of his slider (91.9 mph) and curveball (89.4 mph) are also up.

“Obviously, the people of Los Angeles know Joe,” manager Dave Roberts said. “And I would argue that his stuff is even better than it was then when he was with us.”

Kelly’s pitch selection might help explain his poor numbers. He has yielded a .304 average (seven for 23) in at-bats ending with his sinker, while giving up only three hits in 23 at-bats (.120) in at-bats ending with his slider and two hits in 17 at-bats (.118) in at-bats ending with his curve.

Read more: Dodgers have some holes to fill. Here’s a look at potential trade targets

One other benefit of adding Kelly and Lynn, who had to waive a no-trade clause in his contract to come to Los Angeles: Each have club options for the 2024 season, with Lynn’s costing $18.5 million (or a $1 million buyout) and Kelly’s worth $9.5 million (or a $1 million buyout).

That factor might have impacted the seemingly high price the Dodgers paid for the two underperforming arms.

Nastrini and Leasure, who were part of the Dodgers’ double-A rotation and bullpen, respectively, at the time of the trade, weren’t among the team’s elite prospects but still were viewed by evaluators as potential future big-league arms.

Thompson, meanwhile, was a key part of the Dodgers offense last year, but had regressed this season prior to suffering an oblique strain in June. He recently began a rehab assignment in triple A, but was seemingly boxed out of the Dodgers big-league plans after their acquisition of fellow right-handed hitters Kiké Hernández and Amed Rosario earlier this week.

Lynn and Kelly won’t fix a Dodgers pitching staff that began Friday ranked 20th in the majors with a 4.47 ERA. And while the team will continue to seek bigger names on the market leading up to Tuesday’s deadline, the rising cost for premium arms will make any splashier deals a challenge to complete.

Still, for a first-place club getting inconsistent production from its rotating cast of rookies starters and bullpen arms, the Dodgers’ hope is that quick tweaks can be made to Lynn’s and Kelly’s game — ones that, at the very least, will bolster their pitching staff down the stretch with a little more consistency and veteran pedigree.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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