One week before reporting to spring training, Joc Pederson and Ross Stripling were convinced they wouldn’t play another game for the Dodgers. Not only did reports surface saying they would be traded to the Angels, what they were hearing behind the scenes made the move seem definite.
Stripling said he received phone calls and texts from manager Dave Roberts, ownership and teammates expressing appreciation and wishing them luck. Pederson said Angels players reached out to welcome him. Both were in regular contact with president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. It felt so real that Stripling searched for real estate in Newport Beach and Pederson was preparing to order new cleats to match his new threads. It felt real because for five days it was real.
“It was an emotional roller coaster,” Pederson said.
The ride ended last week. It was prolonged because the Dodgers needed to strike a deal with the Boston Red Sox for Mookie Betts and David Price before executing the trade with the Angels. But the Angels pulled out of the pact, which would have sent infielder Luis Rengifo and at least one prospect to the Dodgers.
“It was kind of up in the air the whole time, I guess,” Pederson said. “And there was different options or different avenues they could go. Until that happened, I honestly thought I was going to be on the Angels.”
Pederson, 27, admitted it was a “little awkward” returning to a team that was so close to trading him. Stripling said he chose not to take the situation personally. The 30-year-old right-hander said he trusts the relationships he’s developed in his nearly eight years with the organization. He has decided to believe them when they tell him he’s wanted.
“We had a chance to get Mookie Betts and David Price,” Stripling said. “If that means getting rid of Ross Stripling, then that’s part of it.”
But those five days were strange and stressful. The Dodgers organization was the only one both players have ever known. They represented Los Angeles in the All-Star game. They helped the Dodgers win two National League pennants. Not getting another chance to reach the pinnacle was difficult to process.
But Anaheim wouldn’t have been the worst place to go. The move was down the street. The Angels, after committing over half a billion dollars to Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon in the last year, were trying to compete. Stripling knew he would get a legitimate chance to start every fifth day for an Angels rotation that needed improvement after spending his time with the Dodgers bouncing between the rotation and bullpen. Pederson would get regular playing time, giving him a chance to post impressive numbers before hitting free agency next winter.
Stripling’s name surfaced in the trade hours after recording an hour-long episode for his podcast with Angels third baseman Anthony Rendon not knowing Rendon could be a teammate by the end of the week. Stripling held the episode once his name surfaced. It still hasn’t been released.
“It was a whirlwind,” the right-handed pitcher said. “It was like, ‘Crap, I’m leaving my friends and teammates. The Dodgers are all I know, it’s a first-class organization all the way through. The way they treated me is a great.’ But then it’s like, ‘Dang, you look at that rotation and it’s like, OK, I got a real chance to make 30 starts and throw 200 innings. That goes through my head obviously.”
Both players said they’re happy to remain with the Dodgers. They insisted they harbor no hard feelings. But Pederson wasn’t as complimentary about the arbitration process he was forced to undergo while the trade remained postponed.
A hearing to rule on Pederson’s salary for the 2020 season was scheduled for Friday. Pederson said his representatives asked the arbitrator three times to postpone it. They contended the outfielder’s situation was unique; he was about to get traded and arguing for a salary against a team that wasn’t going to employ him was senseless. Further, he was likelier to settle for something between the $7.75 million the Dodgers filed to pay him and the $9.5 million he sought.
Pederson’s side presented the arbitrator text messages from members of the Dodgers’ organization wishing him luck with the Angels as evidence of the unusual circumstances. The effort was to no avail.
Pederson lost the hearing — he’ll earn $7.75 million this season — but he maintained his gripe isn’t with the outcome even though he believes some statistics used against him, such as completed games, are outdated and misleading when evaluating his performance. His beef is with the arbitrator’s unwillingness to push the hearing back because it wasn’t deemed a unique situation.
“It’s never happened before,” Pederson said, “so I don’t understand what unique means.”
Two days later, the Dodgers agreed to a revamped deal with the Red Sox while their trade with the Angels collapsed. Both players then spoke with Friedman and felt assured they weren’t going anywhere after a week of anxious uncertainty.
“I’m excited to be here,” Pederson said, “and I’m ready to win a World Series.”