Dodgers president Stan Kasten expects team to exceed luxury tax; could they add another star?
The Dodgers have more than enough room in their budget to land a star
In late January last year, Los Angeles Dodgers president Stan Kasten railed against the Los Angeles Times and its reporters' presentation of the team's payroll and perception among fans. Not even a full year later, Kasten is back at it, hitting similar notes after the Dodgers failed in their pursuits of top free agents Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon, among others.
Kasten talked about those aforementioned topics and more with Times columnist Bill Plaschke, who provided a transcript of sorts. Predictably, Kasten is dismissive of the claim that fans are annoyed with the franchise, pointing again to attendance. His unwillingness to discuss the club's local television deal suggests he's aware of some discontent in the fan base, however, and he even offered some red meat to the parts of the crowd who call the team cheap by saying he expects the Dodgers to be "well" or "somewhat over" the luxury tax for the upcoming season.
That's interesting because the Dodgers are nowhere near the line. Cot's Contracts has them down for a $170 million tax payroll, or $38 million below the $208 million threshold. The Dodgers likely have a different projection than Cot's or other public sources, but all the creative accounting in the world on the team's part wouldn't close the gap -- not entirely, anyway.
What could close the gap is making a big-time addition, the kind the Dodgers have been rumored to be interested in all winter. Kasten acknowledged as much in saying, "The team we have now is not going to be the team we have to start the postseason."
If Kasten is to be proven correct about the Dodgers' luxury-tax situation, then point guard Andrew Friedman will have to deliver the payload through a trade. Only one of our top 10 free agents remains unsigned, and that's third baseman Josh Donaldson: a suboptimal fit on a roster that already houses Justin Turner and doesn't have a spot for top prospect Gavin Lux. The Dodgers could, in theory, sign an outfielder like Nicholas Castellanos or Marcell Ozuna, but then they'd have a similar logjam on the grass, and would have to trade (or otherwise appease) Joc Pederson, who is overqualified to ride the bench.
The reality of the Dodgers' situation is that it's hard to find upgrades. Friedman has built a roster of such depth and quality that only elite players represent step-ups at a few positions. (Maybe Kasten would be wise to adapt that as his go-to line?) Hence Friedman's interest in Cole and Rendon, and hence Friedman's continued pursuit of the various stars on the trading block: third baseman Nolan Arenado, outfielder Mookie Betts, shortstop Francisco Lindor, and so on.
The funny thing is that the Dodgers could acquire any of those players and remain below the luxury tax line. Heck, they could add Lindor and Mike Clevinger and be well below, since those two are projected to account for about $21 million. Betts ($27.5 million) and Arenado ($32.5 million) would push them closer, but they would retain some breathing room in each case. That extra space could then be used at the deadline, and would leave the Dodgers over the limit.
Alternatively, the Dodgers could leverage their space in talks by eating a regrettable contract. Maybe that means Betts brings David Price with him to Los Angeles. Or maybe it means the Colorado Rockies get their wish, as league sources have told CBS Sports that general manager Jeff Bridich would love to move Ian Desmond's and Wade Davis's contracts, among others.
Whatever the case, the Dodgers do seem well positioned to do something this winter. That was true at the onset of the offseason as well, though, and their big addition to date has been reliever Blake Treinen. So, yes, maybe fans and media should wait until the spring before calling the Dodgers cheap. But don't let Kasten fool you; he's more aware of the fan base's anxiety than he lets on; otherwise, conceding publicly that the Dodgers are likely to add significant payroll would be nothing more than a sacrifice of trade-talk leverage.
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