Two months ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers were a wreck, at 10 games under .500 and ravaged by injuries. On Friday, they will start the second half of the season in first place in the National League West, with the American League’s starting All-Star shortstop on their roster.
The Dodgers acquired Manny Machado from the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday in exchange for five prospects, headlined by Yusniel Diaz, a 21-year-old outfielder from Cuba who homered twice in the Futures Game on Sunday.
During the All-Star Game on Tuesday, word spread that Machado was most likely headed to the Dodgers, who hold a half-game lead over Arizona in the division after starting the season 16-26. Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers’ star closer, spoke excitedly about acquiring Machado.
“You’re talking about a superstar, man, one of the best players in the game right now,” Jansen said. “It would be amazing.”
Machado, 26, is hitting .315 this season with 24 homers and a career-best .963 on-base plus slugging percentage. He is eligible for free agency after the season, and the Dodgers do not have an obvious place for him, with the incumbent shortstop Corey Seager scheduled to return from Tommy John surgery next season and the slugging Justin Turner signed to play third, Machado’s former position.
But the Dodgers have a knack for making their pieces fit, and Jansen said he hoped the union would last a while.
“Paul George said he wanted to be a Laker, and he stayed in O.K.C.,” Jansen said. “Maybe that could happen too, and he could stay a long time in L.A. with us.”
For now, at least, Machado will try to help the Dodgers win their first championship in 30 years. They came tantalizingly close last fall, losing the World Series to the Houston Astros when their major in-season acquisition, starter Yu Darvish, crumbled at home in Game 7.
Injuries to Seager, Turner, the ace left-hander Clayton Kershaw and others contributed to the Dodgers’ sluggish start this season. But improbable contributions from outfielder Matt Kemp, infielder Max Muncy and pitcher Ross Stripling kept the Dodgers from falling too far, and last week they finally reached first place in a division they have won for five consecutive seasons.
Their second half begins with a treacherous schedule: 32 games in a row against teams with winning records, starting with a trip that stops in Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Atlanta. The addition of a premier hitter comes at the perfect time.
“I think that’s the biggest plus for us, especially these 10 tough games we’re going to have on this road trip, having him be in the lineup,” Jansen said. “Our whole key is staying healthy and doing what we do, and I think the sky is the limit and we could do damage.”
The Orioles, whose 28-69 record is the second-worst in the majors, ahead of only the Kansas City Royals, benefited from multiple teams’ pursuing Machado, including the Phillies and the Brewers. Baltimore is said to have received a strong package in return, with Diaz generally considered one of the 50 best position-player prospects in the game.
Diaz, who was hitting .314 with six homers and a .905 O.P.S. for Class AA Tulsa, ranked fourth on MLB.com’s rankings of Dodgers prospects. Two others in the deal ranked near the bottom of the team’s top 30 — Rylan Bannon, a Class A third baseman with 20 homers this season, and Dean Kremer, a Class A right-hander who is averaging 13 strikeouts per nine innings.
The others are the Class A reliever Zach Pop, who has a 1.04 earned run average, and Breyvic Valera, a utility man who is 5 for 29 in the majors this season.