Thursday, May 15, 2014

Exploring some trade ideas involving the Dodgers and their outfielders

The Dodgers outfield situation has gotten a lot clearer. There's Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and everybody else. Scott Van Slyke is proving he can hit Major League pitching (really well) and is surprising everyone with his above-average defense. Joc Pederson continues to be the best-performing player in the minor leagues - he has a 1.125 OPS after 38 games in Triple-A, 11 stolen bases and numerous highlight catches. What more do you want the guy to do? Well, hit lefties, but that's what Van Slyke is for.

Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier are each doing about what you might expect, given their age. They're unfortunately similar right now. Neither can hit lefties at all, but are OK 400 plate-appearance/year outfielders getting paid a lot of money through 2017 ($66 million for Ethier, $77 million for Crawford). Ethier offers positional versatility and a little more on-base percentage. Crawford has way more speed, and that's about it. While Ethier is perceived as having more power, that's from people having a looooong memory. Their isolated slugging (ISO) has been about identical the last five years. Both are now firmly below the average Major League position player in ISO and they're unlikely to reverse the trend at age 32. With performance-enhancing drug testing in place, the vast majority of 32-year-olds are firmly on the downside of their MLB careers.

The Dodgers should feel comfortable now moving one (or both) of Ethier and Crawford for whatever they can get. Kemp's defense has been atrocious in center field, although maybe improving lately as he gets confidence in his health back. So I'd line up (LF-CF-RF) vs righties: Kemp/Pederson/Yasiel Puig and Van Slyke/Kemp/Puig vs. lefties.

So, what could they get for Crawford or Ethier?  Well, nothing, given the contracts. Either one could go on waivers and not be claimed. But if the Dodgers ate some money or threw in some other pieces, what could they get? Still not much, but that's more fun to think about than nothing.

Would the Dodgers be a better team just by getting rid of one? It's debatable. It opens a spot for Pederson, which is the only positive. But consider Miguel Olivo also had an 1.100 OPS at Albuquerque this year, which translated to .544 in the bigs. Ethier and Crawford are both serviceable role players on a first-division team, or the Dodgers would be tempted to just cut them.

Someone else's problem is what you could get. Best case, that's a small-market team with a good player due for a big payday. For example, Baltimore decides not to re-sign Matt Wieters ($12M-$15M in arbitration next year, then free agency). They need an outfielder and a starting pitcher (hey, the Dodgers have extra of those too!). But Wieters' elbow issue would likely preclude any deal this season, as he's already on the disabled list, but won't likely need Tommy John surgery.

Houston (Crawford's hometown team) could decide they have enough catching prospects that they can let Jason Castro go before his bill comes due. If the Dodgers pay basically all of Carl's salary, and throw in a prospect of our own, they'd oblige.

I focus on catchers because A.J. Ellis is getting old too, and given the starting point for his skills, a little decline makes him a backup pretty quick.

But more likely, it's just some other overpaid, not-very-good-anymore guy. That can work out just because the Dodgers have too many outfielders and someone else needs an outfield but has too many relief pitchers or something. Rafael Soriano, Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton all fit that bill.

What do the Dodgers need besides more overpaid ex-closers or young catchers? Backup infielders.

Wouldn't you know it, an expensive backup infielder got designated for assignment on Wednesday. Jeff Keppinger is a decent second baseman/not very good third baseman/emergency everything else who is owed about $7.5M this year and next, and might be expected to get on base at a .310 clip and slug .360. Not much of a fit. The White Sox also have reliever Matt Lindstrom earning $4M, and they'd probably like to get rid of him too. That's the kind of "why bother" package the Dodgers could probably get in trade. You have to really believe in Pederson to go down that road.

The Diamondbacks probably want to get rid of Didi Gregorius and probably want hometown, high-grit Ethier, if they can get over their seething resentment of all things Dodger. The Dodgers do not have a credible MLB-ready replacement shortstop right now, so that's a need they could fill.

It's hard to make a match, but the Dodgers have shown a willingness to get creative. If they give up on re-signing Hanley Ramirez, for example, there's some blockbusters to be put together. The Tigers and Yankees would very much like to have that conversation with us and that's a situation where you can make them take an albatross contract if they want to get the deal done (poor Crawford, shuffled as an unwanted throw-in from one rich team to another!). Of course, that gets back to the Dodgers not having a credible MLB-ready replacement SS right now and neither do those teams. So, even in this sad fantasy world where Ramirez doesn't see us anymore, it's still hard to get a match without a third team.

Photo credit: File photo


  1. It's alarming at how short the shelf life of a typical reliever is. Even with the addition of Perez, this is essentially the same bullpen as last year, and it's just inexplicably, exponentially worse than last year. You have to admit, the Giants are doing something right; Affeldt, Casilla and Romo have been shut down guys year after year after year after year for them.

  2. There has to be a way to dump Ethier and Crawford for at least something. Thinking about this year only, getting some bullpen help would seem to trump all other present issues. It's a given that the Dodgers will have to eat most of the salary for both these players, but since there flush with cash they can hack it. You're right to worry about skill and numbers transference from AAA to the bigs, but looking at Pederson's improved numbers in just one year, and with the jump from AA to AAA it would appear the time is right to give him a test drive. I love the outfield of Van Slyke, Kemp and Puig for lefties, and then swittching out Pederson for Van Slyke for righties. That would be the short term idea. If Kemp regresses then who knows - maybe Van Slyke, Pederson and Puig. With these insane salaries the Dodgers have also saddled themselves with players who don't perform and yet project an air of entitlement. It's time to move this team in the right direction. And keeping Crawford and Ethier after this year makes no sense. So get at least something for them. Plus, there are better options line-up wise at present than putting either of their names penciled in as starters.