The Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds recently agreed to a seven-player trade that shook up the National League and set the rumor mill afire. In case you missed it, the deal sent the quartet of Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, and Kyle Farmer, plus $7MM cash to the Reds in exchange for Homer Bailey and two prospects: Josiah Gray and Jeter Downs, the Reds’ 13th and 8th ranked prospects, respectively, per Fangraphs. Reactions and analysis have landed on both sides of the ledger, though any subsequent transactions stemming from the payroll and roster changes on either side will give further cause for debate down the line.
The Reds have been vocal about upgrading no matter the cost this winter, especially for pitching, and while the additions were to presumably come via increased spending in free agency, here they explore a more creative means of adding talent. Having seen enough of Homer Bailey over the years, President of Baseball Ops Dick Williams put the $28MM owed Bailey to good use in acquiring three proven major league contributors. Under different circumstances, Williams might be praised for not handcuffing the team with future payroll obligations, but given that this deal feels in part driven by Cincinnati’s inability to attract major free agents, the one-year contracts of Puig, Kemp and Wood only highlights the lack of guaranteed long-term value in the return.
The primary critique here for the Reds is that they surrendered twelve total years of control in Downs and Gray, who slot in as the Dodgers’ new #7 and #16 ranked prospects, per MLB.com. The complete absence of guaranteed future value puts a lot of pressure on the team to capitalize in 2019, a real challenge coming off a 95-loss season. Should Puig, Kemp and Wood walk at the end of the year, they will have surrendered legitimate future talent for a trio that’s not likely to pull them from the depths of the NL Central. Even if the Reds do surprise this season and leapfrog the Pirates, Cardinals, Cubs and Brewers, they still could lose this trio to free agency and be worse off for the future than they were before their acquisition.
On the other hand, attendance has waned at Great American Ballpark. Puig’s power and personality both ought to play well there and give fans something to root for. Further, if for instance, they’ve been unable to get much traction on this year’s crop of lefty free agent starters, then having a one year head start with Wood might be the best way to sign him long-term in Cincinnati. Prospects are high-risk assets, and it could be the Reds don’t believe the future value of Downs and Gray is all that high. Or, they might be banking on getting better prospect value in return at the trade deadline should the Reds fall out of contention early. There’s a lot of speculation above, but the fact is the Reds front office found a way to turn Homey Bailey into two exciting, productive players/trade chips (plus Matt Kemp).
For the Dodgers, they jettisoned 6 fWAR from their 2018 pennant winning team for $28MM in dead money and a pair of prospects. If they don’t turn around and use the cost savings in free agency, that’s a lot of talent to send away just so their billionaire owners can avoid paying the luxury tax. For all Puig’s antics, he brought real fire to the club, and in his six seasons with the team, not only did he accumulate 16.8 fWAR, but they won the NL West in each of those six seasons. As for Wood, one could argue there’s a lot of uncertainty around the lefties remaining in the Dodger rotation: Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu have not been fully healthy, Rich Hill, 38, is a full decade older than Wood and Julio Urias, 22, may be ready to step into the rotation, but after missing almost all of 2018, he’s far from a sure thing. Wood has his own injury history, but he is a proven asset when healthy, which he has been of late, and he carries a career 3.29 ERA (3.36 FIP, 3.49 xFIP, 3.66 SIERA). As the adage goes, you can never have enough pitching.
On the other hand, the Dodgers added two pretty decent prospects and slipped below the tax line (for now) while dealing from areas of depth. The outfield was log-jammed anyway with Kemp and Puig. Without them, there should be enough at bats to go around for Chris Taylor, Joc Pederson, Enrique Hernandez, Andrew Toles and Cody Bellinger. Plus, top prospect Alex Verdugo, still only 22, may finally have the opportunity to shine at the big league level. As for the rotation, add Walker Buehler and Kenta Maeda to the names above and the Dodgers have enough top-of-the-line starting pitching to enter 2019 even if they decide to pocket the savings from this deal. Kemp and Puig were fun, but they were volatile on-field assets who were going to siphon at bats from the younger, higher upside outfielders (namely, Bellinger and Verdugo) already on the roster.
The elephant in the room, of course, is Bryce Harper. Heads were immediately sent spinning with the possibility of this move being a precursor to the Dodgers signing Harper in free agency, and what’s worse – that makes a lot of sense. They cleared payroll space and positional opportunity, in doing so creating the market/payroll/need fit that previously didn’t seem to exist for Harper. The White Sox and Phillies are ready to spend, but they likely can’t compete with a fully armed Los Angeles payroll. The Cubs are said to be watching, the Nationals haven’t given up on him in theory, and nobody believes the Yankees when they say they aren’t interested, which is, in-and-of-itself, a testament to how classic a suitor they really are.
This blockbuster has the makings of a touchstone moment that will, in part, define this winter’s dealings, but it’s time to see where MLBTR readers land on judging the returns. Does the flexibility this deal affords the Dodgers make them the winners? Or did the Reds take advantage of the Dodgers desire to shed some payroll and walk away with the better return? Let us know your Dodgers grade, your Reds grade, and who you think “won the deal” in this poll.