Is Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford the Smartest Dodgers Star to Trade?

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Is Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford the Smartest Dodgers Star to Trade?
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
The emergence of Puig has the Dodgers in a position to trade one of their veteran outfielders.

It's no secret that the Los Angeles Dodgers have four outfielders on their roster who are capable of starting for most teams in the majors. So it makes sense that, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, they're asking interested teams to make them an offer on either Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp.

Yasiel Puig isn't going anywhere, although Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angels thinks they should at least consider it. 

Which one of Crawford, Ethier or Kemp they'll trade depends on several factors. How much of the remaining contract would they have to eat? Which player will net the best return of talent? Which player is the most essential to the team's success over the next several seasons? 

Here's a look at each trade candidate as I try to answer these questions and ultimately determine which trade would make the most sense for the Dodgers. 

 

Trade Carl Crawford?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

After a terrible debut season with the Boston Red Sox in 2011 (.694 OPS), Crawford has had his moments over the past two seasons. And at times, he's looked like the guy who was voted to four All-Star teams and who posted an .803 OPS with an average of 14 homers, 27 doubles, 13 triples, 73 runs batted in, 95 runs and 49 stolen bases per season from 2004-2010 while with the Tampa Bay Rays

The problem is that he hasn't been on the field enough to determine if he's all the way back. The 32-year-old, who is still due $82.5 million over the next four seasons, missed most of 2012 because of wrist and elbow injuries and then missed time with a hamstring injury in 2013.

When he was on the field, though, he posted a .746 OPS with nine homers, 40 doubles, five triples, 50 runs batted in, 85 runs and 20 stolen bases in 147 games. That's not quite back to where he was, but it's pretty solid production.

Crawford's 13-for-42 performance in the playoffs, which included four homers, has also helped to put his name back on the radar of teams who might be looking for some speed at the top of their order. 

Would a team with a hole in left field and the leadoff spot—the Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers could be fits—be willing to take on his contract, which is more than $20 million per season through his age-36 season? Not a chance.

But how much would it be willing to spend, for example, if Crawford was available on the open market and a four-year deal was a requirement? I'm guessing he'd get no more than $40 million over four years. The Dodgers ownership group has deep pockets, but I doubt it's interested in eating $41 million, not even if a team was willing to throw in a top prospect. That's not going to happen, by the way.

Teams with a substantial amount of payroll space might be willing to take on a bigger portion of the contract, but the Dodgers would be lucky to get a fringe prospect in return. It would basically be a salary dump, and they'd save around $20-30 million for someone to take on a good chunk of Crawford's contract. 

The Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins, who will reportedly have some spending money this offseason, could be interesting fits if they're shut out in free agency.

Crawford could be an intriguing fit with the up-and-coming Astros for a couple reasons. First off, he is from Houston and could flourish with a return home. He was also a big part of the Rays organization as it transitioned from a young and inexperienced team with potential to the AL champions a few years later. But it's hard to see their front office taking him on at this age, even if the contract commitment is cut to four years and $52 million.

 

Trade Andre Ethier?

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

As the Dodgers were anticipating the arrival of Puig and a full return to health for Crawford and Kemp sometime in June, a struggling Ethier appeared to be the odd man out in the Dodgers outfield. He just didn't have any trade value because of his lack of production at the plate—he had a .661 OPS on June 10—and he had a contract that no team in baseball wanted to take on.

But a decision never had to be made. The four outfielders were never active at the same time for very long, mostly due to Kemp's lingering ankle injury, and Ethier was the team's best option to play center field regularly in his place. 

Not only did he do a viable job on defense, Ethier's bat finally got going and he played an integral role in the team's amazing run that began in mid-June. Over his last 82 games, the 31-year-old posted an .873 OPS with eight homers, 23 doubles and 37 runs batted in. 

In his seven previous big league seasons, all with the Dodgers, Ethier posted an .838 OPS with an average of 18 homers, 33 doubles and 76 runs batted in per season. He was voted to two All-Star teams and was a Gold Glove right fielder in 2011.

His two and a half months of struggles to start the season now appear to be the outlier, and his value has shot back up to the point where several teams would love to have him in their starting lineup. But not at the remaining four years and $71.5 million still due on his contract. 

