What’s next? Cutch or Cain?
With the trade of the three onerous contracts this weekend the Dodgers have opened up some financial flexibility for 2018 even as they hope to stay under the luxury tax and reset the fines that MLB has been hitting the team with ever since they decided to be the $250M pound gorilla of major league baseball. Eric Stephen as always does a great job in showing you how the Dodger payroll in 2018 currently stands and what the ramifications are if they can stay under the luxury tax for 2018.
The Dodgers are at just over $171 million for luxury tax purposes for 19 players on the active roster. Filling out the rest of the 25-man roster with players near the minimum salary ($545,000 in 2018) puts us at roughly $175 million.
That’s well below the $197 million threshold for 2018, which means they have some room to make more moves and still avoid the tax. One of those may be the reported one-year deal for Tom Koehler, which hasn’t been finalized yet.
A couple of rumors out there suggest the Dodgers might use some of the new found financial flexibility to make a run at either perennial top-five MVP Andrew McCutchen or free agent center fielder Lorenzo Cain.
I’ll deal with Lorenzo Cain first because I don’t think he fits with what this front office would do. Cain is an excellent center fielder who would be a great addition to just about any team but probably not the Dodgers. He’s a free agent and coming off a solid season at thirty years old, Cain is probably looking at a four-year deal. His game is his speed which has allowed him to excel as a defensive center-fielder and enough pop and OBP skills that he is also an asset on offense. He is well known to most baseball fans because of the Royal World Series runs in 2014 and 2015 including their World Championship in 2015. I advocated this summer to acquire Cain to help the Dodgers in the outfield, a move that would have put up a postseason outfield of Puig/Cain/Taylor but the Dodgers didn’t do that as they probably expected Adrian Gonzalez to be more than a sideline distraction back in July. Now, however, Cain is a free-agent and I just can’t see this front office giving a four-year contract to a center-fielder whose main game is speed for the age of 31 – 35. It would also require more financial maneuvering and hurt their ability next year when better free agents become available. So I’m giving Lorenzo Cain a hard pass and won’t believe any rumors about him becoming a Dodger.
Andrew McCutchen is a different story entirely. He is in the last year of his contract and the cost is $14.5M. Andrew had a subpar 2016 but I wrote that he was due for a bounceback in 2017 and it happened. He wasn’t the top five MVP player he once was from 2012 – 2015 but he was the fourth best hitting NL CF in 2017 and the sixth best NL CF in fWAR. However they sort out the outfield, the trio of Puig/Taylor/McCutchen would be an outstanding outfield.
Can they Dodgers fit McCutchen on the roster and still stay under the luxury tax for 2018? I think so.
One way would be to trade Grandal and I can see a fit between the Dodgers and the Pirates. The Pirates could use an everyday catcher. Francisco Cervelli is a fine catcher but has a long history of health issues and was only able to play 81 games last year. Overall the Pirates had the 28th fWAR for catchers in 2017.
A simple trade of Grandal/Thompson for Cutch would net the Dodgers the right hand hitting LF they might covet while allowing the Pirates to shed about $7M and get an everyday catcher who would give them some much need pop at the position. The Pirate catchers hit only six home runs in 2017 along with a poor .323 slug%. Grandal hit 22 home runs with a slug% of .459. Grandal hit more home runs for the Dodgers than all but two players for the Pirates. One being McCutchen, so if they move McCutchen you would expect them to be looking for some power to be coming back to them. Getting McCutchen for 2018 still gives the Dodgers the flexibility going forward as he will walk after the 2018 season.
Should the Dodgers trade for McCutchen?
The left field options at the moment appear to be Joc Pederson, Andrew Toles, and Alex Verdugo. Maybe a combination of any of those three along with Enrique Hernandez or Trayce Thompson could put up the same numbers that one would expect from McCutchen. Probably not, but maybe close enough that you don’t need to make this deal right now. I’d probably say no to acquiring McCutchen and see how those five outfielders along with Chris Taylor handle 2018. If the need arises during the summer, the team has plenty of options to still acquire that left or center fielder.
Of course, they could simply go with Matt Kemp in LF but does anyone really think this front office is going to go with that option? Matt’s contract counts against the Luxury tax at $20M per year for 2018 and 2019. At first glance you might think that Matt Kemp could slot in as that right handed left fielder against left hand pitching but if you dig deep enough you will find that Enrique Hernandez hits left hand pitching at a much better clip and gives you better defense.
I dislike writing this next sentence as I’ve always been a big Matt Kemp fan but I can’t see a role for Matt Kemp for the Dodgers and I will be curious if the Dodgers find a taker for his contract as they eat a good part of it (again) or if they simply release him as the Braves did Adrian Gonzalez.