Why Dodgers ditched Harper

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T15D23
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Why Dodgers ditched Harper

Postby T15D23 » Fri Feb 01, 2019 2:04 pm

Why the Dodgers pulled away from Bryce Harper; Nolan Arenado’s future; prospect on the move?
Ken Rosenthal

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If Bryce Harper signs with the Padres – the low-revenue, eight-straight-losing-season Padres – some Dodgers fans might stomp their feet hard enough to cause an earthquake.

The Dodgers’ big outfield addition, free-agent center fielder A.J. Pollock, is a better defender than Harper and, as a right-handed hitter, better balances the team’s lineup. At a maximum of $60 million over five years, Pollock also will be less expensive than Harper, perhaps by hundreds of millions.

It’s understandable some fans still see Harper, 26, as a better choice – he’s five years younger, more durable, a former MVP, a bigger star. But the Dodgers have won six straight division titles, reached the NLCS in four of the past six years and appeared in back-to-back World Series. When exactly do they get the benefit of the doubt?

Yes, they could spend more. A team – particularly one with an $8.5 billion TV deal – always could spend more. Still, fans of most other clubs would love their team to carry the same payroll as the Dodgers and achieve similar success.

To this point, only two teams – the Nationals ($188 million) and Yankees ($140.05 million) – have made greater free-agent investments this offseason than the Dodgers, whose signings of Pollock, reliever Joe Kelly, left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu and infielder David Freese add up to $107.4 million. Combine those with a new three-year, $93 million deal for ace lefty Clayton Kershaw – a deal that was necessary to prevent him from becoming a free agent – and the Dodgers are tops.

The teams that sign Harper and Manny Machado almost certainly will surpass the Dodgers in spending, but Los Angeles is within $4.3 million of the $206 million luxury-tax threshold, according to rosterresource.com, and quite possibly will exceed the number after factoring in performance bonuses and midseason additions. Let’s not forget, the Dodgers have made significant acquisitions at the past three non-waiver deadlines – Rich Hill and Josh Reddick in 2016, Yu Darvish in ‘17 and Machado in ‘18.

So, what’s the rub?

Expectations. Like the Yankees, the Dodgers last season achieved their years-long quest to get under the threshold and reset their penalty rate to the minimum 20 percent. Fans of both clubs anticipated spending sprees for a Harper or Machado. It hasn’t happened in either case, though retaining Kershaw certainly figured into the Dodgers’ planning.

Teams, though, do not simply want to get below the threshold one time. Dodgers president Stan Kasten, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times’ Dylan Hernandez, said: “If we can do whatever we do and stay under, there are a lot of advantages to being under — by the way, a lot more advantages than you all write about . . . I’m not going to go into that because that’s real inside baseball economic stuff.”

Kasten wasn’t only referring to the taxes and surtaxes teams face for exceeding the three tiers of the threshold, or the loss of 10 spots in the draft order for going $40 million over. Other parts of the collective bargaining agreement also figure into the equation, though typically in less meaningful fashion.

If a big-market team such as the Dodgers exceeds the threshold for at least two consecutive years, it forfeits a percentage of the revenue-sharing refund it would otherwise receive. Teams also must remain in compliance with the debt-service rule, earning enough profits to adequately service their debt.

Again: The Dodgers could spend more. But club officials point out that not only will their 2019 payroll be among the highest in the NL, but that the team also will rank among the industry leaders in spending on facilities, front-office staff, revenue sharing and scouting and player development. Oh, and by the way, according to the Steamer projection system on Fangraphs, the Dodgers currently project to 93 wins, most in the NL even without Harper.

The Dodgers, unlike most clubs, do not need Harper to boost attendance (they’ve led the majors six straight years) or enhance their local TV appeal (while most regular-season games remain blacked out in the LA market, the team’s landmark deal extends through 2038). And, like other clubs, they had reservations about Harper’s defense and consistency, as well as his desired length of contract.

Teams generally find better values on corner outfielders than they do on other players. Harper, obviously, is better than most corner outfielders, but the Dodgers did not necessarily see him as the right player for, say, a 10-year commitment.

Machado, a right-handed hitter, would have been a better fit, but the Dodgers became less enamored of him once they got to know him. The Rockies’ Nolan Arenado and Nationals’ Anthony Rendon are potential free-agent targets after the 2019 season, with third baseman Justin Turner under contract only through ‘20. Even if Arenado and Rendon sign extensions (see below), a number of other attractive stars – Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor – could hit the market in the years ahead.

By incorporating a large number of quality 0-to-3 players, the Dodgers sustained success while holding off on major expenditures in recent seasons; Andrew Friedman has yet to award a $100 million contract since taking over as president of baseball operations in October 2014. Eventually – after years of trading prospects, selecting at the bottom of the draft and operating with smaller international signing bonus pools – the Dodgers will be in less of a position of strength.

When that happens – and when their division rivals, several of which are rebuilding, start to pose more of a threat – the Dodgers will be well-positioned to react to their increased urgency, well-positioned to spend big. They will benefit from the money they saved. The money they declined to spend on Bryce Harper.

Not necessarily yearning to be free

Though the Dodgers and Yankees are among the teams that likely would be interested in Arenado and Rendon as free agents, it’s possible both third basemen will sign extensions and never reach the open market next offseason.

