The NL Central was already going to be one of, if not the toughest, divisions in MLB in 2019. Friday, a trade made by the Reds took that notion to the next level.
Friday, the Reds acquired Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Kyle Farmer and cash from the Dodgers for Homer Bailey and prospects Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray.
The #Reds have acquired LHP Alex Wood, OF Matt Kemp, OF Yasiel Puig, IF/C Kyle Farmer and cash from the Dodgers in exchange for RHP Homer Bailey and minor leaguers IF Jeter Downs and RHP Josiah Gray. pic.twitter.com/IjJusbl0Ud— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) December 21, 2018
According to MLB Network's Joel Sherman, the Dodgers will send $7 million to the Reds. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports first reported the trade.
Full trade: Kemp, Puig, Wood, Kyle Farmer and $7M to #Reds for Bailey and prospects Josiah Gray and Jeter Downs.— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) December 21, 2018
Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Alex Wood have been traded to the Cincinnati Reds, league sources tell Yahoo Sports. Homer Bailey is one of the players going back to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The return for the Dodgers clearly will be more.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 21, 2018
Downs was the Reds' No. 7 prospect and Gray was No. 20, according to MLB.com. While the Reds lose two young pieces in Downs (20) and Gray (21), the additions of Puig, Kemp and Wood will only strengthen the team in 2019.
The Reds' 67-95 record in 2018 saw them finish in last place in the NL Central, though their 64-80 record under interm manager Jim Riggleman was an improvement, albeit a small one, over their 3-15 start to the season under former-manager Bryan Price.
Before the trade, the Reds projected starting outfield featured Scott Schebler, Phillip Ervin and Jesse Winker. With all due respect to the latter three outfielders, Kemp and Puig are instant-upgrades, at least offensively.
In 125 games in 2018, Puig hit .267 with 23 home runs, 63 RBIs, posting an .820 OPS. He only got better once October hit, though, posting a .300/.375/.480 slash line in 16 games.
Kemp, on the other hand, struggled in October after making the NL All-Star team in what was a comeback season for him in 2018. He hit .290 with 21 home runs and 85 RBIs in 146 games, posting an .818 OPS (his best since .852 in 2014). However, his .174/.200.348 postseason slash line in 13 games left a lot to be desired for the Dodgers.
Trading Bailey is a big win for the Reds, as the right-hander has gone down-hill quickly after signing a lucrative six-year, $105 million extension with the Reds in February 2014. After posting a solid 3.71 ERA in 23 starts in 2014, Bailey's ERAs from 2015-18 were, respectively: 5.56 (two starts); 6.65 (six starts), 6.43 (18 starts); 6.09 (20 starts).
Bailey's contract is set to pay him $23 million in 2019 and $25 million in 2020 (or a $5 million buyout), but the Dodgers are expected to release him, according to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal.
Bailey, owed $25M, expected to be released by #Dodgers after trade. Deal will still benefit LAD from a luxury-tax perspective. Puig projected to earn $11.3M in arbitration and Wood $9M, per @MLBTradeRumors, and Kemp still owed significant sum (unclear what exact number is).— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 21, 2018
For the Dodgers, trading Kemp and Puig clears up both depth chart space and money under the luxury-tax threshold. The Dodgers still have Joc Pederson, Chris Taylor, Cody Bellinger and Kike Hernandez available to play outfield after the trade.
Kemp's contract will pay him $21.5 million in 2019; Puig ($11.3 million) and Wood ($9 million) are projected for significant arbitration salaries in 2019. Despite the fact that buying out Bailey will cost the Dodgers $28 million, the luxury tax hit is just $17.5 million, according to Passan.
The upshot for the Dodgers is clearing money under the luxury-tax threshold. Matt Kemp is a $20M hit this year and Yasiel Puig and Alex Wood somewhere from $20M-$22M. Even though Homer Bailey and his buyout will cost $28M, the tax hit is just $17.5M.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 21, 2018
So, the Dodgers not only cleared space on their depth chart with the trade, but they also are staying further under the luxury tax threshold that is set to rise from $197 million in 2018 to $206 million in 2019. The Dodgers' payroll dropped from $253.6 million in 2017 to $194.5 million in 2018, a drastic payroll decrease.
Trading Kemp, Puig and Wood could purely be seen as a move to cut money off the Dodgers' payroll. But it also presents the opportunity for Los Angeles to make a run at one of baseball's biggest free agents, such as Bryce Harper.
Harper joining the Dodgers on the mega-deal that he reportedly seeks should not be viewed as a foregone conclusion. After all, the Dodgers plan to keep their payroll under the luxury tax threshold for at least the next four years, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The luxury tax threshold will rise to $210 million in 2021, for what it's worth. Theoretically, the Dodgers could scrap their plan to stay under the tax to sign Harper, a top talent in baseball that is just 26 years old, if the opportunity presents itself.
At the same time, the Dodgers have financial flexibility to add players not named Harper. Perhaps they could look into acquiring Indians pitcher Corey Kluber or Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, for example. The point is, today's trade gives a team that has made back-to-back World Series flexibilty to get better in a number of ways.
Overall, the Reds' acquisitions solidified the notion that there will be no cakewalk division games in 2019. The Brewers came one win away from the 2018 World Series; the Cardinals have already added two All-Stars this offseason in Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller; the Pirates won 82 games last season.
The Cubs won 95 games in 2018 despite never truly putting it all together on the field. And while they should be right in the thick of the divisional race in 2019, the NL Central will be dog fight.