Moving to address their dearth of established right-handed hitters, the Dodgers have reached a five-year deal with free-agent center fielder A.J. Pollock, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
The potential total value of the contract is $60 million, according to multiple reports, but the pact includes a potential opt-out after the third year and a $10-million player option with a $5-million buyout for the fifth year. Because Pollock turned down a one-year qualifying offer from the Arizona Diamondbacks at the start of the offseason, the signing will also cost the Dodgers their second-highest selection in June’s draft and $500,000 from their international bonus pool for next summer’s signing period. The Diamondbacks will receive a pick after the first round in the upcoming draft as compensation.
Pollock, 31, spent his first seven seasons in the majors with the Diamondbacks after the club selected him with the 17th overall pick in the 2009 draft. He enjoyed a career season in 2015, when he batted .315 with an .865 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 20 home runs, six triples and 39 stolen bases. But injuries have plagued him the past three seasons and he hasn’t been the same offensive threat. Last season, he batted .257 with 21 home runs and an .800 OPS in 113 games — he most he played since 2015. His defense, however, remained elite in center field, according to most metrics.
The contract could keep Pollock in a Dodger uniform until he was 35, but the potential opt-out after the third season, which would become a possibility if Pollock surpasses a certain number of plate appearances, and the $5-million team buyout for the fifth year reduces the chances of Pollock playing in Los Angeles through 2023. The deal’s structure, however, will remain $60 million over five years for competitive-balance-tax purposes, which diminishes the blow on the CBT payroll and keeps the Dodgers under the CBT threshold.
According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, a $12-million addition per season would bring the club’s CBT payroll total to approximately $7.3-million below the $206-million tax line. As a result, if the objective is to remain below the CBT threshold and avoid a penalty, the Dodgers would need to shed salary to accommodate a premier free agent. The penalty for the Dodgers would be a 20% tax on all overages up to $20 million after staying below the CBT line and resetting their penalty level last season.
The offseason had left the Dodgers, who are platoon loyalists, in need of a right-handed batter. They traded away Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp — both right-handed-hitting outfielders — to the Cincinnati Reds last month. A couple of weeks later, Yasmani Grandal, a switch-hitting catcher, officially ended his Dodgers tenure by signing with the Milwaukee Brewers. The three each hit at least 21 home runs in 2018, combining for 67.
Before adding Pollock, Justin Turner, Enrique Hernandez, Chris Taylor, David Freese, and the catching duo of Austin Barnes and Russell Martin were the right-handed hitters projected to play regularly next season. Only Hernandez and Taylor — both utility players — have extensive experience in the outfield. The other four outfielders on the 40-man roster — Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson, Alex Verdugo and Andrew Toles — are left-handed batters.
Pollock’s splits have been about even for his career — he’s compiled a .275 batting average and .825 OPS against lefties versus a .284 batting average and .796 OPS against righties — but he enjoyed considerably more success off right-handers last season. In 305 plate appearances, Pollock batted .275 with 12 home runs and an .830 OPS against righties. He batted .221 with nine home runs and a .742 OPS against left-handers.
Pollock figures to be the Dodgers’ regular center fielder, though Bellinger could also see time there against right-handed starting pitchers. The Dodgers plan to play Bellinger every day — splitting time between first base and the outfield — after his struggles against lefties last season prompted the club to make him a platoon player over the final couple of months.