Arenado settled on Thursday with the Rockies on a one-year, $26 million contract, a record for an arbitration-eligible player. He had asked for $30 million. The Rockies had offered him $24 million. A hearing was scheduled to take place within the next week.

While it’s difficult to imagine the Rockies saying much negative about Arenado, a hearing might have torpedoed the team’s chances of signing him long-term. The settlement, on the other hand, makes it more realistic Arenado will remain in Colorado for the rest of his career.

The two sides agreed on Arenado’s new contract after a face-to-face meeting of several hours among Arenado, his agent Joel Wolfe, Rockies GM Jeff Bridich and owner/CEO Dick Montfort, sources said. In a meeting of that length, a one-year deal surely was not the only topic of conversation.

Arenado, who has won six straight Gold Gloves and averaged 40 homers the past four seasons, need not wait for Harper and Machado to sign their free-agent deals. If anything, the difficulties those two players are facing in the open market might make him more inclined to sign an extension. As a free agent, Arenado would hear questions about his age (he would hit the open market entering his age 29 season) and home-road splits (he has a career .984 OPS at Coors Field, compared to a .787 OPS on the road).

Rendon, who would hit the market entering his age 30 season, has spoken openly of his desire to remain with the Nationals long-term. The chances of the two sides reaching agreement almost certainly would improve if Harper – who is represented by the same agent, Scott Boras – signed with another team.

As reported previously, Rendon is targeting the seven-year, $163.5 million contract second baseman Jose Altuve signed with the Astros before the 2018 season. Altuve was a year younger at the time and already had won a World Series and league MVP. But Rendon arguably has become one of the game’s top 10 players.

Reds’ India on the move?

The Reds selected University of Florida third baseman Jonathan India fifth overall in the 2018 draft, but it would not be a surprise if they included him in a trade for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto in the coming days. A rival executive notes India was a bit of a disappointment in his professional debut, adding the Reds have been quietly shopping him all offseason.

When asked what “quietly shopping” meant, the exec said the Reds started the offseason saying they were willing to move prospects. When rival clubs inquired, the Reds would steer the conversation to India, admitting they were unwilling to part with either infielder Nick Senzel or outfielder Taylor Trammell.

India, 22, was not necessarily considered a top pick entering his junior year at Florida, but he raised his stock with a big season. A top-five college selection normally is expected to dominate Low A, but India batted a mere .229 with a .735 OPS in 112 plate appearances in the Midwest League, perhaps giving the Reds pause.

“For him to be available all winter is telling,” the rival exec said.

The Marlins continue to talk to the Reds and other clubs about Realmuto, and they could package him with reliever Nick Wittgren, whom they designated for assignment in a surprise move on Tuesday.

Wittgren, 27, arguably was the Marlins’ second-best reliever last season after Drew Steckenrider, posting a 2.94 ERA and .629 opponents’ OPS in 33 2/3 innings.

Hey, leave the Rays alone!

A number of media reports indicated the Rays were a target of baseball’s recent proposals to reinstate the 15-day disabled list and increase the amount of time an optioned player must spend in the minors, also from 10 to 15 days. But the facts show the Rays’ introduction of “the opener” last season did not result in them manipulating either rule.

According to unofficial data obtained by The Athletic, the Rays ranked 12th in the number of pitchers optioned in 2018, increasing their total by just one from the previous year. The Angels led the majors with 42 pitchers optioned, followed by the Mets, Dodgers, Brewers and Braves. The Astros were last with nine.

The number of minimum-length DL stays for pitchers, meanwhile, totaled just 39 league-wide, an indication “the phantom DL” is perhaps not as big a problem as baseball believes. The Dodgers had five pitchers serve the minimum time, and the only other teams with more than two such stints were the Phillies (four), the Rangers (four) and the Red Sox. The Rays were one of nine clubs with zero.

Based on the numbers, it’s difficult to conclude the Rays employed their new and revolutionary pitching structure to exploit the system.

Around the horn

Information from major-league sources:

*How badly do the Phillies need Harper or Machado? For all the work they’ve done this offseason – adding outfielder Andrew McCutchen, shortstop Jean Segura, reliever David Robertson and others – the Steamer system projects the Phils will finish only fourth in the NL East at 79-83, behind the Nationals, Mets and Braves.

The Phillies could always load up with free agents besides Harper and Machado and wait for their Holy Grail, the Angels’ Mike Trout, who is scheduled to hit the open market after the 2020 season. But who knows if Trout – a native of Millville, N.J., and die-hard Eagles fan – will even become available? Like Arenado and Rendon, Trout might sign an extension before reaching free agency.

*The one-year, $4.5 million deal between free-agent left-hander Wade Miley and the Astros is notable from both the player’s and team’s perspective.

Miley, 32, insisted upon a deal without a club option, believing he will build upon his 2018 revival and land a bigger contract next offseason.

The Astros, meanwhile, now have four starting pitchers entering free-agent years – Miley, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Collin McHugh. The return of free-agent left-hander Dallas Keuchel still would make sense as a long-term hedge against one or more of their departures.

*A number of additional teams expressed trade interest in outfielder Joc Pederson after the Dodgers signed A.J. Pollock, but it’s not out of the question Pederson will remain in Los Angeles. Even with the addition of Pollock, the trades of Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp left the Dodgers with less of a surplus in their outfield. Club officials also are wary of losing Pederson, who hit 24 homers and produced an .893 OPS in 386 plate appearances against right-handed pitching last season.
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