During their quest to acquire every player in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers seem to have overbooked their outfield. Going into 2014, they have four starting-level players all under team control at least through 2017. Three of those four earn average annual salaries of at least $17.8 million, and the other is Yasiel Puig, who's by far the most integral of the lot to the Dodgers' future.
This season, Matt Kemp's ankle injury kept the outfield surplus from being much of an issue, but with the National League's 2011 MVP runner-up set to return in spring training, the Dodgers will need to make some sort of move. Even an ownership group with an apparent bottomless pit of cash at its disposal would have to balk at the idea of paying someone an all-star type salary to sit on the bench.
Puig is as likely to be a Dodger on opening day next year as the sun is to rise in the east tomorrow. Kemp, though and fellow outfielders Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier, may come up as fair game in winter trade talks. Would any member of that trio be a fit for a Yankee team looking to plug a few holes in its offense?
As a Devil/Non-Devil Rays player, Crawford was a truly outstanding player, amassing a 35.8 fWAR over seven-plus seasons. One of the best defensive left fielders in the game, his tenure in Tampa culminated in career-bests in fWAR (7.4), wRC+ (134) and wOBA (.369) in his 2010 contract year.
Like many a high-priced free agent before him, Crawford's talent seemed to mysteriously evaporate as soon as he put pen to paper on a contract with the Red Sox that would pay him $142 million over seven years. He OPS'd .711 in Boston - .70 below his career mark in Tampa Bay and stole just 23 bases over a season and a half. After being shipped westward in the great salary dump of 2012, Crawford's fared slightly better, earning a triple-slash line of .283/.329/.407 and a 108 wRC+ in 2013. Those numbers, though, hardly lighten the load of the $82.5 million still owed him over the next four seasons.
Naturally, the Dodgers would need to pick up a big chunk - as in more than half - of Crawford's remaining salary to move him anywhere. For the Yankees, he'd be an upgrade over Ichiro Suzuki, and the short porch in right might kick start his home run totals back toward their Tampa Bay levels. Still, Crawford will be 33 late next season and 36 when his contract expires. L.A. would need to not only soften the payroll blow, but also expect little to nothing back for that sort of deal to make any sense at all.
Ethier's contract isn't quite as much an albatross as Crawford's but it's still far less than appealing. At 31, he's owed either $71.5 million over the next four years or $86.5 million over the next five, depending on whether a 2018 option vests.
There are two inherent problems with Ethier. The first is that he's a good player being paid like a great one. He's good for an fWAR between 2.0 and 3.0 just about every year and his wRC+ has sat at 120 or better each of the past six seasons. He gets on base consistently, having never done so at a rate lower than 35%, but his offensive production has dipped since the 2008-2010 campaigns that netted him his current deal. The other problem is that he's easily neutralized by left-handed pitching. A .235/.294/.351 career line versus southpaws makes him bench-worthy against some of the toughies of the AL East - Matt Moore, David Price and Jon Lester - and easy pickings for LOOGYs late in games.
Even with his shortcomings, Ethier could certainly help an offense-challenged Yankee outfield in 2014 and beyond, but he'd only be an attractive target if the Dodgers ate significant salary and accepted a modest return.
If the Dodgers are looking for a sizable ransom for one of their outfielders, rather than just to relieve themselves of a cumbersome contract, they may make Matt Kemp available. Though shelved by ankle woes for most of this season, the 29-year-old Kemp established himself as one of baseball's most dynamic players after an 8.4 fWAR near-MVP 2011 season, and a .383 wOBA/146 wRC+, albeit disabled list-shortened 2012 campaign. Despite winning two Bernie Williams-style gold gloves, Kemp is a fairly unimpressive center fielder according to UZR, but a switch to a corner could turn his glove from a liability into an asset.
Kemp's health problems the past two years and the six years and $128 million left on his current contract are the only things that would keep him anywhere near the Yankees' stratosphere trade-wise, if he's indeed put on the market. Since New York has very little that can help the Dodgers on the major league level next year, they'd likely need to bring a third team into the deal and splice talent from an already thin farm system. Beyond that, fitting Kemp's $20 million annual price tag in beneath the 2014 luxury tax floor would be tricky unless Robinson Cano signs elsewhere or Alex Rodriguez is suspended for the season or beamed back up to the mother ship. Nevertheless, in the event that Kemp's out there to be had, the Yankees would be remiss not to at least kick the tires.