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Dodgers Dugout: Breaking down the Adrian Gonzalez-Matt Kemp trade

Dodgers Dugout: Breaking down the Adrian Gonzalez-Matt Kemp trade
Remember when Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez were teammates? (George Nikitin / Associated Press)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and I’m wondering if Rihanna is happy Matt Kemp is back in L.A., if only for a short time.

Big deal

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So Saturday brought some big news. The Dodgers traded Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir and Charlie Culberson to the Atlanta Braves for Matt Kemp. What the heck is going on?

What’s going on is money. This was a straight payroll dump for both teams. Let’s take a look at the players involved and what they are scheduled to make.

Adrian Gonzalez: He will be paid $22.357 million in 2018 by the Braves, who released him the same day they acquired him.

Brandon McCarthy: He will be paid $11.5 million by the Braves in 2018. Atlanta has him penciled in as a starter. McCarthy played three seasons with the Dodgers, going 11-7 with a 4.51 ERA in 29 starts. For that, he got paid about $36 million.

Scott Kazmir: He will be paid $17.7 million by the Braves in 2018. Atlanta also has him penciled in as a starter, and hopefully that pencil has a good eraser, because the Dodgers paid him about $30 million over two seasons to go 10-6 with a 4.56 ERA in 26 starts.

Charlie Culberson: He will get a lot of playing time with Atlanta, which is close to his hometown in Georgia. I liked Culberson a lot, and hopefully he gets a nice ovation when the Braves visit L.A. next season. He had 80 regular-season at-bats in his Dodger career, but he will always be remembered for the game-winning homer he hit in Vin Scully’s final home game, and for doing a great job filling in for an injured Corey Seager in the 2017 NLCS, going five for 11 with two doubles and a triple. He followed that up by going three for five with a homer in the World Series. He will more than likely make a little over the major league minimum in 2018.

Matt Kemp: He is owed approximately $43.5 million over the next two seasons. He is no longer the player he once was, and is regarded by most as one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball. It is extremely unlikely he actually ends up playing for the Dodgers, as they are expected to trade him or just release him before the season. As Andrew Friedman said on the day of the trade: "I was very open and honest with him about what the future might hold. It's just too difficult to say, definitively, at this point."

So, what does all this mean? This is all about the Dodgers getting under the payroll luxury tax next season. Each season, Major League Baseball sets a payroll threshold. If a team goes over that threshold, they have to pay a penalty. Each year they go over the threshold, the penalty they pay increases. The first year you go over, the penalty is 20% on the dollar (for example, if you are $1 million over the threshold, you owe $200,000). If you go over for a second straight year, you owe 30%, for the third and subsequent consecutive years, you owe 50%.

The Dodgers have been over the threshold for the last two seasons (2016-17). The team was assessed a $36.2-million tax this year, based on a season-ending payroll of $253.6 million.

Thanks to the way contracts are valued under the collective bargaining agreement, Saturday’s trade puts the Dodgers under the 2018 total payroll threshold of $197 million. They currently have a payroll of approximately $173 million. They still need to add a few bench players/relievers, so they will probably go into 2018 with a payroll of $175 million-$180 million.

Why is this so important? Because, once you come in under the payroll threshold, your penalty resets. So, if in 2019 the Dodgers go back over the threshold, their penalty will be 20%, not 50%. And the 2018 off-season will be filled with top free agents, such as:

Charlie Blackmon

Josh Donaldson

Bryce Harper

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Clayton Kershaw (assuming he opts out of his current deal)

Dallas Keuchel

Craig Kimbrel

Manny Machado

And that’s just to name a few. So this trade was all about positioning themselves to sign a couple of big names after the 2018 season, in which they are still favored by most to win the World Series.

Or, as Friedman said when this was pointed out, "Oh, I hadn't noticed. Is there a big free-agent class next winter?"

Farewell Adrian

It is sad to see Adrian Gonzalez go. He was the heart and soul of the Dodgers offense for many seasons before his back gave out on him, and was one of the most popular Dodgers of all time. He had this message for Dodgers fans after he was traded (Gonzalez had to waive his no-trade clause for the deal to go through):

“My final decision was not based on playing time as I had agreed to a limited bench role. It is a way to test the free agent market and see what opportunities are out there for me so I can make the best decision moving forward for me and my family. Lifting the no-trade clause is the hardest decision I have ever made in my career due to the fact that I loved every single second being a Dodger.

“I have talked through this whole process with Andrew and the Dodgers organization and they are giving me this opportunity to see if there is a better fit for me somewhere else. As the roster stands right now, there might not be a spot for me on the roster.

“I want to thank the Dodgers owners for being the best owners I have ever played for. Also my coaches and teammates because with them we had an amazing five years together. And most importantly to all the Dodgers fans, no word or phrase can describe how grateful and blessed I am to have been a part of their cheers and support.

“The entire Dodger nation welcomed me with open arms and took me in right away. Thank you for everything to the fans and the city of LA. You will always be in my heart. This closes a chapter for me, but not the book.”

And finally

Who are the greatest Dodgers of all time? Look for more on this after the holidays as I turn to you to help decide. Start thinking about your top 10 all time. Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Player, owner, announcer, any person with a connection to the Dodgers counts. Voting will begin in January. Until then, enjoy your holidays!

Have a comment or something you'd like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me and follow me on Twitter: @latimeshouston.

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