Between November 18, 2011 and August 26, 2012, the Los Angeles Dodgers committed just over $309 million to four outfielders. Which is a very, very effective way to find three outfielders, I suppose. But it also means you're going to get columns like this one for the next year or five. To recap, the Dodgers have Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig, who had 43 hits in his last 41 spring-training at-bats, and here's what he's doing in the minors now:
And don't forget the Greater Prospect Uncertainty Theorem, which holds that a prospect will always, always, always be a better option than a struggling veteran. This is because the veteran is struggling in the majors and the prospect is not. Quid pro ex machina, the prospect is better. The clamoring for Puig is getting louder and louder as he keeps hitting.
Position changes are out of the question, so if someone has to get traded or sit on the bench for Puig, who would it be? Running down the list of possibilities:
Kemp is hitting .185/.224/.259 and striking out in 29 percent of his plate appearances. And you don't need some fancypants writer to tell you that if Kemp is broken, the Dodgers are hosed on multiple levels. There's the loss of expected production, sure, but there's also the problem of the slack Kemp would get compared to the other outfielders. The Dodgers would stick with him for a long, long time for obvious reasons.
Pretend everything goes just as it is now -- Carl Crawford continues to be a leadoff dynamo, Andre Ethier is okay, and Kemp is terrible for the entire year. Meanwhile, Puig continues to hit in the minors. The estimated date that Kemp sits for Puig would still be July 2, 2014 in this scenario. Maybe 2015. At what point do you give up on Kemp's upside, so much so that you're willing to eat over $100 million? You don't. Not until he goes full Vernon.
The good news for the Dodgers is that we're talking about 54 AT-BATS WHY DO WE HAVE TO GO THROUGH THIS EVERY DAMNED APRIL WITH DIFFERENT PLAYERS LOOK HE'S PROBABLY FINE. Here, bookmark this link. Make it your home page in April.
It's hard to remember now, but this was the first big Dodgers move under the new ownership. It wasn't the Nick Punto trade, or Puig -- it was the Ethier extension. It wasn't an egregious overpayment, though if the Dodgers had a hint that Puig would be pushing the discussion this soon -- and if they knew that absorbing the contract of a $100 million outfielder would be the cost of getting Adrian Gonzalez -- the deal probably wouldn't have happened. Ethier would probably be on the Red Sox or something right now.
But he's on the Dodgers, he's 31, and he's still owed $85 million. If the Dodgers wanted to move him, they probably wouldn't need to eat as much money as you think. After this season, Ethier is owed just over $70 million over four years -- or $24 million more than Nick Swisher got as a 32-year-old. That's not a small difference, but it suggests that if the Dodgers wanted to trade him, teams would talk players first and money second.
The obvious choice before the season, Crawford wasn't a desirable player when the Dodgers acquired him. He was a living Adrian Gonzalez tariff. Puigmania in the Cactus League wasn't going to lead to a roster crunch because Crawford was going to be hurt or ineffective, unless he was hurt and ineffective.
So if there was a best-case scenario before the season, it would be Crawford hitting well enough to reclaim some of his value. Then the Dodgers could make room for Puig by trading Crawford, without having to eat the entire contract, and essentially getting a rebate on the Adrian Gonzalez tariff.
Except, I'm pretty sure the Dodgers could get used to Crawford doing what he's doing. If Crawford continues to hit, will the Dodgers consider dealing him away just to make room, like the Nationals did with Mike Morse? That would be a tough sell to Don Mattingly, at least, I'm sure.
Maybe I'm just sensitive to the topic because I follow a lot of Dodgers writers on Twitter, and I see the questions they're responding to. But the obvious answer is to wait. Puig is 22 and in Double-A. If I had to make a list of expected production from Dodger outfielders from now until the end of the season, it would go like this:
That's not really negotiable. I know Puig is the hot new track blowing up the charts, but if we're talking about 2013 and only 2013, I'd expect more from the top three players on the list. Unless the Dodgers are interested in saving millions by trading Crawford before he slumps, the only option is to wait. Which means that unless Ethier or Crawford start to stink, we won't see Puig before the summer, if then. There's no reason to see him before then.
Too many good players is an enviable problem. That's not exactly what the Dodgers have right now, considering Kemp's struggles, but it's close enough. The best bet is that they'll eventually eat a whole lot of Carl Crawford money, but that was probably the plan all along. Just don't expect it to happen any time soon.