It's still a little difficult getting used to the Dodgers spending so much money. The Brian Wilson signing isn't huge by any means, at $10 million for a year or at least $18.5 million over two years counting the player option, but the move is significant, at least philosophically.
The Dodgers will be over the competitive balance tax threshold for a second consecutive season, meaning they will pay 30% on any payroll over $189 million next year, an increase over the 17.5% tax they will pay as a first-time offender in 2013. But we knew this would happen with or without Wilson. It just means that for practical purposes, every additional dollar the Dodgers add will really cost them $1.30.
For purposes of the luxury tax, average annual values are used; it's not as simple as adding up the actual money paid in 2014. For contracts with a player option, that is factored in as guaranteed money. So in Wilson's case, his player option starts at $8.5 million so his contract is essentially the same as a two-year, $18.5 million deal, or $9.25 million each year. Adding in 30%, that's $12.025 million for essentially closer insurance in case Kenley Jansen gets hurt.
This is where the shift is, to me.
The normal way of building a bullpen, if there is such a thing, is to have a closer making the most money, surrounded by other relievers making less. At least that's how it usually goes, at least in planning.
Things don't always necessarily work out that way in execution, and a team might end up with a relatively high-priced pitcher in middle relief or a mop-up role. Brandon League is a good example of this, relegated to low leverage duty for most of the second half of the season and left off the Dodgers' playoff roster. But he was signed for three years and $22.5 million to be the closer, which fit the traditional bullpen hierarchy.
Jansen is eligible for salary arbitration for the first time, and will probably make somewhere in the $5 million range in 2014. He is firmly entrenched as the Dodgers' closer, despite having two pitchers in the bullpen making more than he will — and this is before even considering the possibility of Chad Billingsley, making $12 million next year, moving to the bullpen once he's back from Tommy John surgery if the starting rotation is full (though that seems like another topic for another day, far from now).
Bringing Wilson back in a setup role, but for closer money, puts the Dodgers outside the norm. Sure, it's an expensive move, but it doesn't appear his signing will prevent the Dodgers from adding someone else, much like the onerous League contract hasn't been much of a hindrance at all.
The Dodgers weren't exactly paupers before Guggenheim Partners bought the team, with payrolls regularly eclipsing $100 million for more than a decade, averaging $102 million annually from 2000-2012 (per Cot's Baseball Contracts). But to jump well into the deep end of the pool at over $200 million for a second season in a row is where the shift is most noticeable.
The Dodgers have the ability, the luxury, to approach a transaction with one question in mind: does this improve the team? Whether or not you agree with their execution of this philosophy, that is pretty sound footing for a franchise, and all you can really ask of a team in theory, at least until MLB starts handing out trophies for dollars-per-WAR championships.
As a pure baseball move, signing Wilson is great. His cost will be roughly the same as Jim Johnson, whom the Dodgers were reportedly interested in on Monday before the Orioles traded the closer to the Athletics, but Wilson didn't cost the Dodgers any players, only money, something they have in spades. The Dodgers brought back, in their estimation, the best relief pitcher on the market, someone who enjoyed his brief time in Los Angeles and performed exceptionally well.
There are certainly question marks about guaranteeing $10 million or even $18.5 million to a pitcher who has thrown just 15⅔ innings in the last two seasons. But it's a risk the Dodgers can certainly afford to take.