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Dodgers 2021 salary arbitration overview

Exchange date is Friday at 10 a.m. PT

World Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Four Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

In an otherwise dormant MLB offseason, we’ll take all the action we can get. Luckily there is a deadline coming this week that should spur a few moves from the Dodgers, even if mostly transactional in nature.

Having already signed Scott Alexander to a one-year, $1 million contract in December, the Dodgers have seven players eligible for salary arbitration — shortstop Corey Seager, center fielder Cody Bellinger, starting pitcher Walker Buehler, newly acquired reliever Corey Knebel, postseason series finisher Julio Urías, catcher Austin Barnes, and pitcher Dylan Floro.

That matters this week because the deadline for players and teams to exchange salary figures is Friday at 10 a.m. PT.

The exchange date usually serves as a soft signing deadline of sorts, especially for a “file and trial” team like the Dodgers. This generally means if the team and player can’t come to a contract agreement before the exchange date, the team will take their chances in an arbitration hearing. In the first five offseasons for the Andrew Friedman-led front office, the Dodgers had 30 players eligible for salary arbitration heading into filing week, and all 30 were signed by the deadline.

Last year saw a departure of sorts, with five of the nine Dodgers agreeing to one-year deals before the exchange date. The Dodgers did actually continue to negotiate, eventually signing Max Muncy to a three-year contract and Chris Taylor to a two-year deal. The team also had their first arbitration hearings since Joe Beimel in 2007, with Joc Pederson and Pedro Baez.

An arbitration hearing, if needed, will be scheduled between February 1-21, with each side presenting their case to a three-person panel. Both sides argue for their filed salary, and it’s the panel’s job to pick one or the other. Teams and players can continue to negotiate on a compromise, up until it’s time for the panel to make their decision.

Per the collective bargaining agreement, here’s the criteria teams and players are allowed to present during the hearing:

(a) The criteria will be the quality of the Player’s contribution to his Club during the past season (including but not limited to his overall performance, special qualities of leadership and public appeal), the length and consistency of his career contribution, the record of the Player’s past compensation, comparative baseball salaries (see paragraph (11) below for confidential salary data), the existence of any physical or mental defects on the part of the Player, and the recent performance record of the Club including but not limited to its League standing and attendance as an indication of public acceptance (subject to the exclusion stated in subparagraph (b)(i) below). Except as set forth in subsections 10(b) and 10(c) below, any evidence may be submit- ted which is relevant to the above criteria, and the arbitration panel shall assign such weight to the evidence as shall appear appropriate under the circumstances. The arbitration panel shall, except for a Player with five or more years of Major League service, give particular attention, for comparative salary pur- poses, to the contracts of Players with Major League service not exceeding one annual service group above the Player’s annual service group. This shall not limit the ability of a Player or his representative, because of special accomplishment, to argue the equal relevance of salaries of Players without regard to service, and the arbitration panel shall give whatever weight to such argument as is deemed appropriate.

(b) Evidence of the following shall not be admissible:

(i) The financial position of the Player and the Club;

(ii) Press comments, testimonials or similar material bear- ing on the performance of either the Player or the Club, except that recognized annual Player awards for playing excellence shall not be excluded;

(iii) Offers made by either Player or Club prior to arbitration;

(iv) The cost to the parties of their representatives, attorneys, etc.;

(v) Salaries in other sports or occupations.

(c) Admissible Statistics. Only publicly available statistics shall be admissible. For purposes of this provision, publicly available statistics shall include data available through subscription-only websites (e.g., Baseball Prospectus). Statistics and data generated through the use of performance technology, wearable technology, or “STATCAST”, whether publicly available or not, shall not be admissible.

In last year’s two Dodgers arbitration cases, Pederson filed at $9.5 million but the Dodgers won their case at $7.75 million. Baez won his case at $4 million, over the Dodgers’ filing of $3.5 million.

This season has an extra layer of oddity since players will be judged on a 60-game season rather than 162. The entire arbitration system is built on finding comparable players, and the 2020 truncated campaign throws a wrench into things.

Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors accounted for this in his 2021 arbitration projections back in December, using three different models:

Method 1: Applies model directly with actual statistics from this 60-game season

Method 2: Extrapolates all counting stats to would-be 162-game totals. One home run becomes 2.7 home runs.

Method 3: For non-first-time eligibles, finds the raise they’d get in a 162 game season, then gives them 37% of that raise

Here are the seven Dodgers eligible for arbitration this year, and their projections from Swartz:

Dodgers eligible for salary arbitration in 2021

Player Service time 2020 salary* 2021 est. 1 2021 est. 2 2021 est. 3 Avg estimate
Player Service time 2020 salary* 2021 est. 1 2021 est. 2 2021 est. 3 Avg estimate
Corey Knebel 5.151 $5,125,000 $5,125,000 $5,125,000 $5,125,000 $5,125,000
Corey Seager 5.032 $7,600,000 $9,300,000 $15,000,000 $10,400,000 $11,566,667
Austin Barnes 4.098 $1,100,000 $1,400,000 $1,700,000 $1,300,000 $1,466,667
Cody Bellinger 3.160 $11,500,000 $11,500,000 $15,900,000 $13,100,000 $13,500,000
Julio Urías 3.117 $1,000,000 $1,600,000 $3,000,000 $1,700,000 $2,100,000
Dylan Floro 3.053 $593,500 $900,000 $1,200,000 $900,000 $1,000,000
Walker Buehler 2.168 $603,500 $2,300,000 $3,100,000 $2,300,000 $2,566,667
*salary for full, 162-game season Estimates from MLB Trade Rumors

Odds are, most if not all will agree to deals by this Friday. We’ll take a closer look at Seager, Bellinger, and Buehler later this week, with (spoiler alert) all three of them potential candidates to sign a long-term extension.