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Dodgers Dugout: Breaking down the Yasiel Puig-Matt Kemp-Alex Wood trade

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and there are a lot of irate Dodger fans out there because of the trade. But should they be?

Trade winds

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The Dodgers made a big move Friday afternoon when they traded Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood to the Cincinnati Reds for pitcher Homer Bailey, minor-league shortstop Jeter Downs and minor-league pitcher Josiah Gray. The Dodgers also sent $7 million to the Reds.

Taken by itself, this trade makes no sense whatsoever. The Dodgers sent three proven major leaguers of varying quality for perhaps the worst starting pitcher in baseball last season and two minor leaguers who are a few years away from contributing at the major-league level.

But you can’t look at this trade in a vacuum. The Dodgers cleared a lot of payroll with this deal. Kemp takes about $20 million off the books. Puig, who is eligible for arbitration, is expected to receive about $11 million next season and Wood, also eligible for arbitration, is expected to receive about $9 million. That takes $40 million off the books for next season. Bailey will be released as soon as possible, but he will count as $17.5 million next season, so the Dodgers have saved about $23 million (these numbers are approximations based on projections for Puig and Wood).

So, once I got over the disappointment of Puig and Kemp being traded, I realized a couple of things.

1. That document that was leaked a couple of months ago that Dodgers ownership sent to potential investors, saying they weren’t going to go over the luxury tax threshold for the next few seasons is true.

2. This has to be the first step of a larger plan to add a player or two, which they can do now and remain under the luxury tax barrier.

So, who are they going to add?

Everyone seems to think it will be Bryce Harper, but I’m not so sure. Harper would like a 10-year, $400-million deal. The Dodgers don’t hand out long-term deals, and I think giving anyone a 10-year deal is a big mistake. The Angels have basically destroyed themselves with long-term deals that have backfired (I’m looking at you Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton). Harper would probably earn his big salary for a couple of seasons, but by season seven, he could very well be an albatross around the team’s neck. If he would settle for a five-year, $175-million deal, then that is within the realm of possibility, but I’m not sure the Dodgers would even want to do that.

What about J.T. Realmuto? The Marlins catcher is arbitration eligible and expected to get between $6 million and $7 million, so money is not the roadblock there. The roadblock is the Marlins’ asking price, which so far includes Cody Bellinger and a prospect. So, unless the Marlins make a more reasonable request, that isn’t happening.

This is where getting Downs and Gray is important. They are both considered solid prospects (more on them below), and one of them could easily be flipped in a trade to Miami or another team. Both are ranked among the top 20 for Dodger prospects now, with Downs at No. 7 and Gray at No. 16. They also could serve as depth in case the Dodgers decide to give up Gavin Lux (No. 4 prospect) or any of the several pitchers ranked above Gray.

The Dodgers could also look at free agents A.J. Pollock and DJ Lemahieu. The problem with Pollock is he is injury prone and comes with a qualifying offer attached, which means the Dodgers would lose a draft pick. And the Dodgers love their draft picks. Lemahieu would fill the hole at second base, but he’s not an exciting option. Some places have him ranked below Brian Dozier in their free-agent rankings.

Finally, the Dodgers could add to their bullpen, with guys like Zach Britton and David Robertson still available.

To sum up, this frees the Dodgers up for a lot of things, so it is far too early to judge whether this is a good trade or not. If they have acquired no one else by opening day, then this doesn’t look very good. But for now, let’s all calm down and relax and see what’s next.

Farewell to Puig, Kemp and Wood

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Now let’s look at who the Dodgers sent away.

Yasiel Puig was certainly a polarizing figure within the organization, but the fans loved him. He played the game with passion and enthusiasm and was always fun to watch. He also did a lot off the field for charity, and visited children’s hospitals often. He was basically a big kid, and there are worse things to be in life. Yes, he made mistakes on the field. And I’m sure if I was a Dodger player, I would get tired of him waltzing in late or making mental mistakes. But as a fan, I loved the guy. When you are a kid and love baseball, you hope to one day make the majors and dream of how exciting it would be to play every day. Puig reminds us of that feeling in a league where many players seem like they’d rather be anywhere else. And, he’s a good player too. It’s a tough loss from an emotional standpoint, but it’s not like when the Dodgers traded Mike Piazza.

