Dodgers' main concerns are big contracts and crowded outfield

High-priced veterans with multiyear contracts might be a problem for Dodgers

Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp will be the subject of trade talks this off-season as the Dodgers' revamped front office tries to address overcrowding in the outfield.

Finding a new team for one of the former All-Stars would alleviate some of the tension that existed in the clubhouse last season. But as the Dodgers opened conversations with other teams this week at the general managers' meetings in Phoenix, that wasn't their primary motivation.

The team's outfield situation is part of a larger problem: They have several high-priced veteran players with multiple years remaining on their contracts.

Ethier is guaranteed $56 million over the next four years, Crawford $62.25 million over the next three and Kemp $107 over the next five.

Clayton Kershaw has six years and $193 million remaining on his contract. Zack Greinke and Adrian Gonzalez have four years remaining on their contracts, with Greinke owed $94 million and Gonzalez $85 million.

The concern goes beyond the financial commitment.

Unless trades are made, these players will grow old and, in all likelihood, less productive together. And their massive salaries could make them virtually impossible to trade, compromising the Dodgers' financial and roster flexibility.

Andrew Friedman, the new president of baseball operations who inherited a cabinet full of these contracts, hinted at the potential problem.

"As you look out to 2015, we feel really good about the players that we have right now," Friedman said. "As you look out further than that, every team has varying degrees of concern."

The Dodgers, who spent $256 million on player salaries this year, have $186.5 million committed to 15 players next year.

They have 11 players under contract for $159 million in 2016, 10 for $160 million in 2017 and eight for $122 million in 2018.

Gonzalez, who led the major leagues with 116 runs batted in and won a Gold Glove Award this season, will turn 36 in 2018. Greinke will be 34, Kemp 33, Hyun-Jin Ryu 31 and Kershaw 30.

"There are guys who age better than others," Friedman said. "It's something that obviously we need to get to know these guys better and wrap our arms around to get a feel for what they will look like in '16 and beyond."

Friedman must carefully balance the team's short- and long-term objectives. Unlike in small-market Tampa Bay, where he worked for the previous 10 years, Friedman now guides the baseball operations of a franchise that is expected to win its division every year. He can't sacrifice the present for the future and vice versa.

This is where ownership's mandate to not trade outfielder Yasiel Puig becomes a factor.

Under a contract that calls for him to be paid $24 million over the next four years, Puig is a bargain. But his temperament makes him susceptible to major slumps, and the Dodgers can't count on him to be a centerpiece of their offense.

Puig's unreliability, coupled with the anticipated departure of Hanley Ramirez, could make the Dodgers reluctant to part with Kemp, who is their only dependable source of right-handed-hitting power. Their insistence on holding on to Puig, in essence, could also make Kemp untouchable.

That leaves Ethier and Crawford as the players most likely to be traded.

The Dodgers would be parting with Ethier at a time when his value is at an all-time low. Reduced to a bench role this year, he hit only four home runs.

Crawford batted .300, but played in only 105 games because of ankle problems. His lower-body health issues could be red flags for potential trade partners, considering his speed plays a major role in his effectiveness.

To move Ethier or Crawford, or both, the Dodgers would likely have to pay a significant part of what remains of their contracts.

The Dodgers might not pursue top-tier free agents until they rid themselves of some long-term contracts. In the short term, that could be problematic because their farm system is not at a level to regularly produce high-level players for several more years.

However, the Dodgers gain some flexibility in the coming years if Greinke and Kershaw terminate their contracts before they expire.

Greinke has the option to forgo the final three years of his deal and elect to become a free agent at the end of next season. Kershaw can scrap the final two years of his contract and become a free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

That, of course, could create a different concern: the ability to win ballgames.

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