The Big Three
Three of the above names will undoubtedly be talked about more than the rest of them put together: Harper, Kershaw and Machado. How would each of them fit in with the Dodgers? Let’s examine each one separately, without bias (to the best of our ability), looking at the pros and cons for each.
Bryce Harper: Will be 26 at free agency; will have just over 6 years of service time; will have made just under $48 million in his career.
For the Dodgers, Harper does not make dollars or sense. The number that has been kicked around for more than a year is $400 million. Ten years at $350 million is probably more realistic. He could get a Stanton-like $360-380 million.
Which teams couldn spend that and still be able to field a good team around him? Yes, the Dodgers could. The Yankees could. The Cubs could. The Astros could. But is that money sustainable. Clearly, it wasn’t for the Miami Marlins.
Could teams defer money to sport a lower present-day payroll? Yes, but now you’re talking about a 15- or 20-year deal.
So where does this leave Harper? Well, the Yankees are probably out because of the Stanton trade. The Cubs would need to find a way to dump Jason Heyward.
The Astros have only $56 million on the books for 2019. But they have great financial and personnel flexibility because they aren’t tied to any long-term contract beyond 2020.
Does that leave only L.A.? If so, here’s hoping the front office takes a good, hard look at Harper’s numbers.
Besides 2015, when, at 22, he hit .330 and led the league in home runs (42), runs (118), on-base percentage (.460), slugging percentage (.649), OPS (1.109) and OPS+ (198, where league average is 100), Harper has been All-Star caliber, but not much greater.
In his six full seasons, he’s averaged 128 games, 32 home runs, 89 RBIs and slashed .285/.386/.515.
Bottom line: There is no way on Earth that Andrew Friedman will pay $350 million for those numbers, especially considering Harper will be somewhere between 35 and 40 when his contract expires.
Clayton Kershaw: Will be 30 at free agency; will have just over 10 years of service time; will have made just under $165 million in his career.
As a whole, position players age better and are safer bets for long-team contracts than pitchers (anyone remember Darren Dreifort and his 5/$55 million deal and his nine wins in those five years?).
Kershaw has done a lot of high-stress pitching the last five Octobers, when the Dodgers didn’t hesitate to use him on short rest multiple times in the first four of those five years.
At 29, Kershaw has already had back issues. There is absolutely nothing wrong with his mercurial left arm, but pitchers’ backs don’t get better. They may feel better in spurts but, once injured, they tend to stay that way.
If Kershaw can stay healthy all year and start 30-plus games, he would earn more on the open market if he chooses to opt out.
And, if he does opt out, the Texas Rangers have been bandied about as the place he’d most like to play. He’s from Dallas and still lives there in the off-season.
Playing near home is probably the only thing that would keep this humble and team-oriented future Hall of Famer from returning to the Dodgers.
A safe bet for Kershaw if he opts out: $200 million over five years. The Dodgers would have to search deep in their collective soul to determine if it’s feasible to pay a pitcher who is arguably the greatest left-handed pitcher in history (sorry, Mr. Koufax), but who would be 35 in the final year of that deal.
It all comes down to whether the Dodgers think Kershaw will age well or not.
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Manny Machado: Will be 26 at free agency; will have just over 6 years of service time; made just over $18 million in his first five years (he is arbitration-eligible this off-season).
Machado has made it clear he wants to be a shortstop. His numbers play well as a third baseman, but they would really shine as a shortstop. Machado has also intimated that he wants to be a Yankee.
Could Machado get more than Harper? Probably not, only because the Harper hype machine is already in third gear and quickly heading for fourth.
Could the Dodgers get involved in the Machado machine? Yes. And he could even become their shortstop. He would supplant a guy by the name of Corey Seager, whom scouts and pundits have hinted could possibly end up at third later in his career.
Imagine that infield: Bellinger at first, anyone at second, Machado at short, and Seager at third.
Machado has a history of having two bad knees, and shortstop would require more range and would be more taxing than third.
He’s played 52 career games at short, including 45 in 2016. As a three-time Gold Glove winner at third, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t be one of the game’s best defensive shortstops in his first full year at the position.
So, what does it all mean? It’s simple: The Dodgers’ front office will make a decision on whether to trade or DFA Matt Kemp. They will decide which, if any, of the 2018 pending free agents will be worth chasing.
And, in the end, they will do the right thing for the Dodgers and every Dodger fan.