What’s the intended direction of the Dodgers?

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AP Photo/Nick Wass

In what is easily the most curious move of the winter, the Dodgers were more blessed to give than receive. Christmas came early for the Reds in Cincinnati, and no, it wasn’t Santa who brought them two outfielders, a utilityman, a pitcher and cash.

We saw it Friday, when the Reds were surprised with several gifts from Secret Santa. Whatever his reason, Dodgers team president Andrew Friedman sent Alex Wood, Kyle Farmer, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, and cash to Cincinnati for pitcher Homer Bailey and prospects Josiah Gray and Jeter Downs.

Because the Dodgers sold their X-Box One and PlayStation 4 for a new trendy iPhone, you have to think this product might be more useful for a team that needs to get maybe the best item on the market. Their fans have to be more grateful this holiday season, have to feel good about what the future potentially holds.

But, yeah, of course, it is hard, very difficult, for anyone to say goodbye to Puig. He was an iconic figure in the Los Angeles community, visited sick children in hospitals, raised a good amount of money for charitable donations, including 600 Mattel toys to underprivileged children, and aided economically needy families by distributing food.

Let’s see. No, Puig wasn’t a superstar. But he was a beloved star in L.A., and no one wanted to see him go. Face it, though, Puigmania captivated the city but it only reached its peak when he had a stellar rookie season. After that, he hasn’t nearly been as productive and has been called out for his child-like antics. But no matter how you look at it, this team is different already without him. It was Puig who energized his team, with his unbridled enthusiasm for baseball. Even when he didn’t have good power, he was an outstanding defensive right fielder.

You never want to see someone who is often touted as an important part of your team leave for another club, another city. You hate to see Kemp, who was named National League comeback player of the year, get traded to play someplace else. He emerged as a structural piece for the Dodgers, made the most of his second stint last summer and his bat carried the team. There’s no denying that they wouldn’t have reached back-to-back World Series without him.

Farewell to Wood, your one-time starter who adjusted to his new role as a back-end, emergency reliever. Out of the bullpen, he wasn’t as sharp and the Dodgers couldn’t rely on him primarily in high-leverage situations. But let’s not forget he was a stud and finished the 2017 campaign with a career-high 16 wins, 151 Ks and 2.72 ERA, which helped propelled the Dodgers to what would be their first World Series appearance in 29 years.

Could this mean the Dodgers are chasing a new direction, looking for that superstar slugger in this year’s free agency class? Does this mean the Dodgers will sign Bryce Harper? They’re going to make a run at him and they’ll probably sign him after getting rid of big names that opened up salary cap space.

But what must change for the Dodgers if they are serious about winning a championship is pitching. Sorry, but right-hander Homer Bailey wasn’t that guy. This explains why they waived his no-trade rights under the condition that he would become a free agent. Bailey didn’t have his greatest year—in fact, he was pretty bad last season, going 1- 14 with a horrible 6.09 ERA.

It was no surprise, then, that when he came over to Los Angeles in a blockbuster deal that involved seven players, they cut him loose. Looking at the team now, they may not waste any time entering the Harper sweepstakes. Then again, knowing the Dodgers and how they operate, maybe they sign free agent outfielder A.J. Pollock and break the hearts of the rival Diamondbacks, who formerly called him their own.

A big trade was inevitable, for here was an organization blowing up its roster to retool for the future, confident that with a few more pieces it could be back in a familiar place like a year ago. Look at how much space the Dodgers cleared in the outfield and understand something. They’re surveying the market for outfielders and might be seeking to find bargain deals.

So instead of pursuing a high-priced free agent, they might give Pollock a contract somewhere in the range of $80 million this winter. Many have speculated that he could be jumping the ship to come and play in L.A. He can hit, he can make plays with his glove and cover a lot of ground, but the fear is his health.

This move wasn’t done without a plan, and perhaps it was a deal for the Dodgers to unload two of their expensive outfielders. It’s almost as if they know something we don’t know after this happened. This is, undoubtedly, a big winter for the Dodgers. Rest assured, the baseball hot stove is heating up.

But remember, we’re talking about the Dodgers. It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to anyone that they plan to stay under the luxury tax threshold. But, thing is, although they have a huge payroll, they don’t want to exceed the threshold by at least $40 million. The addition of an albatross contract Harper is seeking would account for big chunks of the team’s payroll.

If anything, they want to pocket a large portion of that revenue, but they won’t be able to with the signing of Harper. Rather than paying him what he’s demanding, the Dodgers could try to trade for a starting pitcher to join Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw. And since pitching seems to be a glaring need, they have expressed interest in the possibility of snagging Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer, one of the two starters from the Cleveland Indians.

Probably you’ve heard talk about acquiring Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. Fans will question these rumors because they wouldn’t like to see the Dodgers give up Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson and a prospect for Realmuto. They will no doubt listen to offers, even if the asking price is high. But they’re less likely to discuss a deal for the All-Star catcher to fill the team’s vacant spot after embattled Yasmani Grandal declined the Dodgers’ qualifying offer.

All of a sudden, Harper has become so much more of an attraction to the Dodgers. For months, he’s been linked to the team and there were many whispers and rumors that he wanted to sign with L.A. And so it is December, when clubs make salary-dump trades, get rid of useless talent and make a big enough offer to attract free agents.

Given Harper’s career-worst season, the Dodgers apparently may have second thoughts about him. But his accomplishments in the nation’s capital will eventually prove rewarding, as he’s slated to earn a whooping $30 million per year. With the Nationals, he was a .279 hitter with 184 home runs in his career and turned Washington into a relevant-playoff team. So understandably, it may be hard for any team to pay the man, when he batted .249 last season. Still, he managed to hit 34 homers.

So will Harper be a Dodger for the 2019 season? It has been a clown question, ever since he was linked to the club near the end of the season. This isn’t a time to have a debate whether he’s overrated or a homegrown star who fits in perfectly in a town grieving the loss of their precious hero. This is instead the time to add Harper to the team’s $180 payroll.

So now, if you’re the Dodgers, you have a need in the outfield, yet Harper can’t strike out anyone. He can only drive in runs and make diving stops in right field. But he has received glowing headlines for his five-tool skills, he has a flashy side to him. That’s not to say the Dodgers don’t have their eyes on Kluber, Bauer or even Realmuto. This is where the real intrigue will be in the upcoming weeks, until the Dodgers make up their mind.

For Harper, it is curious to note how much attention he has received after the Nationals played poorly and missed the postseason. For being such a highly marketable player despite a down year, he’s capable of drawing an audience.

Instead of being castigated by many for his lousy season, he’s being showered with praise by Dodgers fans. His body of work prior to last season has the vast majority here in L.A. salivating over him. While it is still unknown what direction they’ll take, the Dodgers are in no rush.

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