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Where the Dodgers 2023 payroll sits early in the offseason

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a little over a week since MLB’s offseason started in earnest, with the end of the five-day “quiet period,” after which free agents can sign with any team. All option decisions were settled, qualifying offers were extended, and contracts were tendered (or not), mostly clearing way for the hot stove.

So let’s see where the Dodgers 2023 payroll stands at the moment, at roughly the beginning of free agency.

We are including Clayton Kershaw here, with his reported one-year deal to return not yet finalized, but by all accounts is going to happen.

Kershaw will be the eighth Dodger signed for 2023, along with Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Chris Taylor, Max Muncy, Austin Barnes, Daniel Hudson, and Blake Treinen. The club also has 10 players eligible for salary arbitration this winter. That latter number was a dozen, before Cody Bellinger and Edwin Ríos were non-tendered on Friday. More on that in a moment.

This gives us a solid base for constructing next year’s roster, especially with salary arbitration estimates from MLB Trade Rumors.

Two of those 18 signed players plus arbitration eligibles will start next season on the injured list after major surgeries. Walker Buehler had Tommy John surgery and flexor tendon repair in August, and Treinen had right shoulder surgery to repair his labrum and rotator cuff on Friday.

We can fill out the roster with in-house candidates for now, just to give us an idea where the Dodgers are at. The major league minimum salary for 2023 is $720,000, per the collective bargaining agreement, so we’ll make some assumptions for players with under three years of service time to fill out the roster.

Don’t worry about the specific position assumptions or roster fill-ins. This is just trying to get a snapshot of the payroll at the moment. The rest will sort itself out over the offseason as moves are made.

Dodgers 2023 payroll

Player Pos 2023 CBT number Comments
Player Pos 2023 CBT number Comments
Will Smith C $5,200,000 MLBTR arbitration estimate
Freddie Freeman 1B $24,699,249 6/$162m w/$57m deferred
Chris Taylor 2B $15,000,000 4 yrs, $60 million
Max Muncy 3B $13,500,000 1 year, plus 2024 option
Gavin Lux SS $750,000
James Outman LF $750,000 MLBTR arbitration estimate
Trayce Thompson CF $1,700,000 MLBTR arbitration estimate
Mookie Betts RF $25,554,824 12/$365m w/$115m deferred
Miguel Vargas DH $750,000
Austin Barnes C $3,500,000 2 yrs, $7 million
Jake Amaya IF $750,000 MLBTR arbitration estimate
Michael Busch 2B $750,000
Jonny DeLuca OF $750,000
Julio Urías SP $13,700,000 MLBTR arbitration estimate
Tony Gonsolin SP $3,500,000 MLBTR arbitration estimate
Dustin May SP $1,400,000 MLBTR arbitration estimate
Clayton Kershaw SP $20,000,000 1-year deal
Ryan Pepiot SP $750,000
Daniel Hudson RHP $6,500,000 1 year, plus 2024 option
Evan Phillips RHP $1,400,000 MLBTR arbitration estimate
Brusdar Graterol RHP $1,200,000 MLBTR arbitration estimate
Yency Almonte RHP $1,000,000 MLBTR arbitration estimate
Caleb Ferguson LHP $1,100,000 MLBTR arbitration estimate
Alex Vesia LHP $750,000
Phil Bickford RHP $750,000
Victor González LHP $750,000
Walker Buehler IL $8,100,000 MLBTR arbitration estimate
Blake Treinen IL $8,000,000 1 year, plus 2024 option
Minor leaguers on 40-man $2,500,000
Team benefit costs $16,750,000 was ~$16m in 2022
Pre-arb bonus pool $1,666,667 $50m split between 30 teams
Totals $183,470,740
estimates in italics

The Dodgers right now only have 17 position players on the 40-man roster, three of whom — Diego Cartaya, Eddys Leonard, and Jorbit Vivas — have yet to play above High-A. So it’s a challenge to even fill out an active major league roster with 13 position players at the moment, but it’s also basically the start of the offseason. It’s quite clear plenty other moves will be made. This is just to show where the Dodgers are at now.

For competitive balance tax purposes, the Dodgers are at roughly $183.5 million for next year. That total includes an estimate for minor league salaries for players on the 40-man roster — the minimums for which in 2023 are $58,800 for first-year players and $117,400 for players who have already been on a 40-man roster — plus league-wide contributions to player benefits as well as the new $50-million pre-arbitration bonus pool, into which all 30 teams contribute equally.

