There seems to be a prevailing thought amongst Dodgers fans that the team is not going to spend money and remain as is, missing out on re-signing big players again. The new CBA agreement has put a serious hit on the Dodgers’ payroll budget, unless they want to add to their spending by paying a bunch of taxes. Which, presumably, they would not want to do.
So what would the team look like if they were not to go out and drop a ton of money on a big free agent signing? As it stands, the Dodgers are close to $200 million already for the upcoming season, and would need to stay below $235 million if they would like to avoid paying a 95% tax rate that occurs if a team spends over that $235 million threshold.
The most pressing needs that the Dodgers have right now, of course, are at third base and closer. Both positions are open, due to the Dodgers having had the top free agents at those positions in the previous season. Obviously, that’s the way it works, with both open at the same time, at a time when the Dodgers seem to need to cut back on spending. It seems highly unlikely that the Dodgers would resign both Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen.
At third, there are not many other options out there as free agents. Luis Valbuena and Trevor Plouffe are two to be considered. Valbuena has troubles against lefties, and the Dodgers already have enough of that. He is also coming off a hamstring injury. Trevor Plouffe was on the DL three times in 2016, but was solid in the two seasons before that. He hits lefties well, and could be a viable, less expensive option than Turner. As far as trades go, the name Chase Headley has been thrown around, with Brandon McCarthy sent back to New York in exchange. Headley is due $26 million over the next two years. Turner is projected to receive upwards of $15 million a year.
At closer, there are three really good options this offseason, including Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, and Mark Melancon. Jansen is the best option, but also the most expensive. Chapman has asked for a $100 million contract. I highly doubt he would receive that. Could Kenley reach that high? That seems unlikely also. But could he get four years at $18 million per year? Who knows what the market will be for Kenley. While the Dodgers had one of the best bullpens last season, they don’t have an in house option to take the place of Kenley, and top notch relievers are not something other teams are looking to trade away. I think the Dodgers need to keep him at all costs. One, he’s the best available. I love what I saw from him this postseason, feeding off of Kershaw and going out in whatever inning and for however long was needed to get the job done. Two, to keep him off a team the Dodgers could face in the playoffs, or worse, within the division, like the Giants. But having said that, if the Dodgers are looking to keep costs down, Melancon is a cheaper option, and not a terrible replacement for Kenley. Still, given a choice, take Kenley.
The Dodgers also need a second baseman. Re-signing Chase Utley would be a good option. While Utley is up there in years, he has been an incredible influence on Corey Seager, and would continue to be a great veteran presence in the clubhouse, especially if Turner and Jansen leave. As long as Utley is not slated to be the leadoff hitter again, he’s a dependable defender, and LA has backup in newly re-signed Charlie Culberson, and if needed, backup catcher Austin Barnes.
If the Dodgers are to remain competitive, they will have to spend somewhere. I don’t see where they can stay pat or improve without doing so. But even though they have said that retaining both Jansen and Turner are high priorities, they may just walk away from both like they did from Zack Greinke. Although they may have had an idea about the amount of taxes that they would have to pay, the front office may be reigned in by the ownership. On the other side, they hired these particular people in the front office for their ability to make things happen on a limited budget. It will be very interesting to see what happens next week at the Winter Meetings.