What the Dodgers salary-dump trade means to the star-studded 2018 free agent market
What would you do with $100 million?
The Dodgers could use it as a down payment toward signing two of the three most dominant players in the star-studded free-agent class next winter.
The Dodgers’ payroll-driven trade Saturday — in which they exchanged players with troublesome contracts for a player they might never activate — was designed primarily to free them from paying the luxury tax next year.
The team was assessed a $36.2-million tax this year, based on a season-ending payroll of $253.6 million, according to a person speaking on condition of anonymity because those numbers have not been disclosed publicly.
If the Dodgers can get that payroll below $197 million next year — as has long been their plan — they would pay no tax. Add that savings to the reported $50 million that each team is expected to receive from the sale of the league’s technology arm to the Walt Disney Co., and the Dodgers could have close to $100 million to save for a shopping spree next winter.
The Dodgers run a disciplined business, focused on sustained winning through depth and player development rather than star power, wary of investing too much money into too few players who get too old toward the end of their contracts. On the other hand, as cable and satellite companies continue to lose customers, the Dodgers’ record-setting television contract might make them one of the few teams able to count on cable dollars for long enough to set the market next winter.
A look at the big three in next winter’s projected free-agent class, and some of a talented supporting cast (ages as of opening day 2019):
Clayton Kershaw, P (31): If Kershaw’s back holds up in 2018 — back injuries have forced him onto the disabled list the last two seasons — he is expected to opt out of his Dodgers contract after the season. The Dodgers might hesitate to guarantee him $300 million in a contract extension that would extend into his late 30s, but they also might hesitate to let a Hall-of-Famer-in-waiting walk away. He could be the grand attraction when his hometown Texas Rangers open their new ballpark in 2020.
Bryce Harper, OF (26): Harper grew up in Las Vegas, listening to Vin Scully, and he made a pilgrimage to the Dodgers’ broadcast booth in Scully’s farewell season. He has been an All-Star in five of his six major league seasons, and he was the only player in the National League to rank among the top five in on-base percentage and slugging percentage last season (minimum 400 at-bats). For all the Dodgers’ spending, they have guaranteed no money to outfielders beyond 2018. Would they spend $400 million on Harper?
Manny Machado, SS/3B (26): Machado and Harper are the twin prizes next winter, with each player arriving at free agency so young that he could be expected to be productive for the life of a 10-year contract. Machado offers durability (he has missed 11 games over the last three seasons) and power (105 home runs over the last three seasons) at premium positions, but he reportedly prefers to play shortstop, where the Dodgers can get both from Corey Seager, who will open the 2019 season at age 24.
OTHER PLAYERS ELIGIBLE FOR FREE AGENCY IN 2018
Starting pitchers: Gio Gonzalez (33), Dallas Keuchel (31), Drew Pomeranz (30), David Price* (33), Garrett Richards (30).
Relief pitchers: Cody Allen (30), Zach Britton (31), Kelvin Herrera (29), Craig Kimbrel (30), Andrew Miller (33), David Robertson (33).
Infielders: Josh Donaldson (33), Brian Dozier (31), Marwin Gonzalez (30), Daniel Murphy (33).
Outfielders: Charlie Blackmon (32), Andrew McCutchen (32), A.J. Pollock (31).
*Price can opt out of his contract with the Boston Red Sox.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin
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