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Dodgers: 2019 Salary Obligations After Winter Meetings

Dodgers
April 25, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager (5) hits a single against the Miami Marlins in the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It is time for another look at the salary information for the Dodgers in 2019. I wrote one early last month (it has a lot of details about how the luxury tax works) but the rumor mill about signing Bryce Harper or trading for a stud starting pitcher brings the need for more discussion about the current salary posture.  In 2018 the Dodgers avoided the luxury tax for the first time since 2012. There are indications that they will stay under that cap in the near future also. However, I do believe they could go over the $206M limit given the right opportunity.

2019 Salary Information

The 2019 salaries for the Dodgers as of December 15, 2018 are below. All arbitration information is an estimate from  Trade Rumors. Most of the salary information is from COTS.  The bWAR is Wins Above Replacement from Baseball Reference. Players like Cody Bellinger and Walker Buehler are not on this list as they are all making around the league minimum for 2019.  AAV is the Average Annual Value and is what is used to calculate the salaries for luxury tax purposes.

Player Notes 2018 bWAR 2019 AAV
Baez, Pedro Arb-Est 0.7 $1,800,000
Cingrani, Tony Arb-Est -0.2 $2,650,000
Freese, David 1/$5M 2.1 $5,000,000
Fields, Josh Arb-Est 0.9 $2,800,000
Garcia, Yimi Arb-Est -0.7 $900,000
Hernandez, Enrique Arb-Est 2.8 $3,200,000
Hill, Rich 3/$48M 1.3 $16,000,000
Jansen, Kenley 5/$80M 0.6 $16,000,000
Kelly, Joe 3/$25M 0.5 $8,333,333
Kemp. Matt 8/$160M 1.1 $20,000,000
Kershaw, Clayton 3/$93M + inc. 4 $31,000,000
Maeda, Kenta 8/$25M + inc. 0.4 $3,125,000
Pederson, Joc Arb-Est 2.3 $4,300,000
Puig, Yasiel Arb-Est 2.7 $11,300,000
Ryu, Hyun-Jin QO 2.6 $17,900,000
Seager, Corey Arb-Est 0.4 $2,600,000
Taylor, Chris Arb-Est 4.1 $3,200,000
Turner, Justin 4/$64M 4.5 $16,000,000
Utley, Chase 2/$2M -0.2 $1,000,000
Wood, Alex Arb-Est 1 $9,000,000
Kemp Trade To Padres $3,500,000
Club Control $3,950,000
40 Man Minors $2,250,000
Player Benefits $14,500,000
Total $200,308,333
CBA Tax Threshold $206,000,000
Amount Under Threshold $5,691,667
Draft Pick Penalty $246,000,000
Amount Under Penalty $45,691,667

The “Amount Under Threshold” is the amount before tax penalties begin. The “Amount Under Penalty” is the amount before they start losing draft positions.

2019 Salary Ramifications

As is it plain to see,the Dodgers are only about $5.7M away from the tax threshold.  The main differences between my previous article and now is that Hyun-Jin Ryu accepted the $17.9M qualifying offer, and Joe Kelly looks to have been signed for an AAV of $8.33M. If the Dodgers are going to do anything big, they will need to get back into the tax penalties.  The penalties have been reset and it is time to get back into improving this team without this boundary. The qualifying offers and the signing of Joe Kelly leads me to think they are willing to go over. Even if they are willing to go into the salary penalty, players like Bryce Harper, Corey Kluber or Francisco Cervelli aren’t cheap.

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Key Money Expiring After 2019

Matt Kemp
Oct 23, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Matt Kemp hits a solo home run against the Boston Red Sox in the second inning in game one of the 2018 World Series at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

A big factor isn’t just 2019 but the future after that. Players like Corey Seager, Walker Buehler and Cody Bellinger will see their salaries escalate as they head into their arbitration years. Some key salaries off the books after 2019 are:

  • David Freese – $5M
  • Rich Hill – $16M
  • Matt Kemp – $20M
  • Yasiel Puig – ~$11.3M
  • Hyun-Jin Ryu – $17.9M
  • Chase Utley – $1M
  • Alex Wood – ~$9M

That totals up to $80.2M off the books in 2020. Of course, some arbitration decisions will reduce that number so let’s assume $65M off the books for next year.

Reducing in 2019

By looking at the above tables, just about any player is trade bait except the following, in my opinion:

  • Kenley Jansen – $16M
  • Clayton Kershaw – $31M
  • Hyun-Jin Ryu – $17.9M – not eligible to be traded until 6/15/19
  • Corey Seager – ~$2.6M
  • Justin Turner – $16M
  • Cody Bellinger – almost minimum
  • Walker Buehler – almost minimum
  • Julio Urías – almost minimum

I included the last 3 for some completeness but they don’t impact the total AAV for 2019 much at all.

The Rumor Mill

Puig
Oct 28, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig (66) runs after hitting a single in the second inning against the Boston Red Sox in game five of the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Some prominent names that are in the rumor mill due to the Dodger wanting to offload some contracts and remove some overcrowding:

  • Rich Hill – $16M
  • Matt Kemp – $20M
  • Joc Pederson – ~$4.3M
  • Yasiel Puig – ~$11.3M
  • Alex Wood – ~$9M

All these players are well liked by fans and some are beloved. My purpose here isn’t to advocate for getting rid of any of these players, just to figure out how Andrew Friedman and Company might handle this. I did write about how some players would benefit from a change of scenery to better their careers. Below I’ll offer some possibilities for reducing the salary hit.

