The overloaded Dodgers outfield dates back to this time last year, which was before top prospect Joc Pederson had emerged as probably ready for the big leagues, and before Scott Van Slyke had put together another quietly excellent year as a reserve. That is to say, last year, the problem was only the existence of four guys for three spots: Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp.
Today, the problem remains, and the Dodgers are apparently very open about their desire to move an outfielder this offseason to remedy the glut (and probably to alleviate their payroll, too). Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman have reported that the Dodgers are “aggressively” (Rosenthal’s word) trying to put together an outfield deal, and Joel Sherman joins them this morning with a similar report.
From the sound of each report, Yasiel Puig is not a serious threat to be traded, and the preference appears to be to deal Crawford and/or Ethier, especially now that Kemp has rebounded and might actually have some value to the Dodgers going forward. The Dodgers would listen on Kemp, however.
On Crawford and Ethier, the Dodgers can’t realistically be looking for more than salary relief. Ethier, who will play next year at age 33, is set to make $18 million in 2015 and 2016, $17.5 million in 2017, and then will have a 2018 option bought out at $2.5 million (per Cot’s). Crawford, 33, is set to make $21.4 million in 2015, $21.6 million in 2016, and $21.9 million in 2017.
Crawford, now full recovered from Tommy John surgery a few years ago, has actually been an above-average player the last two years. Will that continue for three more years, and is he worth even, say, $10 million per year for that stretch? Well, those are trickier questions, given his speed-based skills. Last year, Crawford hit .300/.339/.429 with a very good 119 wRC+, which is about what you can hope for if the speed sticks around. He won’t take walks and he doesn’t have much pop, but he makes contact and he gets on base with that speed. Defensively, he’s limited to left field, but he’s not bad there.
Ethier is coming off of a down 2014 season in which he hit .249/.322/.370 with a 98 wRC+, and that mostly came against righties, whom he hits much better than lefties. He may still have value in a platoon role (he was good in 2012 and 2013), but that’s probably it. One positive for Ethier is that he can theoretically play anywhere in the outfield, but he isn’t particularly strong at it anymore.
Is there anything here for the Cubs to nab? Well, they could stand to add an outfielder, and they are in a position to take on a “bad” contract for a cheap return. But I’m not sure that Crawford or Ethier are the right fit for the Cubs, given their limited defensive ability and downside risk. And, not to go too far with one breakout season, but I’m not sure either guy can be a reliably better version of the similar left fielder the Cubs already have in Chris Coghlan.
Sure, there’s an amount of money the Dodgers could eat on these deals (and ask for nothing in return) that there could be value to the Cubs here, but, if they’re going to trade for an outfielder, I’d rather they picked up a clear every-game starter with less downside risk (i.e., a one-year guy like a Justin Upton (or not) or a Jason Heyward or a Denard Span or an Alex Gordon, etc.), even when considering the huge difference in acquisition cost.
If the Dodgers decide to shop Van Slyke or maybe even Kemp, on the other hand, there might be more of a conversation there.
One final note: Sherman’s piece indicates that the Dodgers might want a back-end starter on an ugly contract in this kind of deal, so your obviously leap is going to be to Edwin Jackson. Maybe there’s something there, but I’m not sure the Dodgers will want to gamble on Jackson in the rotation unless they were getting significant salary relief in the deal … and I really doubt the Cubs would take on Crawford’s or Ethier’s entire deal just to be parted with Jackson (the difference in total commitments is $34 million for Ethier and $40 million for Crawford). Maybe if everyone wanted to get very creative, and the Dodgers also include a prospect plus a little cash? Or some other valuable piece? I suppose it’s possible.