<
>

Olney: Dodgers, Braves both profit from creative, debt-defying deal

Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos struck a win-win deal with his former team, the Dodgers. David Goldman/AP Photo

In the midst of the winter meetings, the New York Yankees pulled off a small and inspired trade with the San Diego Padres. Needing rotation help, San Diego was really interested in pitcher Bryan Mitchell, who was at the fringes of the Yankees’ pitching staff and out of options to be sent back to the minors. So the Yankees and Padres arranged what was effectively a purchase of Mitchell: San Diego agreed to take Chase Headley and his $13.5 million salary along with Mitchell, and the two sides dressed it up with San Diego moving journeyman outfielder Jabari Blash to New York.

The Padres got their pitcher, the Yankees got some salary relief. Smart.

But that trade was algebra compared to the calculus that the Braves and Dodgers pulled off Saturday, a blockbuster filled with big names and big salaries and solutions on both sides.

The terms: The Dodgers traded first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir, and infielder Charlie Culberson -- plus $4.5 million -- in return for outfielder Matt Kemp.

The list of fixed problems is long:

1. By doing this, swapping three high-priced veterans for one, the Dodgers addressed their luxury-tax problem. In 2018, Gonzalez ($22.6 million), Kazmir ($17.67 million) and McCarthy ($11.5 million) were set to make a total of $52 million, in the last season of their respective contracts; Kemp is set to make $21.75 million in each of the next two years. With the Dodgers kicking in $4.5 million, the overall swap of money is equal, but because the savings is frontloaded for the Dodgers, they slide under the 2018 competitive balance tax of $197 million.

The Braves will effectively swap some financial flexibility to the Dodgers, who, if they remain below the threshold in 2018 -- and knowing the discipline of baseball ops chief Andrew Friedman, that’s a lock -- will have a tax rate of 20 percent rather than 50 percent if they go over in 2019. They’ll have more money to spend, if they choose, for the historic free-agent class of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado et al next fall.

2. The Dodgers had a problem with Gonzalez that has been resolved. The long-time star suffered injuries last year, lost his every-day job at first base to Cody Bellinger during the season and was in the middle of some tension during the postseason. Bellinger is a young star and Gonzalez is in the twilight of his career, and it was time for the relationship to end -- which Gonzalez recognized. He had to waive his no-trade clause in order to make the accounting of this deal happen, and now, after the Braves pass him through waivers, he’ll have a chance to be a free agent and find a better opportunity than he would have had in L.A.

3. The Braves had a problem with Kemp. The 33-year-old has some of the worst defensive metrics among outfielders, and Atlanta finished last in the majors in defensive runs saved in left field. SunTrust Park’s dimensions are somewhat similar to those of Yankee Stadium, with the biggest part of the outfield in left field and left-center, and at this stage of Kemp’s career, he was a terrible fit. The Braves really couldn’t trade him in a player-for-player deal, coming off an injury-shortened, slightly above-average offensive season.

But now they dump him on the Dodgers, who seem destined to release Kemp before the start of spring training because he doesn’t fit with them either. Atlanta will replace him with a much better defensive left fielder who has a better chance of helping the Braves’ young pitchers.

4. In McCarthy, the Braves add a veteran starter who might effectively replace R.A. Dickey in their rotation. Last season, the 34-year-old McCarthy pitched 92⅔ innings in 19 games and he threw effectively, walking 27 and posting an adjusted ERA+ of 105. Kazmir wasn’t healthy and his velocity was way down last year, but he has been working on rebuilding, something he has done in the past; for the Braves, he’s a lottery ticket.

5. The Braves got a shortstop they needed in Culberson. The consensus within the Braves organization last summer, before the arrival of Alex Anthopoulos, was that shortstop Dansby Swanson was rushed to the big leagues in the summer of 2016. Back then, the Braves were preparing for the move to SunTrust and were trying signal a turnaround for patrons, and Swanson is a Georgia native and a former No. 1 overall pick.

