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Dodgers need to make one more move to compete with Cubs

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The Los Angeles Dodgers are getting the band back together. The club agreed to a five-year, $80 million deal with closer Kenley Jansen Monday, and are expected to bring back third baseman Justin Turner on a four-year deal. With the moves, Los Angeles will enter 2017 with roughly the core from the past couple years.

That can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. With this group, the Dodgers have won four straight National League West titles. They’ve averaged 92 regular season wins each year during the period. And yet, when it comes time for the playoffs, the Dodgers have faltered. The club hasn’t made it past the National League Championship Series, and twice was bounced in the first round.

The team’s most recent October loss came against the Chicago Cubs, who, despite not making a ton of noise this offseason, still look like the class of the National League. If Los Angeles wants to avoid a repeat of 2016, they can’t simply enter 2017 with the same club. In order to compete with the Cubs, the Dodgers need to find ways to keep improving their roster.

Kenley Jansen is coming back to the Dodgers. (Getty Images/Sean M. Haffey)
Kenley Jansen is coming back to the Dodgers. (Getty Images/Sean M. Haffey)

Thankfully, the perfect addition for Los Angeles is currently available on the trade market. If the Dodgers truly want to compete with the Cubs as the class of the National League, they need to make a trade for Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier.

Doing so is possible, though it may require some creativity. By bringing back Jansen, Turner and free-agent pitcher Rich Hill, the Dodgers are committing around $200 million in future salary.

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As Ken Rosenthal points out in the above tweet, that’s going to put the Dodgers at or near the luxury tax moving forward. The club already had an expected payroll of $186 million for 2017 according to Cots Contracts, and that’s before adding Turner and Jansen’s salaries. The luxury tax for 2017 is expected to be $195 million.

Justin Turner is taking his talents back to Los Angeles. (Getty Images/Patrick McDermott)
Justin Turner is taking his talents back to Los Angeles. (Getty Images/Patrick McDermott)

Once Jansen and Turner are officially signed, the Dodgers will far exceed that total. In fact, having both under contract could cause the Dodgers to hit a new surtax that would penalize them even more for being over the luxury tax. That surtax kicks in if a club is $20 million over the luxury-tax limit, and that’s about where the Dodgers would be with Turner and Jansen. It’s worth noting that the penalty for exceeding the luxury tax won’t be as bad in 2017, but will get worse moving forward.

That’s all a very complicated way of saying the Dodgers probably aren’t going to spend much more on the free-agent market. The Dodgers will likely have to turn to the trade market in order to shore up the rest of their roster. Adding a $5 million player via trade is much easier to do than spending another $13 million on a free-agent.

That’s where Dozier comes in.

The most obvious place for Los Angeles to upgrade its roster is at second base. The club lost Chase Utley to free agency, and dealt away Howie Kendrick earlier in the offseason. That leaves Enrique Hernandez as the club’s starter at second. While Hernandez thrived in a part-time role in 2015, he hit just .190/.283/.324 over 244 plate appearances in 2016. He’s also more valuable to the team if he’s able to play multiple positions, so the Dodgers probably don’t want to limit him to second base.

The Twins should entertain offers for Brian Dozier. (Getty Images/Duane Burleson)
The Twins should entertain offers for Brian Dozier. (Getty Images/Duane Burleson)

The Minnesota Twins have no need for Brian Dozier next season. The 29-year-old has developed into an excellent player, but he’s not going to help Minnesota charge to the playoffs in 2017. Though he’s under control for two more seasons at a cheap price, the Twins probably won’t be ready to compete in 2018. He’s the perfect trade candidate for Minnesota. He likely won’t be a part of the next Twins winner, but he will bring back players who could make an impact on that club.

At just $6 million in 2017 and $9 million in 2018, his salary is modest, but not excessive. Though it will impact the team’s luxury tax hit in 2017, Los Angeles will have Andre Ethier’s $17.5 million salary off the books in 2018. If they really care about the money, adding Dozier is doable, and highly preferred to bringing in another pricey free-agent.

If money is really an issue, the team can shed some salary by getting rid of outfielder Yasiel Puig. Everyone expects Los Angeles to clear up their outfield situation, and Puig seems the most likely choice to go based on his relationship with the club last season. At $8.2 million, Puig is already making more than Dozier this year. That will continue in 2018, when Puig’s salary jumps to $9.2 million. He doesn’t necessarily have to be in the trade for Dozier, but getting rid of Puig would solve some issues for Los Angeles.

Of course, the Dodgers have the pieces to get a deal done without Puig. While 20-year-old Julio Urias would likely be off the table, Los Angeles still has a promising farm system full of useful players. Six of the team’s prospects ranked on Baseball America’s top-100 midseason update in July. First baseman Cody Bellinger and pitcher Jose De Leon were the highest on that list, ranking 24th and 25th respectively. A deal built around one of those players, with others included, has to be intriguing to Minnesota.

With Jansen, Turner and the gang back, the Dodgers should once again be a formidable team in 2017. While that’s nice, formidable hasn’t won championships the past couple years. In order for Los Angeles to take that next step, the team can’t bring back the exact same core from 2016.

Finding a way to upgrade at second base despite the current spending restrictions might just be enough for Los Angeles to truly push the Cubs as the best team in the NL. The Dodgers have what it takes to make it happen, and it just so happens the perfect candidate is sitting out there on the trade market.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik