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Dodgers: Assessing the Payroll Impact Of Adding Big Names

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 27: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Houston Astros delivers the pitch against the Washington Nationals during the first inning in Game Five of the 2019 World Series at Nationals Park on October 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

There has been plenty of chatter about the Dodgers adding some big-name players either via trade or free agency. If the Dodgers go for one of the big fish like Gerrit Cole or Anthony Rendon, it will cost them ~$35M per year for the next 6-7 years. Players like Francisco Lindor or Mookie Betts would still cost quite a bit, but the commitment is either 1 or 2 years. This article will take a look at how the high-cost options might look like over the next few years from a payroll impact perspective.

Payroll Forecast Through 2022

We took a look at the 2020 payroll outlook last month and we’ll follow the same number calculations as we did in that article. The focus is on the Annual Average Value (AAV), which is used to calculate luxury taxes. The past two seasons show that the Dodgers do care about “real inside baseball economic stuff“ in avoiding the luxury taxes. They’d rather not exceed those tax boundaries but have said they will exceed it in some cases. If the Dodgers had signed Bryce Harper then they would probably have exceeded those limits in 2019. Let’s take a look at their salary commitments for the next three years.

2020 2021 2022
Estimated Arbitration $53,000,000 $67,850,000 $74,100,000
Guaranteed $86,458,333 $70,458,333 $15,125,000
Total Players 21 17 11
Under Low Cap $46,706,667 $48,641,667 $96,825,000
Under High Cap $86,706,667 $88,641,667 $136,825,000
  • Guaranteed: These are guaranteed contracts.
  • Total Players: The total players that were accounted for in the calculations. Others would be close to the league minimum.
  • Under Low Cap: The amount below the first level of luxury taxes.
  • Under High Cap: The amount below the highest level of luxury taxes.

With incentives and estimates being conservative let’s make the numbers like this for the low cap:

  • 2020 – $40M
  • 2021 – $42M
  • 2022 – $92M

Impact of Signing Cole or Rendon

For signing either Gerrit Cole or Anthony Rendon the signing team will probably be on the hook for an AAV of $35M for 6-8 years. The Dodgers have the room to sign one of them but it doesn’t leave much room for any other big moves. The only other solution would be to trade off some other contracts. Players that only have one more year until free agency include Joc Pederson ($8.5M), Kiké Hernandez ($5.5M) and Pedro Baez ($3.3M). Other players that might be available to trade include Joe Kelly ($8.3M) and A.J. Pollock ($12M). If the Dodgers sign a big free agent then I’d expect one or more of the previous players to be traded to clear out some salary.

Impact of Signing Donaldson

There have been some discussions that the Dodgers could be interested in a shorter-term contract for Josh Donaldson for less AAV and probably only 3 years. Jim Bowden has Donaldson at 3 years at $25M per season. If the Dodgers signed him instead of Rendon, it gives them an extra $10M to use without dumping salary. Signing either Rendon or Donaldson allows Justin Turner to shift to first base and the infield defense on the left side would improve.

What About Ryu or Wheeler?

There’s no way the Dodgers could sign Cole and either Hyun-Jin Ryu or Zack Wheeler. Either Ryu or Wheeler will probably get $20M or less per season. They both have some inherent risks but the rotation would be strong if they could sign both. That would take up almost all of the available $40 is cap space. Yes, they’d need to do some dumping of salary but a rotation led by Buehler, Ryu, Kershaw, and Wheeler would be outstanding.

Trading For Lindor

It will be two years before Francisco Lindor is eligible for free agency and there are rumors that he might be available in a trade. If the Dodgers trade for Lindor it would allow Corey Seager to move to third base (or he could be traded also). Lindor makes the infield defense a lot better. The estimates for Lindor’s salary for 2020 is around $17M. That’s great as it leaves about $23M for getting other things done. However, he would probably jump up to around $25M in 2021 which leaves just $17M extra for that season.

We don’t know which players would need to go to Cleveland but they probably would not want to take on too much salary. Most importantly, the player cost would be very high in terms of prospects.

Trading For Betts

Mookie Betts is one season away from free agency and he will get anywhere from $27-30M in arbitration. His salary impact would be pretty high as it leaves $10-13M left to improve the rest of the team. The bigger question would be, could the Dodgers sign Betts to a long-term contract to keep him past 2020? Betts would cost $35-40M so 2021 would be heavily impacted. If they could withstand a luxury tax in 2021 things get a lot clearer as Kenley Jansen and Clayton Kershaw‘s big contracts expire (total of $47M AAV). The player cost for Betts would be high but since he is eligible for free agency after one more season it probably won’t be higher than Lindor.

