Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/1/14

On Friday night, the Dodgers made their latest calculated gamble, taking on $260 million in future salaries from the Red Sox in order to acquire Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto. In the write-up I did on Friday, I noted that the best way to explain this trade from the Dodgers perspective is that they are attempting to capitalize on their current contender status under the hope that they can achieve a significant revenue bounce from a playoff run that could offset a large part of the costs of these acquisitions.

There’s another theory floating around, however, that has to do with the upcoming free agent class. If we accept that the Dodgers were going to spend this much money at some point in the near future, the argument is that the relatively unimpressive group of free agents set to hit the market this winter made this a better choice than spending the same money on free agents in three months and getting inferior players without the added bonus of their production down the stretch in 2012.

So, let’s go through the options, and see what else the Dodgers could have potentially done with their giant wad of cash.

First, let’s break down the $260 million figure into actual figures, since there’s a difference between giving that money to one player versus four separate players, each of whom requires a salary in 2012. Here’s an estimated annual breakdown of what the Dodgers committed to pay over the weekend, assuming that the Red Sox are picking up all of the 2012 salaries and the Dodgers are on the hook for all of the 2013 and beyond salaries.

2013:

Gonzalez: $21 million
Crawford: $20 million
Beckett: $15.8 million
Punto: $1.5 million

Total: $58.3 million

2014:

Gonzalez: $21 million
Crawford: $20.2 million
Beckett: $15.8 million

Total: $58.5 million

2015:

Gonzalez: $21 million
Crawford: $20.5 million

Total: $41.5 million

2016:

Gonzalez: $21 million
Crawford: $20.8 million

Total: $41.8 million

2017:

Gonzalez: $21.5 million
Crawford: $21 million

Total: $42.5 million

2018:

Gonzalez: $21.5 million

Total: $21.5 million

That adds up to $264 million, which is just slightly above the reported $260 million figure that the Dodgers are on the hook for. It’s possible that those reports just rounded down, or that the Sox are kicking in $4 million somewhere, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter too much. Overall, we’re looking at an expenditure of around between $55-$60 million for the next two years, a little over $40 million for the next three, and then just over $20 million in year six.

So, you can’t just look at this and say that the Dodgers could have signed three premium free agents this winter with the $60 million they just spent, since the future commitments drop off significantly after Beckett’s deal expires. To line this up more with what they got, we need to essentially look for two potential long term deals and one shorter deal, though we’ll give ourselves the freedom to move money around within the deals to fit other options as long as the future commitments come out similarly.

Let’s start with the big bat, since that was the key to this trade from LA’s perspective. Could they have gotten something as good as Gonzalez this winter? In terms of just pure hitting potential, the best bats (as rated by ZIPS rest-of-season projections) that will hit the open market this winter are:

David Ortiz: .381 wOBA
Josh Hamilton: .374 wOBA
Kevin Youkilis: .363 wOBA
Lance Berkman: .361 wOBA
Mike Napoli: .358 wOBA
Nick Swisher: .353 wOBA

For comparison, Gonzalez is at .357, so his offensive production would fit in comfortably with most of the guys on this list. Ortiz is not an option since he’s strictly a DH, and Berkman is openly talking about retirement, so in reality, it’s a choice between Gonzalez and signing one of Hamilton, Youkilis, Napoli, or Swisher. Gonzalez is the youngest of those five, but he’s only six months younger than Napoli, so there’s not a huge difference there. He’s a year younger than Hamilton, 18 months younger than Swisher, and three years younger than Youkilis, who is likely nearing the end of his run as an elite hitter, if he hasn’t gotten there already. Given that Youkilis is quite a bit older, we’ll strike him from the list as well, and just focus on Hamilton, Napoli, and Swisher as alternative “big bat” options. How much of our budget would each cost?

Hamilton’s tricky, because his off-the-field issues and injury concerns seem likely to limit his future contract, but the talent is such a wild card that I don’t think anyone really knows what he’s going to get. I could see him landing a seven year, $140 million deal this winter, or I could see him settling for 3/70. But, just for argument’s sake, let’s take the high side of the deal, and say Hamilton would have required 7/140.

We covered Swisher last week, and I estimated about 5/90 for him, and the convenience there is that he has experience at first base, so signing him would directly fill the role that Gonzalez was brought in to fill. Interestingly, if they went cheap on the starter, the Dodgers might have been able to afford both Hamilton and Swisher, so this isn’t necessarily an either/or option here.

Napoli’s another tough guy to decipher, as he’s battled injuries and regressed back to what he was before he got to Texas, and right now doesn’t look like the monster bat he was a year ago. However, if he was moved off catcher full time and just asked to play first base, there’s certainly some thunder in his bat that could lead to a return to higher levels of production. He won’t get anything close to what Hamilton or Swisher will, I don’t imagine, and would have represented the more frugal option as a big bat first baseman, assuming that the Dodgers could have convinced him to give up catching to begin with. Just spitballing, I’m penciling Napoli in for 3/36, or somewhere in that range.

On the pitching side of things, the options are more vast, and in the interest of brevity, we’re not going to go through every single available free agent starting pitcher. Let’s just say that the Dodgers could have probably landed a pitcher ranging from Zack Greinke (for, say, 6/130 if they really wanted him) to Anibal Sanchez (5/75ish?), or Ryan Dempster (3/30?), who we know badly wanted to go to LA at the deadline. Or they could have gone dumpster diving and come up with another Chris Capuano type, maybe by landing a guy like Francisco Liriano for $8 million on a one year deal.

If my wild guess speculations here aren’t too far off base, then the Dodgers could have spent similar amounts of money and come away with one of the various packages below:

A. Josh Hamilton (7/140), Nick Swisher (5/90), and Ryan Dempster (3/30)

B. Zack Greinke (6/130), Nick Swisher (5/90), and Mike Napoli (3/36)

C. Nick Swisher (5/90), Anibal Sanchez (5/75), and Mike Napoli (3/36), with $60 million leftover

Would any of those packages have been preferable to the trio that the Dodgers actually got? I think I’d have gone for Option A, personally, even with Hamilton’s baggage. Hamilton is pretty close to Gonzalez in value, Swisher is likely better than Crawford, and Dempster is almost certainly better than Beckett at this point. What about you guys? Of the four potential packages, which would you have chosen, remembering to factor in that the Gonzalez/Crawford/Beckett triumvirate is the only one that would return any value before next season.

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