Dodgers trade Michael Busch, Yency Almonte to Cubs for prospects

The Dodgers avoided arbitration hearings with several players Thursday, including starting pitcher Walker Buehler and closer Evan Phillips.

They also dealt a couple of notable pieces off their MLB roster, sending reliever Yency Almonte and infielder Michael Busch to the Chicago Cubs for a pair of young minor league prospects.

On its face, moving Almonte and Busch will clear needed 40-man roster spots for the Dodgers. The team has faced a roster crunch while making blockbuster free-agent and trade acquisitions this offseason. They’d yet to announce their newest signing, outfielder Teoscar Hernández, because their 40-man was full.

Still, the departures of Almonte and Busch might be no small loss for the organization.

Almonte had shown flashes of productivity in the bullpen the last two seasons, though the 29-year-old had battled injuries and was out of minor league options.

Giving up Busch, the club’s minor league player of the year last year and No. 2-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline, represents an even bigger risk, with the organization deciding to part ways with its 2019 first-round draft pick.

Though Busch had impressed with his bat up through triple A (he led the Pacific Coast League last year with a 1.049 on-base-plus-slugging percentage), the 26-year-old never found a consistent role during his cameos in the majors with the Dodgers.

A former first baseman who spent time at second, third and left field as a prospect with the Dodgers, Busch didn’t even make his MLB debut until this season, when he batted .167 in 81 sporadic plate appearances.

With his primary infield positions mostly blocked by veteran stars (Freddie Freeman at first base, Mookie Betts at second, Max Muncy at third), Busch’s place on next season’s team seemed tenuous — barring a more permanent move to a corner outfield spot.

Yency Almonte pitches in relief for the Dodgers against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 28 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

(Chris O’Meara / Associated Press)

And although the Dodgers remained high on Busch’s potential at the plate, they entered this offseason seemingly ready to ship him somewhere.

On Thursday, a deal finally materialized. The only question: Did the Dodgers get enough in return for one of their most highly touted young talents?

The prospects the Dodgers received from the Cubs in the trade were left-handed pitcher Jackson Ferris and outfielder Zyhir Hope.

Ferris, 19, is the bigger prize. A second-round pick from IMG Academy in Florida in 2022, the southpaw was ranked as the Cubs’ No. 8 prospect by MLB Pipeline. Over 18 starts in single A last year, he had a 3.38 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 56 innings.

Hope, 18, was an 11th-round pick last year from Colonial Forge High in Virginia. Although he batted .286 in 11 rookie league games, he wasn’t one of the top 30 prospects on the Cubs’ MLB Pipeline rankings list.

Both should help replenish the lower levels of the Dodgers’ farm system, which is still considered among the stronger pipelines in the majors. Neither has to go on the 40-man roster, giving the team some increased roster flexibility. And Ferris, in particular, gives the club another intriguing young arm to try to develop, a process the Dodgers have excelled at in recent years.

The move, however, comes at the steep cost of an MLB-ready bat and veteran reliever — with the Dodgers effectively betting they’ll be able to compensate in other ways for the production Busch and Almonte could have offered next season.

In more roster news Thursday, the Dodgers agreed to 2024 salaries with seven of their 10 remaining arbitration-eligible players: Buehler ($8.025 million), Phillips ($4 million), Ryan Yarbrough ($3.9 million), Caleb Ferguson ($2.4 million), Dustin May ($2.135 million), Gavin Lux ($1.125 million) and J.P. Feyereisen ($770,000).

As of Thursday afternoon, it was not yet known whether agreements would be struck with the team’s three other remaining arbitration-eligible players: Will Smith, Brusdar Graterol and Alex Vesia.

The Dodgers will have until 5 p.m. PST Thursday to try to settle on a salary for 2024 for each of those players. If they don’t, the sides will exchange salary proposals Thursday night before heading to an arbitration hearing in the coming weeks, where an arbitrator would determine the salary for each remaining arbitration-eligible player.

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