Breathe easy, Tigers fans. We can probably cross one team off the list of potential suitors for second baseman Ian Kinsler. According to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Dodgers are in debt, and in danger of violating MLB rules. Shaikin reports that the team is likely to cut payroll this offseason in order to achieve that goal, which all but eliminates the chance that they trade for any of Detroit’s high-priced talent.
Major League Baseball stipulates that teams must comply with its debt policy within five years of an ownership change. Guggenheim Baseball Management bought the Dodgers for $2.15 billion from former owner Frank McCourt, who had financial troubles of his own. The Guggenheim group then went on a spending spree, raising the Dodgers’ payroll to record heights before hiring former Tampa Bay Rays general manager Andrew Friedman to head up their front office. The Dodgers cut payroll by over $20 million from 2015 to 2016 — Friedman’s first two years in Los Angeles — but still led baseball by a wide margin heading into last season.
According to Baseball Reference, the Dodgers currently have $171.6 million committed to players salaries in 2017. This does not include arbitration raises, though, which are estimated to raise that figure by $22 million. Still, after the departure of free agents like Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen, and Brett Anderson, the Dodgers should see payroll naturally decline again in 2017. Payroll should further decrease in 2018 when a sizable portion of dead money is off the books.
The Dodgers are still trying to compete for a World Series title. They have pressing needs on their roster — namely, second base and starting pitcher — but their ability to add payroll this offseason will likely be dampened. Throwing the remainder of Justin Verlander’s contract (three years, $84 million) on the pile will almost certainly not happen. However, with Ian Kinsler due to receive just $11 million in 2017 with an affordable $12 million option in 2018, the two sides could still potentially work out a deal.
Well, until they ask Ian about it. Kinsler has a limited no-trade clause in his contract, and the Dodgers are one of the teams on his no-trade list. Kinsler (or, more accurately, his agent) has publicly stated that he will not waive the no-trade clause unless he receives a contract extension, which the Dodgers are not likely to agree to.
The no-trade clause is the major sticking point here. Kinsler will be 37 years old heading into the 2019 season, the first year of the contract extension he is demanding. His production has not fallen off yet — he has been worth at least 5.7 rWAR in each of his three seasons with the Tigers — but middle infielders often age quickly. Kinsler’s new deal could be an albatross before it even kicks in, and one imagines that the Dodgers’ braintrust is well aware of these risks.
Trades for other players are even less likely. Justin Verlander is due $28 million over each of the next three seasons, and he would likely ask a team to guarantee his $22 million vesting option for 2020 in exchange for waiving his 10-and 5 rights in a deal. Justin Upton probably wasn’t on the Dodgers’ radar in the first place, but he has five years and $110.6 million remaining on his contract (if he doesn’t opt out after 2017). J.D. Martinez and his $11.75 million contract for 2017 could be within the Dodgers’ price range, especially if they send someone like Yasiel Puig back in return. Of course, Puig has more value than Martinez with three years of club control remaining, making a potential deal all the more unlikely.
While a trade between the Tigers and Dodgers is unlikely, anything can happen. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred seems flexible enough to work with Dodgers ownership on a solution, and even adding a piece like Kinsler or Martinez won’t break the Dodgers’ now-fragile bank. It just doesn’t seem as likely as it did a couple weeks ago.