Needless to say, it’s been an uncharacteristically quiet offseason for Major League Baseball in terms of player transactions. As the New Year officially kicked off, a plethora of high-profile free agents remain unsigned for the 2018 season.
Executives from around the league have become more hesitant in recent years to shell out long-term contracts in order to maintain payroll flexibility. But that especially holds true his offseason, as big-market teams have attempted to get under the 2018 luxury tax threshold as a historic free-agent class looms.
Despite the league’s lack of activity, the Los Angeles Dodgers pulled off one of the offseason’s most notable moves to date with their trade for Matt Kemp from the Atlanta Braves, in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir and Charlie Culberson.
On the surface, the trade would seemingly qualify as a blockbuster, with multiple All-Stars and former MVP candidates exchanging uniforms. That’s hardly the case, however, as the deal’s financial implications for both organizations have been the primary focus.
With the help of former Dodgers vice president of baseball operations and current Braves general manager and executive vice president Alex Anthopoulos, Los Angeles managed to achieve its biggest goal this offseason.
By unloading the contracts of Gonzalez, McCarthy, Kazmir and Culberson on Atlanta, the Dodgers reduced their 2018 payroll by over $51 million — giving them the opportunity to successfully stay under the $197 million luxury tax threshold.
Should that figure hold up, the club will re-set their penalty from 50 percent on the overage to 20 percent the next time they exceed the threshold. On the flip side, the Dodgers taking back Kemp’s salary affords the Braves long-term financial freedom, making it a win-win for both sides.
Los Angeles entered the offseason without any glaring roster needs, but the return of Kemp, at least on paper, gives them an interesting addition to the outfield mix.
As it currently stands, Yasiel Puig will occupy right field next season, with Chris Taylor presumably receiving the bulk of starts in center field. That leaves left field as the only position in question, though the Dodgers have plenty of internal candidates to fill the spot.
In addition to Kemp, the club already has Kiké Hernandez, Joc Pederson, Trayce Thompson and Alex Verdugo in the fold — not to mention the anticipated return of Andrew Toles, who saw his 2017 campaign cut short with an ACL injury.
That doesn’t leave much playing time for Kemp, which is why many have speculated that the Dodgers will look to trade or designate him for assignment over the coming weeks.
Trading Kemp won’t be an easy task, to say the least. He’s owed $43.5 million over the next two seasons and hasn’t accumulated a full win above replacement in a single season since 2014.
The Dodgers would likely have to take on the majority of Kemp’s salary in order to move him, or potentially attach a prospect in a hypothetical deal for a team to absorb most of the money tied to him.
Freeing up additional payroll space could allow the Dodgers to make a bigger push to retain 2017 midseason acquisition Yu Darvish. They may also decide to go in a different direction and acquire an impact right-handed bat, with Lorenzo Cain and Andrew McCutchen among potential possibilities.
But should the Dodgers find themselves unsuccessful in trading Kemp, it could opt to designate him for assignment. In this case, the club would essentially swallow the remaining dollars left on his contract, as it’s virtually a given that no team will claim Kemp during the process, and instead, wait to sign him to a lesser contract after he’s released.
A more unlikely scenario could involve the Dodgers ultimately holding on to Kemp and utilizing him as a platoon option in left field, or a pinch-hitter off the bench.
Kemp is said to be in great shape, and even in the wake of a poor 2017 season, still accumulated 23 doubles and 19 home runs in just 115 games for the Braves. He was among the game’s worst defensive outfielders, however, so any value with his bat would likely be offset by his diminishing skills with the glove.
That’s why the most likely outcome for Kemp is latching on with an American League team, either by trade or free agency. Whether the Dodgers find a taker for the 33-year-old, though, remains to be seen, as Spring Training is set to begin in just under two months.