SAN FRANCISCO — There are many moves that Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi made in Los Angeles that surely caught Larry Baer’s eye, but the most important one may have been a trade involving mostly players who wouldn’t contribute in 2018.
Last December, the Dodgers sent Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, Charlie Culberson and cash to the Braves for Matt Kemp. It was a stunning move, and in the end the Dodgers ended up with a stunning result: Kemp made the All-Star team and contributed to a division title.
But a year ago, this was simply a way to swap bad contracts and get the Dodgers under the tax line for a year. Kemp was never supposed to make the 2018 roster, he was there to give the Dodgers financial wiggle room moving forward.
"One of the main considerations in this deal were economic, but they're part of the bigger picture, the longer-term plan,” Friedman, Zaidi’s former boss, said at the time. “It's a necessary strategic part of moves yet to come.”
As Zaidi works to overhaul the Giants roster, you can bet he’s looking to strike gold in a similar way. A league source familiar with Zaidi’s past work said one of his first moves would be trying to clear some future salary commitments, and nobody has more of those than the Giants.
The 2019 roster will have nine players making at least $12 million — the Red Sox are paying nearly every cent of Pablo Sandoval’s salary, though — and six due at least $15 million.
There are plenty of teams out there looking to dump similar deals. The Padres have made Wil Myers available; the rebuilding Royals have starters Ian Kennedy and Danny Duffy on big deals; the Mariners have six massive contracts on their books and they're starting over. You can look around the league and find plenty of Kemp-like options.
But which deals would Zaidi look to get off his own books? Let’s roll through them …
Buster Posey ($22 million), Brandon Crawford ($15.2 million), Mark Melancon ($14 million). All three of these guys have full no-trade clauses. Posey and Crawford are franchise pillars, anyway, and Crawford grew up in the Bay Area and Posey has moved his family here. They’re likely to retire as Giants.
But just in case you wanted to include them in deals, remember that they can veto any deal, and would. Melancon doesn’t have roots in the Bay Area, but he likes it here, has a young family, and also seems unlikely to seek a fresh start.
Johnny Cueto ($21 million), Jeff Samardzija ($19.8 million): You can’t trade a pitcher rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, so Cueto won’t be discussed at all. Samardzija is owed nearly $40 million and has a hurt shoulder, so he would be just about impossible to trade.
On the other hand, Gonzalez, McCarthy and Kazmir all had injury issues and Friedman and Zaidi found a taker.
Samardzija has a limited no-trade clause, though, and wants to stay in San Francisco. We’ll include Sandoval here because he finished on the 60-day DL, but again, the Giants owe him just the MLB minimum. The Red Sox are covering the rest of his $18.6 million salary.
No Long-Term Salary Concerns
Madison Bumgarner ($12 million). He may be traded for other reasons, but he doesn’t fit the theme here. His contract actually makes him more attractive to other teams.
Brandon Belt ($16 million), Evan Longoria ($14.5 million). These are the two players who will be talked about moving forward. It’s not fair to lump Belt in as a “salary dump,” because he’s one of the team’s best hitters when healthy and might be the the best defensive first baseman in the NL. But he has three years remaining on a massive five-year deal and Posey may need to play a lot of first base in future years, so Belt is the most obvious candidate. He also is the likeliest option to bring a real package of talent back in return.
A complication here: Belt can pick 10 teams annually to put on a no-trade list. He wants to stay in San Francisco, and if he’s strategic, he can basically turn that into a full-no trade clause, because there are plenty of tanking teams and teams with a star first baseman already that he wouldn’t need to include.
Longoria does not have no-trade protection, which makes him the easiest target. Because Bobby Evans got the Rays to chip in $14 million, Longoria is actually owed about $60 million more on a deal that takes him through 2022. The length is the main issue, and this is where the Kemp deal comes in.
The Braves took on all those massive salaries for one year while the Dodgers got two years of significant Kemp money, so perhaps Zaidi can replicate that and find a team that would take on four years of Longoria’s deal while shipping out a player who makes much more money but for just two or three years.
Longoria had a down year in 2018 but he was still worth 1.9 WAR, per Baseball Reference, led the team in homers, and played outstanding defense down the stretch. He could be part of the solution for the Giants next season, but if Zaidi is looking for a way to clear some future payroll commitments, Longoria would be one of his only options.