2021 is a Hinderance

The Dodgers, as of right now, have a strong roster. Adding $35-$37M worth of players can be dealt with by making some salary dump moves for the 2020 season. For 2021 there are fewer players under contract — with only $42M available to fill 9 roster spots. I have $37M estimated for Bellinger, Seager, and Buehler in arbitration in 2021 along with the $47M alone for Kershaw and Jansen. That is a big chunk for five players. If the Dodgers are willing to go into the luxury tax for the 2021 season they could easily get back under for 2022.

Final Analysis

The current front office has not given a contract to a free agent greater than the 5/$60M for A.J. Pollock last off-season. When they’ve traded for big names like Yu Darvish and Manny Machado it has been near the trade deadline. The intention seemed to have been to not sign them to long-term contracts. The prospects like a Mookie Betts (one year left before free agency) would cost would be a very risky move. Any salary dump type move would either involve including an extra prospect in the trade or not getting equal value.

It does seem that the Dodgers are big game hunting this off-season and they have enough flexibility in their payroll to be aggressive. My hope is that they spend their money better than last off-season and can improve the team enough for another championship run.

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

15 Comments

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  1. Dump all the Joc, Kiki, Baez, Kelley and Pollock salary you can, but it will be hard to find Kelley and Pollock takers. Do NOT trade any of the top 4-5 prospects for rentals like Betts or Lindor unless they sign for a longer time. Sign Rendon/Cole to 5-6 year deals.

  2. Dodgers get 400 million a year from tv revenue. Please explain why they are so concerned about going over the cap for a year or two? Win a title while we have these pieces. Sure, spending money is no guarantee, but staying pat is a for sure fail. Braves signed Will Smith, who is a player we needed desperately. Closer is a big problem for us, as are lefty relievers. If Urias is a starter next year, we have only Kolarek and Ferguson…….

  3. This FO will not sign a big fish. That’s never been Andrew Friedmans strategy. The Dodgers will sign cheep players and hope they produce like all Stars. The Dodgers have been good because of their farm, not the decisions of Friedman. Just look at his success with Tampa, no massive stars, just a roster full of cheep Quality role players

  4. Blah, blah, blah. The Dodger owners are a bottom-line money centric machine who, despite enriching themselves with the second most lucrative TV deal, will spend the minimal to keep the lemmings coming and being “competitive”; never going all out to win a championship. Why do you think they hired a “penny-pinching” expert from Tampa to steer the ship? Don’t be surprised when they make a pretense of going after the top FA but settling on second, and third tier guys or, as has been their practice – picking up oft-injured reclamation projects that cost them little or nothing. If you want to know what the ownership really thinks of their fans just look at the six years of TV blackout for 60% of them.

  5. I really hope most people are like you and boycott. It would be great for their big renovation year to flop because of their ways

      • Seems they like to delete my replies quite often. Guess I should stop telling the truth about the greed and lack of attempts to strengthen the team. Guess my opinion doesn’t count…Guess I should stop saying I’m not going to Dodgers stadium, not buying the MLB package or any merchandise until they start spending some of that fortune and paying for some top flight Free Agents…

  6. Honestly all this talk annd speculation about signing and or trading for ‘big fish’ so to speak is getting old because we know the real end result will be. That is why I also suggest to fans to temper completely any expectations in 2020 as long as Roberts is the manager and besides do any of you want to see another embarrassment in another post season/

    • Everyone including the players could use a break from being the embarrassment of baseball. I don’t want to make the playoffs next year

  7. The only certainties: Small Market Minded Freidman will leak that he is “in” on every possible big name trade and every big Free Agent. The reality is that he will under bid for too few years every BIG FA only to OVER bid on FA with substantial IL time and/or way past his prime. All of the top tier trade teams will “…demand too much…” so no significant changes are coming. As Long as the Owners leave Friedman to do what he wants, we will look more like Tampa Bay than the team that has been #1 in MLB attendance for 7 straight years. 2020 will be year 32 without a WS Championship, during which the scum Giants have won 3 to PASS US and even the Angels won one. CHOKING; a new LA tradition.

    • Gotta admit he’s quite good at acting like he’s all in every year. Always has the excuse that the “Camp” as they call it, always wants too much….And he just wasn’t ready to give up ALL that Potential at Triple A level…..Looks as if most fans buy into the Division winning goal…

  8. Sounds like the Dodgers every year. At least I. The past when the trade deadline was longer they could get lucky on low bidding on rentals like Darvish and Machado. Now with the trade line being so short we should expect nothing less than left handed no name relievers from Cincinnati..

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