Last winter, Yasiel Puig was heading into his last season of team control before hitting free agency. The Dodgers ended up trading him (along with Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer) to the Reds for Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray (and Homer Bailey, I guess). It really isn’t about who won or lost the trade (the Dodgers won, btw), but the Dodgers traded all three of them before their final year of free agency. It was different for Kemp, as he was finishing out an 8-year deal while Puig and Wood were playing out their arbitration years.
The Dodgers haven’t had many chances to trade guys heading into their final arbitration years in the Andrew Friedman era. Puig and Wood are the only two who fit that criterion — Dee Gordon was traded after two years of service time. But they’ll have one more heading into 2020.
This is a long jog to finally get to Joc Pederson. He’s going into his final season of arbitration and is projected to make $8.5 million. He’s coming off one of the best seasons of his career in which he hit a career-high 36 home runs and posted a career-best .362 wOBA.
Pederson, 27, is a valuable offensive player, even if almost all his damage comes against right-handed pitching. He was a 3-win player in just a little more than 500 plate appearances. He also had a career-best year defensively, posting 11 defensive runs saved in the outfield — 6 in left field, 5 in right field.
With Cody Bellinger, Enrique Hernandez, A.J. Pollock, Chris Taylor and Alex Verdugo under contract (as well as Matt Beaty and now DJ Peters on the 40-man roster), and you can see why the Dodgers might be looking to move Pederson this winter.
They were rumored to be shopping him last winter — probably to the White Sox — but it was, reportedly, contingent on the Dodgers signing Bryce Harper. With Mookie Betts‘ name being rumored this winter, the Dodgers might almost be forced to deal Pederson, because they probably won’t move Verdugo because he’s cost-controlled for five more seasons. So, let’s see if we can find him a home.
Starting with the team already mentioned, Chicago has already been active on the open market, inking former Dodger catcher Yasmani Grandal to a 4-year contract last week. They also gave first baseman Jose Abreu a new 3-year deal, so they might be going for it — in a way — this season. The White Sox were dead last in baseball in wRC+ from outfielders at a paltry 82. Pederson had a 127 wRC+ last season, so he’d be a massive upgrade, even if for just one season. Luis Robert is their to prospect and after hitting .297/.341/.634 in Triple-A, should be ready for the season (but don’t be surprised if there are some service time shenanigans because that’s still a thing), but adding Pederson’s bat to the already solid lineup could help.
Cleveland has long since needed outfielders. They acquired Franmil Reyes at the trade deadline, but they could still use more help. As a group, Cleveland outfielders had an 87 wRC+ last season. For a team with AL Central title aspirations, they can’t very well go into the season with their corner outfielders being some combination of Jake Bauers, Jordan Luplow, Tyler Naquin and Bradley Zimmer. Cleveland seems like a good match in the event they and the Dodgers would like to shoot for an expanded deal — either involving Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber or both.
At some point, the Angels are going to have to make a more concerted effort to get Mike Trout some help. They just declined a $14 million option on Kole Calhoun, and Pederson could be a suitable (and cheaper) replacement for him. With Jo Adell and maybe Brandon Marsh coming at some point in 2020, the Anaheim outfield could be full very soon (plus, they have Shohei Ohtani at DH). Taking a flyer on Pederson for a year could be the way to go, especially if they bulk up on starting pitching they so desperately need.
After trading for Marcell Ozuna two offseasons ago, the Cardinals could be in the market for another outfielder. Ozuna is a free agent and turned down the $17.8 million qualifying offer. Unless he re-signs, the Cardinals are going to lose a big piece of their offense. And with self-imposed budge restrictions, Pederson could be good way for them to replace Ozuna while saving a few bucks. He could platoon with Jose Martinez or a younger guy like Tyler O’Neill.
The Dodgers aren’t just going to give Pederson away. It’ll have to make sense. Same goes for a guy like Corey Seager. But there’s also something to be said for shaking things up after so many years of things not going their way. I’m not blaming anything on Pederson. Far from it, actually. He has been one of the better postseason performers for the Dodgers. He has a career .813 OPS in 133 postseason plate appearances. For a team that has struggled offensively in October, moving Pederson would be a bit risky. In the end, though, it might make some sense — especially if he isn’t in their future plans.