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Dodgers outfield gets crowded again with the A.J. Pollock signing

LA, who traded 2 RH outfielders in December, adds one in January

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers’ weird offseason got a little bit weirder on Thursday, with their reported agreement with free agent outfielder A.J. Pollock on a new contract.

Los Angeles is the second-largest market in the country, and they needed an outfielder, with Bryce Harper still available. Yet, the big-market Dodgers don’t seem interested. Instead, they got Pollock at a reported deal worth $60 million over five years.

To date, the biggest Dodgers move this offseason was a salary dump, getting rid of Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood in exchange for the salary of Homer Bailey, who was released as part of the trade, plus two minor leaguers. So yes, while Pollock gives the Dodgers a right-handed hitting outfielder he only fills a need they created themselves by jettisoning Puig and Kemp.

When that trade with Cincinnati was made in December, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said, “We had enough depth to field two starting outfields. It’s much more functional at this point. Having six-plus outfielders isn’t fair to anybody.”

Adding Pollock makes things more crowded again, as the Dodgers roster stands now. They have Joc Pederson, Chris Taylor, Cody Bellinger, Kiké Hernandez and Alex Verdugo also vying for outfield playing time, with second base also beckoning for Taylor and Hernandez, and first base available for Bellinger when Max Muncy or David Freese don’t start there.

Positional flexibility is paramount with the Dodgers, and even with that group there is definitely room for Pollock, a true center fielder. But given his history, it’s not like the Dodgers should be planning for Pollock to play 150 games a year.

What Pollock brings

Pollock got off to a torrid start in 2018, winning National League Player of the Month honors in April. He was hitting .293/.349/.620 with 11 home runs on May 14 when he fractured his left thumb. Pollock returned in July, but just hit .236/.297/.407 the rest of the way, with 10 home runs in 73 games.

Missing seven weeks was nothing new for Pollock, who has averaged just 101 games in his six full seasons, including no more than 113 games in any of the last three years. His disabled list history is daunting:

  • 2014: fractured right hand, missed three months
  • 2016: fractured right elbow, missed nearly five months
  • 2017: strained right groin, missed 2½ months
  • 2018: fractured left thumb, missed seven weeks

The hope for a repeat of his breakout season in 2015 — .315/.367/.498, 131 wRC+, 20 home runs, 39 doubles, 39 stolen bases — fades as we move farther away from his lone fully healthy season, but Pollock as is can still be a valuable addition.

Despite the injuries Pollock has still been a productive player, posting at least 2.5 Wins Above Replacement in five of his last six seasons. In 2017-18 he was slightly above average offensively (.261/.323/.477, 106 wRC+) with plus defense, posting 3- and 2.5-win seasons even while playing only 112 and 113 games respectively.

Financial implications

Given the molasses-like pace of the free agent market, the Dodgers were able to wait until Pollock was available at their price, which for competitive balance tax purposes counts as $12 million per year through 2023.

The salary dump with the Reds lopped off roughly $16 million from the Dodgers’ CBT payroll for 2019, for comparison. Adding Pollock, the Dodgers are at roughly $193.4 million, with any amount over the $206 million threshold subject to a 20-percent tax.

Pollock declined a one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer from the Diamondbacks in November, and as such Arizona will receive a compensatory pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, after the first round. The Dodgers, for signing Pollock, will forfeit their second-round selection in the draft and have their international bonus pool for 2019-2020 decreased by $500,000.

The takeaway

While creative, the Pollock deal continues a Dodgers trend the last two offseasons of restraint. With an impact outfielder like Harper still unsigned, the Dodgers are swimming in the shallow end of the pool, content that the rest of the division is still using floaties.

So while the Dodgers did get better by adding Pollock, their offseason continues to underwhelm.