It’s always nice to have someone worse off than you. For the Mets, we can always say – at least we’re not the Dodgers. Sure, the Dodgers won more games in 2011 and have bigger stars on the major league roster. But their ownership is a disaster, players seem unsure if they want to be there and the minor league system is unlikely to pump out four or five consecutive Rookie of the Year Award winners like it did from ’79-’82 and from ’92-’96.
You could make the argument that the Dodgers are in better position, because once the McCourt issue plays out, the Dodgers get new owners and many of their problems disappear. But Frank McCourt seems intent to do everything in his power to drag this out as long as possible, which from the Dodgers’ perspective means the 2012 season could very well have McCourt remaining as the team’s owner, yet still facing a severe cash shortage.
If this is indeed the way things play out, the Dodgers could look to move players signed to reasonable contracts given their production but still ones that are hard for a cash-strapped owner to afford. Here’s a look at some players the Dodgers might consider moving:
Andre Ethier – arbitration-eligible – likely to receive around $12 million
Ted Lilly – $12 million (last season of 3-year contract)
Chad Billingsley – $9 million (first season of 3-year contract)
All three of these players would be attractive for the Mets, although they would likely prefer some money to come back with Lilly if he was the only one acquired. The Dodgers may not be willing to part with pitching, given the free agent status of both Jon Garland (team option for $8 million) and Hiroki Kuroda. Regardless, the Dodgers are on the hook for $46.2 million for five players and have arbitration cases with Ethier, Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, James Loney and Hong-Chih Kuo. Additionally, Jonathan Broxton and several role players are free agents.
The Dodgers are likely to bring Loney back as their first baseman, although he’s never displayed the HR power you would prefer from the position. Dee Gordon has SS locked up but there are question marks for the club at both 2B and 3B. Jamey Carroll turns 38 in the offseason and is a free agent while Casey Blake, who has a $6 million team option, turned 38 during the 2011 season. Ivan DeJesus is an option at 2B, and so is bringing back Carroll on a cheap deal.
Third base seems like more of an issue. Last year, Juan Uribe (56 OPS+), Aaron Miles (84 OPS+) and Blake (99 OPS+) saw the most time at the position, with Uribe’s 463.3 innings at third, 53 starts, topping the ledger. Uribe is one of the five players the Dodgers have under contract for 2012 and the club has a history with Blake, having traded Carlos Santana to get him back in 2008. Still, it’s hard as an outsider not to look at 3B as a position the Dodgers have to upgrade.
The Mets could send Daniel Murphy to Los Angeles, where he could play his natural position of third base. They could also send Lucas Duda, who would provide more of a long ball threat at first base than Loney. Minor league outfielders like Kirk Nieuwenhuis or Matt den Dekker could be valuable trade chits, as well, since more of the Dodgers top prospects are pitchers. Perhaps one of the Mets’ collection of fourth starters would have value if the Dodgers gave up a pitcher.
There seems to be ways for the two teams to make a deal, if the Dodgers are concerned about payroll. If not, then it becomes significantly harder. It seems odd to think about the Mets being able to add payroll, but they do have some money to spend, especially if Jose Reyes goes elsewhere. The key will be getting value, which seems more likely for the Mets in the trade market than via free agency.
But with the Dodgers, it gets tricky. How much is Ethier worth, since he’s eligible for free agency in 2013? Billingsley looked very good in 2008 and 2010 and more like Mike Pelfrey in 2009 and 2011 – do you pay any kind of premium for that? These types of decisions are why Sandy Alderson makes the big bucks.
Here’s a blockbuster to chew on, a type of deal that gets made in fantasy baseball but not real life. This is not meant as a serious proposal, but something more of a thought exercise – one that provides value to both clubs:
Mets get – Chad Billingsley, Andre Ethier, James Loney and Juan Uribe
Dodgers get – Jason Bay, Lucas Duda, Daniel Murphy, Jonathon Niese
Why Mets do it
Ethier an upgrade in RF, Billingsley is a 27-year old one season removed from a 4.5 WAR, get out from Bay’s contract. With no emotional attachment to Loney, they non-tender him and save millions.
Why Dodgers do it
Get three pre-arbitration players, two of which fill needs. Giving up roughly $35 million in 2012 salary and take on roughly $17.5 million, which is a huge deal for a cash-strapped owner. Duda is an upgrade on Loney, Murphy an upgrade over whoever else would play 3B. Niese’s 2011 3.28 xFIP is much better than Billingsley’s 4.14 xFIP.
Why trade would not get done
No one wants Jason Bay, Dodgers feel it’s too much risk taking on two players coming back from injury in Murphy and Niese, Mets not willing to assume roughly $12.5 million more in payroll or worried that Ethier is strictly a rental and not worth sacrificing three cost-controlled assets.
Here’s the Mets’ lineup after the deal:
Nieuwenhuis gets to break in the majors playing LF and the Mets outfield defense improves tremendously by getting Duda out of RF, as well as having two nominal CF in the other slots. Ethier reversed recent trends by having a good defensive year in 2011, but even if he returns to 2008-10 levels, he’s still significantly better than Duda.
Santana, Billingsley, Dickey, Capuano, Pelfrey with Gee in reserve for the rotation. Do you think that’s a team that can contend for the Wild Card?