Dodgers have set their sights on elite starting pitchers

LOS ANGELES -- Not long ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers sent out a memo to their scouts telling them to keep an eye on a long list of potential starting pitcher targets leading up to next month’s trade deadline.

At the top of the Dodgers’ wish list, according to a source, is hard-throwing Washington Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, with Cincinnati Reds ace Johnny Cueto and Detroit Tigers lefty David Price also on the short list of desirable targets.

Galen Carr, the major league scout whose opinion will carry the most weight with Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, has attended several of Zimmermann’s starts, a source said, and has also been at more than one of Cueto’s starts. The link to Price is less clear, but Friedman’s history with Price in Tampa Bay would indicate that possibility has some merit if the sides can match up on a deal.

Of course, wanting to acquire any of those pitchers and having the resources to get a deal done are entirely different things. The standings and the presence of two wild-card bids will make a trade for one of those pitchers difficult, particularly if the Dodgers want to hold on to their most treasured prospects, pitcher Julio Urias and shortstop Corey Seager.

But the fact that the Dodgers have prioritized three pitchers who will be free agents in November is an indication of their motivation to land at least one more top-level starting pitcher to a Clayton Kershaw-and-Zack Greinke-led rotation that has lost two starters -- Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu -- to season-ending injuries.

The Dodgers have gotten solid production from fill-in starters Mike Bolsinger and Carlos Frias, but they would be more comfortable about their postseason hopes if they were relying on just one of those pitchers, who were viewed as Triple-A depth out of spring training. Brandon Beachy is close to going on a minor league rehab assignment, but he’s far from a sure thing given the elevated chances of another arm injury after two Tommy John surgeries.

Needless to say, matching up on a trade for an elite starter would be a challenge, but Friedman and his group proved at the winter meetings that they’re willing to radically alter their major league team’s composition to improve.

The Nationals are beset by injuries to starting pitchers, but they have managed to remain in first place despite them. The Tigers are two games over .500 and 4 1/2 games behind the Kansas City Royals in the AL Central. The Reds -- 11 games back in the NL Central and four games under .500 -- could be the likeliest team to deal, but they’ll have plenty of suitors.

The Dodgers have gotten no indication from Washington that it is willing to move Zimmermann, a source said, but there is plenty of time between now and the July 31 deadline. If Stephen Strasburg (neck tightness) and Doug Fister (strained right forearm) bounce back from injuries, the Nationals could find themselves with a starting pitcher surplus. If Carl Crawford and Scott Van Slyke return from the disabled list in the coming weeks, as expected, the Dodgers will have a surplus of hitters. Alex Guerrero, who has a .926 OPS in 123 plate appearances, figures to be particularly expendable when those two outfielders return and third baseman/second baseman Hector Olivera reaches the major leagues, which should be a matter of weeks.

Crawford won’t draw much trade interest because of his massive contract, but Andre Ethier, who is thriving back in an everyday role with an .875 OPS, is looking more desirable by the day. And the Dodgers suddenly have enough minor league depth that they might consider trading young starting pitchers for a chance at a 2015 World Series.

The Dodgers’ trade chips are no longer confined to the big three of Urias, Seager and center fielder Joc Pederson. Their Triple-A Oklahoma City team has the best winning percentage in the Pacific Coast League. Behind Urias are a few well-regarded pitching prospects in Grant Holmes, Jose De Leon and Chris Anderson. The team took 20 college pitchers in the recently completed draft and considers two of them, Vanderbilt right-hander Walker Buehler and Louisville right-hander Kyle Funkhouser, to be 2016 rotation options.

The will is there, as are the resources. It seems only a matter of time before the Dodgers fortify their starting rotation. The only question now is how big the splash will be.