Matt Kemp was an amazing story last season. He was supposed to be cut early, but stuck around and carried the team for the first couple of months of the season, making the All-Star team. He fell into a crater in the second half though. In the first half he hit .310/.352/.522 and in the second half he hit .255/.313/.406. His defense was among the worst in the league. By the time the postseason rolled around, he was basically an afterthought. Still though, I’m glad he came back for a season to give newer Dodgers fans a taste of how great he was in his prime. But, putting emotion aside, Kemp is grossly overpaid for his production.

The really sad part of this trade is that the Dodgers sent away my youngest daughter’s two favorite players in Puig and Kemp. She asked me if the Cincinnati paper had a Reds newsletter she could sign up for. So, if anyone would like to adopt a kid, I have one available.

Alex Wood’s big mistake was being too good in 2017, when he went 16-3 with a 2.72 ERA. That made his inevitable regression to the kind of pitcher he truly was look worse. Wood was an above-average pitcher in 2018 (ERA+ of 105 and an FIP [3.53] better than his ERA of 3.68) but he felt like a bad pitcher because he was so far off of his 2017 numbers. That’s what made him attractive trade bait, and he should be one of Cincinnati’s best pitchers.

The roster right now

Here’s how the Dodgers’ projected 25-man roster looks as of right now.

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Catchers

Austin Barnes

Rocky Gale or Keibert Ruiz or Will Smith

Infielders

Cody Bellinger

David Freese

Max Muncy

Corey Seager

Chris Taylor

Justin Turner

Outfielders

Kiké Hernandez

Joc Pederson

Andrew Toles

Alex Verdugo

Pitchers

Scott Alexander

Pedro Baez

Walker Buehler

Caleb Ferguson

Josh Fields

Rich Hill

Kenley Jansen

Joe Kelly

Clayton Kershaw

Kenta Maeda

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Ross Stripling

Julio Urias

This doesn’t include pitchers JT Chargois, Tony Cingrani, Dylan Floro and Yimi Garcia, who could also make the team. I would expect a pitcher or two to be traded before the season begins to fill another hole on the team, since they have about eight starters for five spots.

What about these new Dodger acquisitions?

Homer Bailey, 30, RHP

Bailey went 1-14 with a 6.39 ERA last season with the Cincinnati Reds and is scheduled to get $23 million next season. The Dodgers are expected to release him as soon as possible, if they haven’t already by the time you read this.

Jeter Downs, 20, SS/2B

Yes, he was named after Derek Jeter. Downs was a top-five prospect with the Reds and was the 32nd overall pick of the 2017 draft. He had a .257 batting average, .351 on-base percentage and .402 slugging percentage in Class A last season, which is more impressive when you consider he was two years younger than the average Class A player. He projects to be a top of the lineup guy and had 37 stolen bases last season. He is a right-handed hitter.

Josiah Gray, 21, RHP

Gray turned 21 on Friday, so the trade must have been quite a birthday surprise. He was selected in the second round of the 2018 draft and went 2-2 with a 2.58 ERA in 12 starts for the Reds' rookie-league affiliate. He struck out 59 and walked only 17 in 52.1 innings. Gray has a running fastball that reaches 97 mph and a good slider. He will need to develop a third pitch to reach the majors as a starter. Gray was a shortstop most of his college career and didn’t become a full-time pitcher until 2017.

New broadcaster comes in as one departs

The Dodgers signed Tim Neverett as a new broadcaster last week and announced that Charley Steiner will be cutting back on his duties while also signing him to an extension through the 2021 season. The 52-year-old Neverett called radio play-by-play for the Red Sox the last three years. He will fill in for Joe Davis on TV when Davis is on national assignments and will fill in for Steiner when he is taking time off.

The Dodgers also did not renew the contract of Kevin Kennedy, who filled in on radio the last five seasons. Kennedy is a big loss, as I really enjoyed listening to him as he wasn’t afraid to criticize the team when appropriate and analyzed the action quickly and easily.

Other viewpoints

Take a look at these other Times viewpoints on the trade:

Jorge Castillo writes about the trade here.

Andy McCullough breaks it all down here.

Bill Plaschke is glad Yasiel Puig is gone.

And finally

A look at some of Yasiel Puig’s greatest catches and throws. Watch it here.

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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