Once it became clear Shohei Ohtani would be posted this offseason, the Los Angeles Dodgers were identified as one the teams that figured to contend for his signature. When the Miami Marlins made Giancarlo Stanton available, the Dodgers were viewed as the favorite to trade for the slugger.
Ohtani wound up signing with the Los Angeles Angels, in a surprising decision, and Stanton was ultimately traded to the New York Yankees after vetoing deals with the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals. The Dodgers’ reported interest in both players represented a dichotomy.
Los Angeles was limited to offering Ohtani a $300,000 signing bonus, which was well below what the two-way superstar could fetch on the open market as a typical free agent.
Meanwhile, with Stanton, the Dodgers were said to be reluctant to take on the bulk of his remaining contract. That didn’t align with the Marlins’ focus to shed salary, with their return in the trade taking a back seat.
Further indication of the Dodgers’ insistence on getting below the luxury tax threshold for the 2018 season came Saturday. In one fell swoop, they got out from under $47.5 million in salary by trading Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy, along with Charlie Culberson, to the Atlanta Braves.
In return, the Dodgers received a familiar name in Matt Kemp. Friedman referred to the trade as one that was necessary for the club with respect to future transactions, per Bill Plunkett of the Southern California News Group:
“Obviously one of the main considerations in this deal were economic. But they’re part of the bigger picture, the longer-term plan, and it’s a necessary strategic part of moves yet to come. Whether that’s this offseason, in July or next year, this move allows for increased flexibility going forward.”
Kemp is owed $21.5 million in each of the next two seasons. Considering his diminished skills and lack of positional flexibility, he’s a candidate to be released or traded a second time. Regardless of what unfolds with Kemp, the Dodgers are well-positioned for next winter.
The mega-free agency class is expected to include the likes of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, plus Clayton Kershaw if he elects to utilize the opt-out clause in his contract. This past season was the Dodgers’ fifth consecutive in which they faced an escalating luxury tax.
By resetting their bottom line and getting below the $197 million threshold for next season, the Dodgers would only face a 20 percent tax on every dollar above the threshold in 2019.