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There are a lot of different reasons why a baseball club decides to trade a player in the middle of the season. It many cases it’s because the player’s contract expires at the end of the year and the team expects him to depart via free agency, so they decide to try to get some value for him. This usually happens with clubs who have fallen out of contention. Another reason is financial: if the team is unable to afford the player’s salary, or needs to free up cash. This summer it’s possible that we’ll witness a confluence of these two factors in Los Angeles.

After failing to buy the Red Sox, Frank and Jamie McCourt completed a largely debt-based purchase of the Dodgers in 2004. Since then their fiscal style has been, shall we say, less than austere, and it all came to light when Frank and Jamie split up. It’s been a particularly messy and public divorce, one made worse by a shoddy prenup, and the team has fallen on tough times. At the end of April Major League Baseball seized control of the Dodgers’ finances. The team has over $400M in debt and has seen a drop in season tickets this year. Worse, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday of this week that the Dodgers lack the finances necessary to meet payroll through the end of this month. The $30M loan that McCourt received from Fox earlier this month, a loan which seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Commissioner Bud Selig, only provided funding for April’s two payrolls and the first payroll in May. This is what’s known as a cash crunch. Right now, the Dodgers are having trouble paying the bills.

The baseball season is still young. The trading deadline is a little less than three months away. Yet this mess of a situation in Los Angeles might mean that the Dodgers become more likely to trade some of their more expensive players this summer. One intriguing name is Hiroki Kuroda. He’s signed only through the end of this year and for a relatively hefty salary of $12M. Despite my best efforts (I heart Hiroki), he remains one of the more underrated pitchers in the game. Since 2010 his K/BB ratio is 3.31, similar to Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez and Tommy Hanson. He has a 3.44 FIP and a 3.43 ERA. He’s gotten goten ground balls at a 50.5% clip, nearly identical to Chris Carpenter. Carpenter is a decent comp for Kuroda over the past two years, except Kuroda has walked fewer batters. Kuroda has no doubt benefited from facing weak NL West lineups and from pitching in a pitcher-friendly home ballpark, but his skillset is strong and he’d represent a great midseason rotation addition for a lot of contending teams.

As evidenced by the divorce proceedings and interactions with the MLB Commissioner’s office, McCourt isn’t one to shy away from a fight or go away quietly. Say what you want about him, and Dodgers fans can say plenty, but he clearly has a backbone and he’s proud of the fact that he owns a baseball club. For this reason he may be less likely to punt on the season and trade away his expensive pieces, especially if Major League Baseball is providing any sort of financial backstop for the club. Yet the math could become a bit different if McCourt is still experiencing a cash crunch in a few months and if the Dodgers have fallen out of contention in the NL West. They currently boast a 15-19 record, 4.5 games behind the division-leading Rockies. Maybe a disappointing season from the Dodgers will encourage McCourt to decide to  free up some cash in the short-term to help his long-term goal of retaining control of the franchise. Shoot, perhaps he’d be willing to pull the trigger on a salary dump now. The Dodgers aren’t short on pitching, but they are short on cash.

There’s something a bit macabre about this whole affair. The divorce is ugly, and it’s sad to see a great franchise like the Los Angeles Dodgers be put in this situation because of the personal affairs of ownership. I’ve always liked the Dodgers, and I’ve always felt nostalgic when I see their stadium and the palm trees and the classic white uniforms. It’s a little uncomfortable to feel like a vulture circling overhead waiting for the wildebeest to finally give up the ghost and collapse into the desert sand. But this isn’t a community softball league, and the Yankees may need to pick up a a pitcher this summer. I feel bad for Dodgers fans, but here’s to hoping that Cashman can pounce with quickness if an opportunity arises.

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  • NJYankeeFan

    I’d definitely take Kuroda if the Dodgers hold a fire sale.

    The only other high salaried player I’d be interested in would be Billingsley but the Dodgers would be crazy to trade him.

    • RollingWave

      This is a team owned by McCourt and ran by Colleti, you should not underestimate their insanity

  • Avi

    Great article Stephen! I know some are fantasizing about stealing Ethier or Kemp, but Kuroda is a realistic target who fills a position of need.

    Of course he might have a more difficult time transitioning from the NL to the Bronx, but as you mentioned, he puts both a great K/BB ratio and GB rate. Also, Vincente Padilla would be a nice throw-in.

    Who would the Yankees have to give? David Phelps + Jose Ramirez + Tommy Kahnle? I’m wary of giving someone like Warren.

    • Gonzo

      Padilla!?!?!? I am sure Tex would like to have a talk with Cash about that.

      • Avi

        The Padilla part was a joke. If we brought him over to the Bronx we’d use him as a punching bag to avenge all the times he’s plunked Tex. The man throws around 50mph lol

  • gargoyle

    I can’t help but feel that Selig is being heavy handed in this situation and that he’s already got the next owner already picked out.

