Didn’t get who you wanted at the MLB trade deadline? Injured stars whose return will be as good as a blockbuster deal

    ESPN baseball reporter. Covered the L.A. Rams for ESPN from 2016 to 2018 and the L.A. Angels for MLB.com from 2012 to 2016.

The Los Angeles Dodgers approached the 2022 MLB trade deadline with the confidence that they could compete for the best available players — but with the belief that they might not have to.

Their injured list, ironically enough, emboldened them.

The Dodgers took a flier on Joey Gallo, whom they hope to revive within an outfield mix that at times has seemed shallow. But they did very little on the pitching front, not adding a single arm to their rotation, the area outsiders identified as their most pressing need down the stretch. As part of his reasoning, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman rattled off a list of seven pitchers who are expected to return in the near future, several of whom boast either the track record or the talent — or both — to make a sizable impact on their postseason run.

“I think our pitching staff is really good and will most likely get considerably better,” Friedman said. “I feel really, really confident that we’ll have a really good 13-man pitching staff in October.”

Dustin May embodies most of that belief. The 24-year-old right-hander is nearly 15 months removed from Tommy John surgery and three rehab outings into his progression. His recovery, Friedman said, has been “extremely encouraging.” Before tearing his ulnar collateral ligament, May was establishing himself as one of the best young pitchers in the sport, with a 2.74 ERA and 35 strikeouts in his first 23 innings of 2021 — thanks in large part to a ridiculous, upper-90s two-seamer that continually baffled the game’s best hitters.

Getting May back, the Dodgers believe, is equivalent to a blockbuster trade, except they didn’t have to give anything up in exchange. They also expect two of their most important relievers, Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol, to return at some point this month. The same can be said about Danny Duffy, who was putting together a stellar season out of the Kansas City Royals’ rotation before suffering a flexor strain in July 2021. And then there’s Walker Buehler, their ace and also their wild card, who suffered his own flexor strain nearly eight weeks ago and might — might — return in September.

The Dodgers’ inactivity could prove prophetic or it could backfire. There’s really no telling at this point. But the knowledge of who might return — not to mention their major-league-leading 2.95 ERA — colored their pursuit of controllable, top-flight starting pitchers available at the deadline, such as Luis Castillo, Frankie Montas and Pablo Lopez, the latter of whom ended up not being traded. And L.A. wasn’t alone.

This year’s trade deadline was marked not just by the stars who were moved but by those who didn’t — J.D. Martinez, Willson Contreras, Ian Happ, Gregory Soto, Nathan Eovaldi, Chad Kuhl and Martin Perez, to name a few. The extra wild-card spots this October probably made fringe teams more hesitant to part with win-now players, and thus drove up the asking prices. On the other side, though, there was the injured list — sadly brimming once again with star talent and making contenders feel as if their best solutions might reside in-house.

Beyond L.A., here is a look at more recovering players who could have the greatest impact on these next three months.

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