He struggled at the outset of 2017, but played better later in the season. But if the front office feels they want to give Swanson more time in the minors for fine-tuning, Culberson is a perfect candidate.

Anthopoulos worked for the Dodgers in recent seasons, and when the Braves hired him in November, he was well-armed with a deep knowledge of L.A.’s challenges and concerns; he was perfectly positioned to pull off this trade with Friedman.

• The Dodgers-Braves deal is a classic example of the value of conversation, of relationships, and of what can be accomplished at the winter meetings. The two sides began talking before baseball’s gathering in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, and then held a larger, conceptual meeting Wednesday, before wrapping up the deal on Saturday.

This is why new Marlins honcho Derek Jeter should have been at the winter meetings, and why he should be there in future years, if he wants to credibly operate a baseball operations department. Showing up is part of the gig, because you never know what conversation, what meeting, what relationship will spark a larger, greater idea. If he’d rather focus on the business side -- and maybe that’s where his true passion is -- then he can hand the reins of the baseball work to Michael Hill, give him a budget and be there to sign off.

News from around MLB

Mike Trout married longtime girlfriend Jessica Cox on Dec. 9, and was on his honeymoon all last week. But as the Angels followed up on their successful campaign to land Shohei Ohtani by trading for second baseman Ian Kinsler and third baseman-to-be Zack Cozart, Trout -- who had been involved in the Ohtani pursuit, by FaceTiming with the two-way star -- was happily swapping celebratory text messages over the roster upgrades.

The Angels’ infield defense should be pretty good, with Andrelton Simmons flanked by Cozart and Kinsler, and the lineup will have far greater depth. Cozart had an OPS of .933 in 438 at-bats last season, and Kinsler has scored 401 runs over the past four seasons. The Angels’ rotation has been decimated by injuries the past couple of seasons, but in the week ahead, the staff will meet to discuss the possibility of a six-man rotation that has a chance to be pretty good -- Garrett Richards, Ohtani, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney and others. If the Angels get 28 to 30 starts from everyone in that group, they could be dangerous.

And it’s important for the Angels to be dangerous in the next few seasons. Trout could be eligible for free agency after the 2020 season, and that beneath his smile and his gregarious nature, he is hypercompetitive. In the same way that former Braves talk about John Smoltz’s relentless desire to win at everything from golf to pingpong, Trout burns for success on the field. There’s no question that the Angels will be willing to pay the inner-circle Hall of Famer in his next extension; what is unknown, at this point, is whether Trout wants to stay with the Angels for his next contract, which will potentially extend to the end of his career.

Trout has been regarded as baseball’s best player for about 5½ seasons, but in that time, he has played only three games in the postseason, all losses. A return will help the Angels’ case for him to stay.

• The Angels will have a lineup that leans heavily to the right -- the side from which Trout, Kinsler, Cozart, Justin Upton, Albert Pujols, Martin Maldonado and others all bat. At the core of the Houston lineup is the right-handed-hitting George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. Interestingly, the Rangers will have a rotation mostly filled with left-handed pitchers -- Cole Hamels, Martin Perez, the newly acquired Matt Moore and perhaps Mike Minor.

• As of Saturday morning, the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks had demonstrated the most interest in Manny Machado, according to AL sources. Some execs involved in the talks still wonder if Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos will give a final approval to a Machado deal in the face of some negative fan reaction. But a lot of Baltimore fans are sophisticated and understand that Machado won’t re-sign with the Orioles after 2018, and that swapping him gives the franchise its best chance to acquire young pitching talent.

ICYMI: Jesse Rogers has a great piece on Kyle Schwarber’s effort to lose weight and give himself a better chance to play the outfield effectively. … Why the Yankees should consider batting Aaron Judge in the leadoff spot. … On our winter meetings wrap-up podcast, Keith Law reviews some of the discussions; Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports on the Orioles’ efforts to trade Manny Machado; Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post on the Nationals and Bryce Harper.

And today will be better than yesterday.