LOS ANGELES -- The popular assumption after Friday's salary-swap blockbuster is that it clears the way for the Dodgers to sign free agent Bryce Harper. As usual, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman wasn't making any public leaps. <p.> Read into it as you wish after the Dodgers sent outfielders Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig, pitcher Alex Wood, utility man James Farmer plus $7 million to the Reds for right-hander Homer Bailey -- who was released -- and prospects Josiah Gray and Jeter Downs. </p.>
Friedman said the trade clears a crowded outfield and starting rotation. The deal also saves the Dodgers roughly $7 million in actual salary and $16 million in luxury-tax calculations, although a record-breaking Harper signing would send the Dodgers over the $206 million tax threshold regardless. Their 2019 payroll is projected at about $186 million.
As for Kemp, Puig and Wood, they will be free agents after 2019, are well paid and were less than thrilled by their role reductions in 2018. Even if Harper weren't on the market, management wanted to move the trio in a single money swap similar to last winter's trade of Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir and Charlie Culberson for Kemp.
But Harper's availability, and the apparent lack of teams with the financial firepower to pay him, only strengthens the Dodgers' position to pounce. Club officials reportedly met with Harper in Las Vegas during last week's Winter Meetings and came away cautiously optimistic that a signing was possible, even though Harper seeks a record-breaking contract and has other pursuers.
With or without Harper, the pair of prospects coming from Cincinnati provides added depth that could be used in a trade for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto or Cleveland starter Corey Kluber, two other rumored targets.
As for the three veterans leaving, Kemp, an All-Star in 2018, will earn $21.5 million in 2019. Puig and Wood are in line for an estimated $20.3 million combined through arbitration (per MLB Trade Rumors). The Dodgers will pay Bailey $28 million, $23 million in 2019 and a $5 million buyout in 2020. Bailey was released in return for waiving his no-trade rights.
The Dodgers traded Kemp four offseasons ago and have been trying to trade him again ever since reacquiring him in a salary swap last offseason. Wood was not expected to crack the starting five, with rumors that Kluber could be added in a trade.
• Hot Stove Tracker
Despite losing 44 homers and 148 RBIs from Puig and Kemp, the Dodgers still have outfielders Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson, Enrique Hernandez, Chris Taylor, Alvin Toles and Alex Verdugo on the roster. But with Puig and Kemp gone, the path is clearer financially and positionally for a game-changer like Harper, who lives in Las Vegas.
Wood went 9-7 with a team-high 27 starts this year. He was a reliever in the postseason, and he didn't figure to make a rotation with Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda.
• Free-agent rumors
Earlier Friday, the Dodgers announced the signing of right-handed reliever Joe Kelly to a three-year, $25 million deal. Friedman said the club likes Kelly's ability to pitch multiple innings. Friedman said he continues to be focused on finding a veteran catcher to pair with Austin Barnes after Yasmani Grandal became a free agent. Realmuto is the best one available on the trade market, if Miami will trade him.
The polarizing Puig, who couldn't sustain his meteoric arrival from Cuba, will be reunited with hitting coach Turner Ward, who left the Dodgers last month for a three-year contract to be Cincinnati's hitting coach.
The 21-year-old Gray, a right-hander, was 2-2 with a 2.58 ERA at Rookie-level Greeneville in 2018 after being a second-round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. The 20-year-old Downs, a supplemental first-round pick in 2017, played at Class A Dayton in 2018, batting .257 with 37 stolen bases.