I’ve commented on, though haven’t written at length about, the recent Diamondbacks salary dump trade. On a fundamental level, I have no problem with teams trading money. The Dodgers have been spending obscene sums in the international market, and they would just as happily take on bad contracts to receive cheap talent. The Braves showed they were clearly willing to do the same. When your owner is willing to spend the money, taking on contracts to acquire young talent is a no-brainer.
The other side of such a trade is where you enter more questionable territory. I have criticized the Diamondbacks at length for engaging in a practice that I do not inherently oppose. It is for a simple reason. Dumping money simply because your owner wants to pocket the savings is entirely problematic. There is a big difference between re-appropriating the saved funds into your ball club, as opposed to simply sitting on the cash.
In the NBA, for instance, some teams try to clear bad contracts so they can spend the money – ideally in a more responsible fashion. Some teams, however, clear cash to stay under the luxury tax threshold, giving up draft picks in the process. Though it isn’t my money and I understand the thought process, I can’t say I condone this behavior. If you’re going to own a professional sports team – a scarce commodity – then you owe it to the fan base to maximize its winning potential. It may be a financial asset, one that may accrue in value, but winning is the best thing for franchise value.
With that said, dumping bad contracts in an attempt to reuse that cash elsewhere is a phenomenal idea. That is simply an attempt to take the finite payroll and distribute it in the most immediately beneficial way. Here are ten players and teams who are definitely candidates for a prospect-aided salary dump this July.
- James Loney ($7 million in 2015, $8 in 2016)
The Tampa Bay Rays total payroll on opening day 2015 was under $76 million. This means that James Loney accounted for over 9% of what the Rays are willing to spend. While one could say that they simply should expand the payroll, we can assume that dollars are finite and limited. As Asdrubal Cabrera and David DeJesus’s contracts come off the books at the end of 2015, Tampa could have an uncharacteristically large amount of money to spend this offseason – especially if they were able to move Loney’s contract. Loney is not necessarily overpaid, and it likely would not be difficult if Tampa wanted to move him. This is simply too big a contract for Tampa to stomach for a player of this ilk.
- Curtis Granderson ($16 million in 2015, $16 in 2016, $15 in 2017)
We would not necessarily think that a New York sports franchise would have payroll limitations, but for whatever reason we know that the Mets do. The Michael Cuddyer contract this offseason, forfeiting a first round pick in the process, has to be considered suboptimal. Now the Mets need to regroup. With an amazing young pitching core pushing them surprisingly close to contention now, they would benefit from payroll flexibility this offseason to address their most pressing holes. Granderson has been adequate, and the price to move on from this contract may not be too expensive – especially if they took on similar money through at least the remainder of this season.
- Martin Prado ($11 million in 2015, $11 in 2016)
The Marlins are actually only paying $8 million each year, as the Yankees sent over $6 million to spread across these last two years. I wouldn’t expect the Marlins to necessarily re-spend any savings, but they’re an unpredictable organization. Some teams definitely won’t spend additional money – like the Diamondbacks – but the Marlins have some potential. I’ve always wanted to see the Marlins more active in the Latin American international market, given their proximity, and this would give them significant weaponry to do so. Teams with severely limited payrolls are especially crippled by even marginally bad contracts. We know there is a market for Prado, and he may actually return an asset.
- Carlos Gonzalez ($16 million in 2015, $17 in 2016, $20 in 2017)
While Carlos Gonzalez is considered a trade asset by many, I’d consider him closer to zero net value. This contract has to be considered a substantial overpay, even if it is close to what he’d get on the open market. If the Rockies could return any sort of asset for Gonzalez, this is an ideal chance. They could take some chances on young free agents this offseason and actually begin at least a partial rebuild – one that has been many years in the making. The Rockies will never contend around this core, but I do think there are some opportunities here. Given their ballpark, I believe there are certain types of players who would have more value to them than would in other ballparks. I would also like to see them experiment with starter/reliever usage, but that’s another discussion. Opening this spot in the outfield and saving this substantial sum would have to be a victory for this stagnant organization.
- Carl Crawford ($20.5 million in 2015, $20.75 in 2016, $21 in 2017)
- Andre Ethier ($18 million in 2015, $18 in 2016, $17.5 in 2017, $2.5 buyout in 2018)
While few would consider the Dodgers the type of team to engage in any sort of salary dump, every team has finite resources to at least some extent. While nearly $40 million to backup outfielders would be downright debilitating to nearly every other organization in baseball, the Dodgers have managed to overcome it entirely. Nonetheless, their flexibility would be even further enhanced if they could dump any amount of this money this July. I fully expect them to pursue and land either David Price or Johnny Cueto this offseason. While they’re likely able to do so even without any cost-cutting maneuvers, saving some money here would go a long way to solidifying their pursuits.
- J. Wilson ($18 million in 2015, $20 in 2016)
The Angels have shown the downsides of having a large payroll. They gave up many young assets and significant dollars for the right to overpay stars for their later years. While they’re somewhat out from under the Josh Hamilton contract, they still have some bad years left on the Albert Pujols contract. They’re beginning to rebuild their lowly-regarded farm system, but moving Wilson would help to move forward. I consider Wilson to be close to a net-zero player – meaning his contract and his ability equal out to about no value. I think the payroll flexibility would be more valuable to the Angels than Wilson’s performance, so they should pursue moving him this trade deadline. Pitching has been an issue for the Angels, so if they fancy themselves a thin contender, this move may be less likely.
- Michael Bourn ($13.5 million in 2015, $14 in 2016, $12 vesting option in 2017)
- Nick Swisher ($15 million in 2015, $15 in 2016, $14 vesting option in 2017)
It appears the Indians are fading away from contention in 2015 – a season for which many had big aspirations – but they are not far away for future years. Their pitching staff has emerged impressively, and they certainly have a strong core offensively. Bourn and Swisher are not helping this team contend – now or later – but this substantial sum of money could.
- John Danks ($14.25 million in 2015, $14.25 in 2016)
Among the two teams who made the most substantial offseason moves, I was much more bullish on the White Sox than the Padres. In the end, it appears neither teams’ moves are going to push them into the postseason – though the Padres do still have some modicum of hope. If the White Sox want to revisit their plans for contention, either by pursuing assets at the trade deadline or in the winter, moving Danks would be a big push towards flexibility. Danks is allowing a career high nearly 11 H/9, and a contender could hope for some BABIP (.324 in 2015 versus .293 for his career) correction. He’s certainly overpaid, but if you see what free agent pitchers get these days, you could rationalize him being worth $8+ million.
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