On the open market, Ethier could probably still land a four-year, $48 million deal. If the Dodgers would eat somewhere between $20-25 million, they could probably net a good (not great) prospect in return.

A team taking on more of the contract, possibly $55-60 million, might be able to acquire him for a much lesser prospect. The Dodgers might be willing to take on much more of the contract, however, if they could net a top prospect.

The New York Mets and Seattle Mariners could be great fits, while the Cincinnati Reds could use him in center field in 2014 and then shift him to a corner outfield spot once Billy Hamilton is ready to take over.  

I can see one of those three teams taking on $48 million of Ethier's contract and giving up a mid-level prospect in return. 

 

Trade Matt Kemp?

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most remarkable things about the Dodgers' 62-28 finish to the regular season was that Kemp only logged 72 at-bats during the team's run. I guess he wasn't that integral to the team's success. 

That's not true, of course.

The Dodgers were without their star center fielder, but just about everything else that needed to go right went right for them. Otherwise, it would've been an extremely difficult task to jump back into the pennant race at that stage of the season. 

Typically, not everything will align as it did and a player of Kemp's immense talent is needed to carry the team through stretches when things aren't clicking on all cylinders.

Still, it's at least worth finding out what the Dodgers can get for him in a trade, because you just never know if a team is willing to make an offer that general manager Ned Colletti cannot refuse. 

If a team is willing to take on most, if not all, of the six years and $128 million remaining on Kemp's contract and offer a package that includes two top prospects and an infielder or starting pitcher that can fill a hole on the 2014 roster, it might be hard for the Dodgers to say no. 

Otherwise, you don't give up a five-tool player who was second in MVP voting in 2011 after posting a .986 OPS with 39 homers, 126 runs batted in and 40 stolen bases and who was having another huge season in 2012 before injuries finally slowed him down late in the season.

At 29 years of age, Kemp should have plenty of terrific seasons ahead of him if he can avoid the injury bug. Despite his injury-plagued 2013 season, it wouldn't have been a surprise if he was able to land a six-year, $120 million deal had he been a free agent this offseason. 

Thus, his contract shouldn't be as much of an issue for teams as those of Crawford and Ethier would be. The Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Reds, Mets, New York Yankees, Mariners and Rangers could all have interest in trading for Kemp and his entire contract. The bigger issue would be the trade package necessary. 

Would the Cubs be willing to give up two of Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler? Probably not.

Do the White Sox even have a prospect that's good enough to headline a trade package? No. Would they be willing to give up ace left-hander Chris Sale and two of their better prospects to acquire Kemp? If they thought they could land one of the top free-agent starters to replace Sale, maybe they would.

Would the Mets part with Noah Syndergaard or Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud? Doubtful. 

If the Rangers gave up Jurickson Profar, who'd fill the starting shortstop role with Hanley Ramirez shifting over to third base, and two of their best prospects, would that be enough for the Dodgers? Possibly. 

My guess is that Kemp is still highly coveted and Colletti will have his hands full going through trade proposals over the next several weeks. 

 

Conclusion

Trade Kemp? No.

Clearing $128 million in future salary while filling a hole on the major league roster and replenishing the farm system is tempting. But players like Matt Kemp don't come along very often. If he returns to full health, the Dodgers will regret trading him. 

Trade Crawford? No.

Which Outfielder Should the Dodgers Trade?

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While Colletti isn't likely to lose much sleep by trading him after just one season as a Dodger, he'll be kicking himself for sending him elsewhere when his value was so low. A productive season without any stints on the disabled list and Crawford's value could reach the point where the team could actually get a solid return and wouldn't have to pick up as much of the remaining salary next offseason.

Trade Ethier? Yes! 

If all four outfielders were to return in 2014, it's Ethier who would likely be on the bench more often than not. Since this isn't good for his value, Colletti would be smart to trade him now after his strong finish and be happy if a team takes on $48 million of his remaining salary and offers him a mid-level prospect in return.

The outfield picture would clear up, and he'd likely have some more payroll space to work with as he tries to fill holes in the rotation and the left side of the infield this offseason. This is the smart move.    

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