The Dodgers’ payroll does not include what was an estimated $18.1 million for Cody Bellinger in his final year of salary arbitration. He was non-tendered on Friday just three years removed from winning the National League MVP award, thanks to two subpar seasons and an inflated cost had he went through the arbitration process.

The payroll above also does not include Trevor Bauer, whose two-year suspension runs into 2024. Bauer is under contract with the Dodgers for one more season, at $32 million for 2023 (for competitive balance tax purposes, his number is $34 million, the average annual value of his three-year contract), but he does not get paid while suspended. Should his suspension get reduced upon appeal — the decision for which is expected this offseason — that could add to LA’s total.

The competitive balance tax threshold is $233 million in 2023, up from $230 million. Any payroll over that amount gets taxed. After paying $32.65 million in tax last season, and a likely bill of just over $29 million coming due this season, the Dodgers would face progressively higher tax rates should they go over the threshold again in 2023, at each tier as a third-time tax payor.

2023 competitive balance tax rates

2023 threshold 1st-year payor 2nd-year payor 3rd-year payor
2023 threshold 1st-year payor 2nd-year payor 3rd-year payor
$233-253 million 20.0% 30.0% 50.0%
$253-273 million 32.0% 42.0% 62.0%
$273-293 million 62.5% 75.0% 95.0%
over $293 million 80.0% 90.0% 110.0%

“Payroll considerations factor in to every decision that every team makes. If you look back over the last seven or eight years, it probably factored in less for us than it has the other 29 teams,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said on a Zoom call Friday. “But it’s still a factor, and there are still things we try to balance and juggle to try to put ourselves in position to have the best team possible when we get to Glendale.”

The Dodgers will have paid over $211 million in competitive balance tax over the last 10 seasons, with an average CBT payroll of just over $250 million during that span. That includes maneuvering to get just under the first tax threshold in both 2018 and 2019 to reset their tax rates. They also avoided the luxury tax in 2020, though would have been over the threshold had David Price not opted out of the season.

Justin Turner, who is a free agent after his $16-million option was declined, told Petros and Money on AM 570 Thursday that he’s been in contact with the Dodgers about a return, but that it could take some time.

“They have some decisions to make about what they want to do, as far as — there’s all this crap about the luxury tax and payroll and paying a gajillion dollars in taxes because the payroll’s been high the last few years,” Turner said. “I think they’re trying to figure out what they need to do, and prioritize what’s best for them. Once those chips fall, we’ll see where I stand, so I guess I gotta be patient.”

Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten in an interview with Bill Plaschke at the Los Angeles Times in early November didn’t explicitly say the Dodgers would try to avoid the luxury tax in 2023, but did talk generally about various paths they could take.

“If money is what is needed, we’ll certainly do that, as we’ve shown time and time again,” Kasten told Plaschke. “If we think we have kids who need time to play up here, I’m sure we’ll do that as well.”

Miguel Vargas and James Outman made their major league debuts for the Dodgers last season, and will figure into the 2023 plans. Infielders Jake Amaya and Michael Busch played more than half of 2022 in Triple-A and are also on the 40-man roster. On the pitching side, Ryan Pepiot and Michael Grove debuted in 2022, while top prospects Bobby Miller and Gavin Stone are in Triple-A and a call away from the 40-man roster when ready.

Friedman on Friday said the Dodgers don’t necessarily have a mandate to stay under the tax threshold.

“Going over [the threshold] is something we’ve done with regularity, and it adds cost. All of that gets factored in. It’s never been about, ‘Hey, we have to get under.’ It’s been about putting together the most talented team together,” Friedman said. “Obviously, we’ve been aggressive the last few years, and not just in terms of payroll, but in terms of taxes paid as well. All of that gets factored in.

“We’re going to spend the next few months vetting all our various options, and trying to be as aggressive as we can be, balancing that with trying to give some opportunity to the talented young pitching we have, some of the talented young position players. It’s just figuring out how to time that because there is a lot more volatility when you’re doing it with more guys at one time, as opposed to fewer and introducing others over the course of a season when invariably things happen.

“We’re weighing that against various acquisitions we can make. That’s no different than any other offseason. The last couple, we haven’t had the upper-level depth that we have right now, so it affords us that chance.”

Whatever the Dodgers decide to do this offseason, at least we know where they are starting from on the payroll front.