Dodgers: Scrounging for Cash to Free Agent Sign Yu Darvish

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 27: Yu Darvish
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 27: Yu Darvish /

The Los Angeles Dodgers are attempting to field a championship-caliber team and at the same time keep their payroll total below the luxury tax limit. However, if they wish to add a big-ticket free agent such as Yu Darvish, they are going to have a difficult time unless they shed some payroll first.

Yu Darvish is rightfully considered the choicest free agent starting pitcher for interested teams this baseball offseason. While the Dodgers’ competition is stiff, there’s still reason to believe they can bring Darvish back. However, for the Dodgers to sign the strikeout machine, they need some found money; akin to someone like me scrounging for change under the couch cushions. Except instead of nickels and dimes, we’re talking tens of millions of dollars.

The Dodgers projected 2018 payroll total being floated around right now is $183 million. To avoid next year’s luxury tax penalty, LA needs to have that total stay below $197 million. How can the Dodgers reduce the current payroll to something closer to $170 million, and therefore create enough available funds in their budget to add Darvish? Immediately, I think of the Dodgers trading some of their higher-salaried players.

If a team wants to take on Matt Kemp’s contract, that would be the cure for all ills. It just doesn’t seem realistic to expect anything like that happening. We might as well welcome him back because, more than likely, the Dodgers keep Kemp or release him if they need the roster space at some point. Either way, they would be on the hook for his salary. It would not have any ramifications on the reduction of payroll.

A good bet to be traded, if the team does look to go in the payroll reduction direction, is Yasmani Grandal. Don’t take this the wrong way, Yasmani, we like you. The Dodgers traded a person they were in an long term deal with for you. The problem is you make a lot for a catcher and, let’s admit it, “Sam” is pretty good. Liberating the team of Grandal’s projected salary would bring the payroll down another $7 to 8 million. Now we’re getting somewhere, but there’s still work to do to be able to pay a player of Darvish’s stature.

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Right-handed relief pitcher Pedro Baez is a Dodger who also could be traded to free up money for Yu Darvish. He’s projected to earn $1 to 2 million next year through the arbitration process. Although he provides nice value at that rate, Baez is one of the more replaceable pieces on the team.

Another player that it might make financial sense to trade is Joc Pederson.  He is projected to make around $2 million. Not a huge sum for a left-handed power hitter who can play all three outfield positions. Pederson is worth the money. I don’t imagine him getting traded just for the sake of freeing salary. However, if the return is equitable and it means the continuation of Darvish in Dodger blue, trading Pederson has got to be considered a possibility.

Finally, and most likely to never happen, is a scenario where the Dodgers trade left-handed starting pitcher Alex Wood, too. Maybe he is packaged with Matt Kemp forcing any willing trade partner into absorbing the financial burden of Kemp’s contract. There would be no shortage of interested teams should Wood ever be placed on the trading block after the excellent, Kershaw-esque season he just turned in. And at a projected salary of around $6 to 7 million next season, he comes at a bargain price point. If a trade involving Wood ever went down, it most certainly would preclude the signing of a dominant starting pitcher such as Yu Darvish. On the surface, this appears to be a classic example of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Wood does have a history of injuries, though, so there is a bit of logic to this hypothesis.

Next: 2018 is a year for the Dodgers to rely on youth

It’d be quite a coup for the Dodgers to retain elite starter Yu Darvish for their rotation, but at what cost? To pay Darvish’s salary and also avoid the MLB tax penalty, Los Angeles would need to reduce payroll. There is little chance of a Matt Kemp trade, but they could trade away several arbitration-eligible players in order to free up some spending cash. Yasmani Grandal, Pedro Baez, and Joc Pederson represent viable options to consider. Trading Alex Wood would, more than likely, be counter-productive to the task of building a championship ballclub. But, hey, why not? It’d be all for Yu.