Recent free-agent spree may have pushed LA to spending limit
By Mike Bauman
So maybe the Dodgers won't be trading for Ryan Braun after all. The Dodgers and the Brewers were widely reported to be oh so close to a Braun deal last summer, one that might have sent Yasiel Puig to Milwaukee.
That deal seemed to make sense, both ways. Since the 2016 non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Brewers have transformed their Minor League system by trading all sorts of established veterans, including three successful closers, one valuable lefty setup man and an elite catching talent in Jonathan Lucroy.
But they haven't moved their priciest player, Braun, who is owed $76 million over the next four years. The trade of Braun would give the Brewers financial flexibility down the road, at a point when their rebuilding process in theory would make them a competitive contender and they would need to supplement their personnel.
The deal would have also answered one of the Dodgers' central questions. Los Angeles has won four straight National League West titles, but the Dodgers' Achilles' heel in 2016 was hitting against left-handed pitching. They were last in the Majors in batting average against lefties (.214) and last in OPS in the same category (.623).
This was precisely where Braun would fit Los Angeles' needs. Braun has the second-highest OPS against left-handers of any Major League hitter (1.028) since 2007, behind only Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt, who posted a 1.038 OPS in 630 fewer plate appearances against lefties.
In 2016, Braun proved that he could return strong from back surgery, hitting 30 home runs. And he was still hitting lefties at a world-class pace, compiling a 1.010 OPS against them.
All of this made a potential Los Angeles/Milwaukee trade look like the rare win-win proposition, with Braun, a Southern California native, heading home to play for the Dodgers.
But now? Not so much.
There was considerable rhetoric about the Dodgers entering an era of fiscal conservatism and making a transition to an organization that would depend primarily on homegrown talent. It now appears that talk may have been, oh, slightly exaggerated.
The Dodgers already had the highest payroll in the Majors for 2016. Since last week, they have committed $192 million to three free agents.
Lefty Rich Hill, owner of a terrific curveball but oft-injured, received $48 million from Los Angeles over three years. Closer Kenley Jansen got a five-year, $80 million deal. Third baseman Justin Turner received a four-year, $64 million contract.
There had been considerable speculation about which seemingly essential player the Dodgers would retain, Jansen or Turner. The correct answer turned out to be both.
There is no doubt about the value of Jansen and Turner. And now there is no doubt that Los Angeles paid full prices to keep that value. There is also no doubt that the Dodgers have some extremely impressive "revenue streams," as they say in the trade. They led the Majors in attendance in 2016, and they have a TV deal that will bring them over $8 billion.
But at some point, even their ability to pay, along with their willingness to pay, will come to a halt. And it very well might be, after the signings of Hill, Jansen and Turner, that the stopping point will be found just short of trading for Braun.
And if that is the case, a very intriguing deal for both sides will never come to fruition. On paper, it looked like a trade that would ideally serve the needs of both teams. But that was before the Dodgers spent another $192 million.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.