The Los Angeles Dodgers are about to have a very good problem on their hands. With Carl Crawford activated from the disabled list on Friday, the team now has four quality outfielders due in part to the emergence of rookie phenom Yasiel Puig. Now the Dodgers need to figure out if they want to keep all four or try to move one.
On Friday, Crawford came off the bench as a pinch hitter for Matt Kemp who left the game with a shoulder injury. But assuming Kemp isn’t out for the long term, a trade may be a strong possibility for Los Angeles.
First, a recap of how each has fared this season:
Yasiel Puig: Puig is the new guy on the block and as a rookie, has showed extreme promise this year. He’s a candidate for the All-Star team and maybe even the frontrunner for the National League’s Rookie of the Year award. Puig is batting well over .400 and already has eight home runs and 19 RBI in only a month’s time.
Matt Kemp: Kemp hasn’t had the type of season he’s had in years past. In fact, he’s on pace for his worst year since his rookie season of 2006, batting only .254 with four home runs and 24 RBI. And while he’s stealing more bases this season than last year when he missed a large chunk of games, his nine this year are significantly off the pace from his near MVP season in 2011 when he had 40. The outfielder is even down defensively as the five errors he already has are a career-high.
Andre Ethier: Like Kemp, Andre Ethier is also having a down year. The outfielder is striking out less but is hitting fewer home runs, driving in fewer runs, and batting only .260 heading into Friday night. Offensively, Ethier is also on track for the worst season in his career.
Carl Crawford: Crawford’s value has diminished in past years as he’s no longer a major stolen base threat. But he’s still having a good season for the Dodgers batting over .300 going into Friday when he was activated from the disabled list. And of the three veterans, his OPS of .828 ranks the highest.
So what’s all of this mean?
Out of the group, Puig is the only untouchable due to his low major league service time and through the roof potential. He’s not eligible for arbitration until 2016 and can’t become a free agent until 2019. If there’s one guy who is not a trade candidate, it’s Puig.
Soon to be 32, Crawford is the oldest among the veterans. But batting .300 and leading the others in OPS, he’s arguably having the best season. The Dodgers have a losing record, but are still in contention in the mediocre NL West. Do they really want to trade away their best performing veteran outfielder at this point? Probably not. Plus, even though he’s hitting well this year, without much power and his former abilities on the basepaths, teams won’t be in much of a hurry to pick up the $80 million he’ll make over the next four seasons.
That leaves Kemp and Ethier. Neither is a particularly cheap option when it comes to finances, but Ethier isn’t as expensive. Kemp is still owed $126 million over the next six seasons. Ethier is owed about $86 million over the next five years, but his final season is a team option. If his team opts out, that could take his deal down to about $70 million with a small buyout owed.
Despite the cost, Kemp would still bring more as a trade chip since he’s younger and has more potential. Kemp is also only two years from his monster 2011 season when he led the league in home runs (39) and RBI (126), batted .324, had 40 stolen bases, and won a Gold Glove. It’s not that a Kemp trade is out of the question but it’s highly unlikely.
When it comes down to it, Ethier is the most likely option to be traded. The only problem will be in finding a suitable partner willing to pay his steep salary over the next five years. Teams like the Pirates, Rangers, Reds, and Athletics are teams in playoff contention that could use an upgrade in the outfield. But in the end, the cost may drive them all out of the market.
One thing’s for sure – if all four stay, finding at bats for all of them could be challenging.