Some Difficulties

In most cases other teams would not take on the full salaries of Matt Kemp or Rich Hill which is why you hear about names like Homer Bailey coming back to the Dodgers to lesson the impact. Let’s say there is a trade with the Reds with Kemp and Bailey involved. The Dodgers would save only $2.5M in that case and I’d easily contend Kemp is far more value than Bailey. Another difficulty is that some players like Yasiel Puig or Alex Wood might not be valued by other teams like, we the fans, think they should be.

How To Keep Puig

If, as rumored, that other teams might not want Puig, I’d like the Dodgers to look into a multi-year contract for him. If they were to negotiate a 3 year/$21-24$M contract, that would lower Puig’s AAV for 2019.  The Dodgers have too many outfielders that deserve to play everyday, and if they get Harper, then a plunger needs to get taken to the outfielders on the roster. The Dodgers are always looking to get best value for players and having Puig at $7-8M AAV might keep him in right field for the next three years.  Just imagine having both Puig and Harper; that might be fun.

Possible Incoming Salaries

Oct 5, 2018; Houston, TX, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) delivers a pitch during the first inning in game one of the 2018 ALDS playoff baseball series against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

There’s not much of a point in the Dodgers unloading some salary if there aren’t some big money coming back. Some of the rumored players and their salaries from an Average Annual Value (AAV) perspective (courtesy of COTS):

  • Corey Kluber – $11.7M
  • Trevor Bauer – ~11.6M arbitration estimate
  • Francisco Cervelli – $10.33M
  • Tucker Barnhart – $4M
  • Homer Bailey – $17.5M
  • T. Realmuto – ~$6.1M arbitration estimate
  • Bryce Harper – ~$35-40M (free agent)

If the Dodgers want to stay under the penalty they only have about $5.7M of room. Of course, someone like Harper makes it nearly impossible to stay under the penalty but those others would allow them to stay under, given they unload some current salary.

Analysis

A point of reference, the Dodgers started the 2018 season with a team AAV of $182M and ended at $195M. It rose during the season due to the mid-season acquisitions. They will need a similar amount of room for 2019 if they plan to stay under. Given that, to stay under the cap and have room for mid-season acquisitions, the need to start 2019 at $193M. They are already at $200.31M so they could also look to offload salaries to just have that extra room.

This post is about numbers and most of us could care less about them. However, the ownership and the front office probably do or else we wouldn’t be hearing rumors about off-loading some salary. There are also a plethora of starting pitchers and outfielder so they are also dealing from a position of strength. I view Bryce Harper as a generational talent and he will get PAID by somebody. If the Dodgers want him they will have to go into the luxury tax penalties unless they find ways to unload about $40M in salary. Oh yeah, they still need another catcher, no matter what they do about Harper.

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Written by Tim Rogers

A fan of the Dodgers since 1973 since I got my first baseball cards while living in Long Beach. I came to San Diego for college and never left nor did I ever switch my Dodgers' allegiance. Some know me as the "sweater guy". #ProspectHugger

10 Comments

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  1. Couple of questions/notes. Isn’t Cingrani signed, not arb est; David Freese $500K buyout was paid a couple of months ago, isn’t that amount applied to the 2018 payroll; Maeda at $3.1MM is well below his anticipated earnings with incentives; do Dodgers owe Utley $1MM when he retired?

    • Good catch on Cingrani. I had the amount right but forgot to remove the note. I’ve been trying to figure out the Freese issue. To be save, I kept the 500K on 2019. Chase was first released so he still gets that money. Pretty sure this was understood when they signed the 2/2 contract. Thanks for reading.

  2. Outstanding breakdown of numbers, and analysis. You balanced how to keep fan Favorites, while acquiring new assets, and also addressed the minimal trade value gained by offloading some folks like Kemp or Puig. Well done! Thanks for the updated numbers, and analysis. 🙂

  3. Interesting analysis. Try this. Add Urias, Stripling, Verdugo, and Beuhler to the 25 man roster. Sign Harper for $39M. Trade Pederson and Yimi Garcia for Cervelli, who is owed $10.4M in 2019. That adds salary of $49.4M and deletes salary of $5.2M, leaving team salary obligation of $244,508,333 for 29 players on the active roster. Give away Hill and Kemp ( and add in $5M to get rid of their contracts), Wood, and EITHER Cingrani or Fields, in return for the best prospects you can find (preferably at RP and 2B). This is a further reduction of $42.65-42.8M, leaving the payroll at between $204,008,333 – $204,158,333, still below the cap.

    • Urias, Stripling, Verdugo and Buehler are already accounted for with the “Club Control” information. They will make close to the minimum. Quite a bargain. If they sign Harper there will be trades like you are talking about. There’s about $60M that can go if needed.

  4. Well done! Very thorough article. I’m still for using that Bryce money on Nolan Arenado next year (with enough to spare for a good RP). And that $65MM-$80MM coming off the books sounds like more than enough to sign Zack Wheeler (especially while ppl are busy trying to woo Chris Sale, Gerrit Cole, MadBum, etc.) and cover the increases in other salaries in 2020.

    I personally don’t think even WITH Bryce Harper and JT Realmuto, we have enough to beat one of those AL behemoths. We’ll be in the same Championship-less state next year, with LESS financial flexibility and a depleted farm system.

    DJ Peters is going to be better than Bryce anyways.

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