    • JohnnyC

      You think? Of course, that’s the way the commish rolls. I still think it’s absolutely stunning how the guy went from trying to take MLB to the Supreme Court to running MLB like a dictatorship. I’m still disappointed that the parties in Montreal did not follow through on having him brought up on racketeering charges. One of the all-time sports shysters.

      • Zack

        I believe Selig needed 75% of the other owners to sign off on MLB taking control of the Dodgers, so your dictatorship comment doesn’t represent the truth.

        • JohnnyC

          Mubarak was re-elected with 88% of the vote in Egypt in 2005. When he stepped down in February, he had been president for 20 years, re-elected twice in 1999 and 2005. Democracy at work.

          • Zack

            Right, because the MLB owners fear their lives if they vote against Selig.

    • jayd808

      Bud Selig? Now, where would you ever get that idea?

  • Totally Awesome Dude 25

    This post was so badz. The only thing that would really pick me up after something like this is….maybe a reptilian DJ. Maybe.

  • Reggie C.

    Damn good read stephen! This is probably the best narrative i’ve read covering the Dodgers’s situation. Kuroda sure does appear to fit the team’s need for a proven starter to contend down the stretch. That said, he does have a full NTC which makes me think he loves playing on the West Coast … hence, accepting a one-year deal just for 2011.

  • Dr. O

    It is pretty funny that MLB will be so adamant against someone like Mark Cuban being sole owner of a team but will so gladly hand one of their most storied franchises over to The McCourts. It reminds me of when that guy with no money bought The Islanders, not that McCourt is some fraud. Just that due diligence in checking up on these guys rarely seems to consist of more than “He’s white” and “I like em!”.

    • Rob Thomsen’s Chili Farts

      Just that due diligence in checking up on these guys rarely seems to consist of more than “He’s white” and “I like em!”.

      Does it really?

      • JohnnyC

        I don’t think Selig is motivated by racism at all. He simply wants to install owners who will be in debt to him both monetarily and politically. How do you think he’s been able to remain commissioner for 20 years? Is it just luck or “competence” that has given him the longest tenure of any commissioner in baseball history?

        • Dr. O

          It isn’t entirely Selig, they have to approve them as a group. You don’t have to call it racism, but I’m sure they do a little more checking into people like Artie Moreno than they do John Henry.

  • Craig

    I don’t trust him enough to give up anything significant. He wouldn’t need to be an ace though, so if they can pick him up without surrendering anybody too significant I’d be on board.

  • RollingWave

    Why not just be really evil and trade Cash for Kuroda, that’ll certainly spawn a gazillion evil Yankee articles heh

  • dkidd

    i’d like to switch to the alternate universe where the mccourts succeeded in buying the red sox

  • Wil Nieves Number 1 Fan

    I can appreciate that Kuroda might be one of the more underrated pitchers in the league, but I’ll pass. We already have enough old Japanese pitchers in the East. However, if it’s a matter of 20 bucks, I’ll do it.

    • Plank

      Yeah, it’s the owners who are racist…What does Kuroda’s nationality have to do with his pitching?

  • jayd808

    Why not spin a mega-deal of some sort and get Clayton Kershaw for a package of minor leaguers. Hell, reunite the two Yankee Captains for the greater glory of the Dodgers to show we really CARE….

  • jayd808

    I’d like to see an article devoted to the out-of-the-gate failing teams and the possibility of getting a front line starter from them. Who do we root for to get shallacked in May-June and why.

  • mbonzo

    On top of this, Kuroda will most definitely be a type A free agent who could realistically be offered arbitration. Dodgers also owe $3.2m annually to Yankee Andruw Jones over the next 4 years, which is something the Yankees could cover, though I think the mlb would frown on it.

    As for Ethier and Kemp, I think they will be available to the Yankees. Sands and Robinson are underrated OF prospects imo, they will provide enough depth for the team if they lose one of them. If there was a firesale and the Yankees offered Gardner and a prospect package for Kemp or Ethier, I think both systems would benefit.

    So lets do it,
    Hiroki Kuroda
    Andre Ethier

    Jones’ remaining salary
    Brett Gardner
    Andrew Brackman
    Eduardo Nunez (or a Nunez-esq type prospect)

    That saves the Dodgers $34.3m plus whatever Ethier were to make in his last year of arbitration, this also brings their salary down to almost $95m this year. They also get back a very high WAR outfielder for cheap and a top pitching prospect.

    Yankees end up with a very nice upgrade in the outfield, a lefty who could probably hit 30 homeruns easily in YS. They get a number 2ish SP who could be a huge push in the playoffs. I’m not sure if the Yankees are giving up enough here, but they are certainly taking on a lot of money.

    • Plank

      I’m almost certain the league won’t allow the Dodgers to make any big moves this year. Regardless of if the trade is realistic/unrealistic, they aren’t going to trade any big names away.