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.
|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
The Dodgers have some interest in Josh Donaldson, Andrew Friedman said Mark Prior will replace Rick Honeycutt as the team's pitching coach (as expected), and Friedman said he isn't sure if he will hire a GM.https://t.co/bFPxnT1dMj
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgecastillo) November 13, 2019
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.
— Jim Bowden??? (@JimBowdenGM) November 10, 2019
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.
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.