LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers and Braves completed a stunning mega-salary swap on Saturday, with Los Angeles sending Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, Charlie Culberson and $4.5 million to Atlanta for former Dodger Matt Kemp.The deal -- for now -- drops the Dodgers below the initial luxury-tax threshold for
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers and Braves completed a stunning mega-salary swap on Saturday, with Los Angeles sending Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, Charlie Culberson and $4.5 million to Atlanta for former Dodger Matt Kemp.
The deal -- for now -- drops the Dodgers below the initial luxury-tax threshold for 2018. They are expected to flip or release the 33-year-old Kemp, perhaps resetting their sights on a younger outfielder like free agent Lorenzo Cain or Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen.
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Teams that exceed the Competitive Balance Tax for one year must pay a 20 percent tax on the overage, 30 percent in year two and 50 percent in each subsequent year such as the Dodgers currently. But if you dip below it for one year, that figure resets. This could be significant in regards to next year's free-agent class, which is set to feature the likes of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. By getting under the threshold, the Dodgers are saving money they would have paid on the overage that they can put toward next year's class, and also "resetting" their tax penalty.
Either way, they are better off financially for 2018, although in '19 -- when Clayton Kershaw can opt out and join an already juicy free-agent class -- the Dodgers will owe Kemp's $21.75 million salary.
"This deal is a little more subtle in nature than most," said Andrew Friedman, Dodgers president of baseball operations. "One of the main considerations in this deal were economic, but they're part of the bigger picture, the longer-term plan. It's a necessary strategic part of moves yet to come.
"Whether this offseason, July or next year, this move allows for increased flexibility going forward at a time where we have some depth. Particularly, any time you trade two starting pitchers, oftentimes you're not in position to do that. But we feel really good about the depth we have that allowed us to do this."
Without mentioning Giancarlo Stanton, Friedman said no acquisition the Dodgers considered has been prevented by this deal not happening sooner. He said he told Kemp he wasn't sure how his situation would play out.
"It's too difficult to say at this point," he said.
Gonzalez is owed $21.5 million in 2018, while McCarthy is owed $12 million and Kazmir $15 million. So, the Dodgers shed roughly a net $27 million in 2018 salary. Because of Kemp's '19 salary and the $4.5 million going to Atlanta, the deal is essentially a financial push.
Kemp played nine seasons as a Dodgers outfielder and was a two-time All-Star, but was dealt by the current regime to San Diego in the Yasmani Grandal trade in December 2014. The Dodgers still owe Kemp $3.5 million each of the next two seasons in salary they agreed to pay to make that deal happen.
Coming off a near-miss in the World Series, shedding payroll to minimize the 2018 luxury-tax hit has been an offseason "focal point" for the Dodgers, Friedman said. He succeeded in moving three expensive surplus players to new Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who took that job after serving in the Dodgers' front office for less than two seasons.
Anthopoulos is likely to release Gonzalez, who missed much of the 2017 season with a herniated disk. Gonzalez had to approve the trade, which will effectively make him a free agent after his first-base job was assumed by National League Rookie of the Year Award winner Cody Bellinger.
In a statement, Gonzalez thanked ownership and the fans. He said he agreed to the trade, which he called the toughest decision of his career, because he wasn't sure there would be room for him on the Dodgers' roster, even though he had accepted a reduced role.
"This closes a chapter for me, but not the book," Gonzalez wrote.
Friedman said Gonzalez and Kemp told him they hope to play beyond 2018.
Gonzalez came to the Dodgers in a 2012 blockbuster from Boston, the key piece in a midseason deal new owner Guggenheim Baseball Management swung that validated its commitment to winning. While with the Dodgers, Gonzalez was a vital and clutch run producer, with four seasons of at least 90 RBIs, an All-Star appearance, a Silver Slugger Awaard and a Gold Glove Award.
Left-handed starter Kazmir, who will be entering the final year of a three year, $48 million contract, did not pitch in 2017 because of a lack of velocity. Right-handed starter McCarthy, who will be entering the final year of a four-year, $48 million deal, was on the disabled list three times in '17, but was a surprise addition to the World Series roster. Culberson spent most of the season in the Minor Leagues, but was 8-for-16 when Corey Seager's back injury presented unexpected postseason playing time.
For the Dodgers, the trade not only accomplishes an immediate reduction in payroll-tax liability, but creates flexibility for incremental 2018 upgrades.
Whether it is Kemp, or a player like Cain or McCutchen, the Dodgers can potentially boost the offense with a right-handed-hitting outfielder, preferably one that can handle center field, freeing up Chris Taylor for at-bats at second base.
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.