Corey Seager injury replacement options: Manny Machado among choices for Dodgers, but luxury tax is an obstacle
The Dodgers are adamant about getting under the $197 million luxury tax threshold
On Monday afternoon, the defending National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers were dealt a devastating blow. Star shortstop Corey Seager . The team was already without Justin Turner (wrist) and Yasiel Puig (hip). Now they'll be without Seager.
For the time being the Dodgers are expected to use Chris Taylor at shortstop. He's a natural shortstop who was playing the outfield in deference to Seager. Other internal shortstop candidates include Enrique Hernandez and Breyvic Valera, neither of whom stands out as a potential everyday shortstop option for a contending team.
Needless to say, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman will begin scouring the trade market for a replacement shortstop pretty much immediately. The summer trading season is still a few weeks away, but the Dodgers can begin laying the groundwork for deals now. Expect them to act quickly.
Shortstop is not the easiest position to fill at midseason, though there are a few tantalizing options who are expected to hit the trade market this summer. Here are some potential shortstop options, starting with one of the best players in baseball:
The Baltimore Orioles are off to a terrible start -- they are 8-20 with a minus-54 run differential coming into Monday -- "will they trade Machado?" to "when will they trade Machado?" Manny Machado is one of the best players in baseball and an impending free agent. He'll command a significant prospect package at the deadline.
There is an obstacle standing in the way of a potential Machado trade, however: The luxury tax. The Dodgers have made it clear they intend to get under the $197 million luxury tax threshold this summer, and Machado is making a healthy $16 million. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Dodgers have $181.5 million in luxury tax payroll at the moment.
The good news is luxury tax "hits" for midseason additions are pro-rated, so if the Dodgers were to acquire Machado at the midpoint of the season, his $16 million salary would become an $8 million charge against the luxury tax. The math rarely works out that neatly, but you catch my drift. The Dodgers appear to have room to take on Machado, and they pursued him as recently as this past offseason.
The bad news is the Dodgers will need that available payroll space to address other needs as well, specifically pitching. Also, every call-up and roster addition counts against the luxury tax payroll, so the team needs to leave some breathing room for the rest of the season. They can't bump up against $197 million right now. It has to wait for the end of the season.
On paper, Machado is a perfect fit for the Dodgers. He's a quality defender and an impact hitter who will not just replace what the Dodgers lost with Seager's injury, but he might even be an upgrade. Machado is that good. The Dodgers have prospects to trade as well -- if you're the O's, don't you start by asking for Walker Buehler? -- so there's a fit.
The question is whether Los Angeles can make it work financially. To address all their needs, they may have move some money -- Yasmani Grandal has been speculated as a potential trade candidate to free up payroll space -- to afford Machado, which essentially means robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Of course, the Dodgers could simply decide to forget the luxury tax plan and spend freely, which eliminates the need to jump through hoops. For now, the luxury tax plan remains.
Like the Orioles, the Texas Rangers are off to a terrible start this season, coming into Monday with an 11-18 record and a minus-39 run differential. It feels like a matter of "when" they will begin a rebuild, not "if."
And if the Rangers do decide to begin a rebuild this year, it stands to reason they will gauge trade interest in shortstop Elvis Andrus. Andrus hit .297/.337/.471 with a career high 20 homers last season. Two problems though. One, Andrus himself is currently injured. , and he will be out 6-8 weeks. That puts him on track to return in June. Andrus won't help the Dodgers now.
Secondly, Andrus has a pricey and complicated contract. He's making $15.25 million this summer, so the luxury tax issue that exists with Machado also applies to Andrus. Also, look at the contract structure:
- 2018: $15.25 million (can opt-out after season)
- 2019: $15.25 million (can opt-out after season)
- 2020: $15.25 million
- 2021: $14.25 million
- 2022: $14.25 million
- 2023: $15 million vesting option based on plate appearances from 2021-22
Trade for Andrus and you might get him for just this year, just this year and next, or through 2023. Yikes. That'll complicate trade talks, huh? How do value a player -- a currently injured player at that -- with such a wide contract disparity? Andrus could be a rental or a long-term addition.
Seager will be back next season, so while Andrus would be a fine fill-in the rest of the season, it's difficult to see the Dodgers being interested in taking on his contract. Possible? Sure. Likely? Nah.
As expected, the Oakland Athletics are treading water this season -- they are 14-14 with a plus-3 run differential coming into Monday -- and Marcus Semien is starting to get expensive through arbitration. He'll earn $3.125 million this year and projects to make upwards of $6 million next year. The A's usually trade players once they reach arbitration, and in this case, they have top prospect Franklin Barreto looming in Triple-A as a replacement. Semien is definitely an under-the-radar option for the Dodgers.
Dustin Pedroia is on the mend following knee surgery and he is expected back at some point in May. Once he returns, there's no obvious lineup opening for Eduardo Nunez, given that Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are entrenched on the left side of the infield. (Brock Holt and Tzu-Wei Lin are the backup plans.) That said, the Boston Red Sox could keep Nunez for depth, especially with Pedroia's knee having been a persistent problem in recent years. His one-year, $4 million contract with a $4 million club option for 2019 would work well for the Dodgers.
Definitely not the sexiest option, but the Kansas City Royals are rebuilding, and I imagine they won't seek a ton in return for Alcides Escobar. Adalberto Mondesi is looming as a long-term option and shedding Escobar (and his $2.5 million salary) would open a spot. That said, Escobar is essentially a replacement level player, and the Dodgers would probably be better off sticking with Taylor at shortstop and playing someone like Alex Verdugo in the outfield than adding Escobar. Consider this the "break glass in case of emergency" option in case there's another injury.
The Dodgers are 12-15 with a plus-12 run differential in the early going, and they're already seven games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West. Their margin for error has mostly been exhausted, and now they won't have Seager the rest of the season. Machado would be the ideal shortstop pickup. Making the money work will take some effort though. Others like Andrus and Semien are decent alternatives, but aren't really guys who will move the needle a ton. Machado is clearly the top choice here. It's just a question of whether Friedman & Co. can make it work.
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