All I want for Christmas is … Matt Kemp?
Three years after he was controversially dumped in the first big trade of the Andrew Friedman era, the polarizing slugger returned Saturday in a deal seemingly even more confusing when considering the cost.
To acquire him, the Dodgers traded four players to the Atlanta Braves ... including Adrian Gonzalez?
Let’s get this straight. The Dodgers hated Kemp, now they love him. The Dodgers loved Gonzalez, now they hate him. What’s next, Justin Turner for Yuli Gurriel?
Relax. This trade, which also including the shipping of Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir and Charlie Culberson, isn’t nearly as dramatic as it seems.
The Dodgers probably won’t even keep Kemp, and certainly won’t miss Gonzalez. This deal isn’t about these actual players, it’s not even about this actual season.
It’s about dumping enough salaries to give them a shot at the real object of Saturday’s swap — players from next winter’s potentially landmark free-agent class.
The pursuit of Bryce Harper starts now. The chase for Manny Machado begins here. The potential for the Dodgers to acquire the likes of Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon and Andrew Miller can now be considered real.
And, oh yeah, there’s this Clayton Kershaw fellow who can opt out of his contract after next season. The Dodgers now should have the flexibility, if they are so inclined, to give him more money and keep him in blue.
““I hadn’t noticed, is there as big free agent class next winter?” Friedman, the Dodgers’ baseball boss, asked Saturday.
Oh, he’s noticed, everyone has noticed, and the Dodgers are so deep they can dump a fan favorite, two serviceable starting pitchers and an important utility guy in order to start clearing the decks for it.
Like all payroll stuff, it’s complicated, but this deal should help the Dodgers get under a luxury tax threshold number of $197 million for 2018, which will significantly reduce their luxury tax penalty and allow them to buy a great player or two.
Remember last summer when the Lakers traded D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to clear cap space for the likes of Paul George and perhaps even LeBron James next summer?
If you applauded that deal, you will applaud this one.
”This deal is a little more subtle than most,’’ Friedman said. “Obviously one of main considerations in this deal was economic, but they’re part of the bigger picture, the longer-term plan. It’s a necessary strategic part of moves yet to come, whether that’s this offseason, July or next year.’’
Subtle? Yeah, it’s as subtle as Gonzalez pounding his fists together from second base after a double, or as Kemp stalking through the clubhouse talking smack.
Kemp, who is 33 and had 19 homers and 64 RBIs last year, likely will never play for the Dodgers again. There’s no room for him in the outfield. If he does somehow stick around, it will be only as a part-timer employed for the occasional start and late-inning swing. He is expected to be flipped to a team that more easily can overlook his clubhouse baggage and poor fielding.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, never was going to play for the Dodgers again. After four solid seasons here, last summer he was derailed by an elbow injury, a back injury, and the rise of Cody Bellinger.
While Gonzalez said he would be fine with a backup role, he missed an important leadership opportunity when he left the team during the start of the playoffs. By the time he returned for the World Series, his presence was considered a distraction in the clubhouse, and he watched Game 7 from a luxury suite.
The Dodgers, who owed him $22.36 million for the final year of his contract, were anxious to get rid of the salary. Gonzalez, who had a no-trade clause, was anxious to become a free agent and play elsewhere. So he lifted the clause and, upon being traded, was immediately released by the Braves.
“The entire Dodger nation welcomed me with open arms and took me in right away,’’ Gonzalez said in a statement. “Thank you for everything to the fans and the city of L.A. You will always be in my heart.’’
The truth is that the loss of Gonzalez is addition by subtraction, and their rotation can chug along without Kazmir, who was injured and didn’t pitch an inning last year, or McCarthy, who made 29 starts in three years.
Culberson, however, leaves behind an instant legacy. He was a featured player in one of the most memorable moments in Dodger Stadium history, on Sept. 25, 2016, when his walk-off home run gave the Dodgers a victory over the Colorado Rockies on Vin Scully’s final home broadcast. Culberson also hit a World Series homer while batting .500 in 16 at-bats this postseason.
The Dodgers didn’t immediately improve themselves for 2018 in this trade, but they have plenty of time and few holes to fill in bridging that nine-inning gap between them and a championship.