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Dodgers leave the winter meetings empty-handed

Much roster work lies ahead this offseason

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MLB: Winter Meetings Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

As the winter meetings come to a close, the Dodgers leave San Diego with more room in the car for the ride home, as the last four days seemed more about who isn’t joining the team than who is.

Trea Turner is the latest graduate at Dodgers shortstop prep before heading elsewhere on a $300-million deal, joining the Phillies for 11 years and following in the path of Manny Machado and Corey Seager over the last five years. Cody Bellinger was cast aside after two down years and found a new home, trying out Wrigley Field for a bounceback.

Andrew Heaney fulfilled the Rangers’ request for a Dodgers left-hander to join their rotation, and relievers Chris Martin and Tommy Kahnle are headed for the Red Sox and Yankees, respectively.

That’s a lot of exodus in a short span, and not a lot coming in, other than Clayton Kershaw making official a deal agreed to four weeks ago, and Shelby Miller joining the bullpen.

The good news is the season doesn’t start tomorrow, or next week, or even in the next two months. So there’s still time for the Dodgers to make moves they very much need. Transactions are still allowed after the winter meetings, after all.

One player the Dodgers coveted was Justin Verlander, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner who turns 40 in two months, the perfect candidate for the short-term, high-ticket contract Los Angeles tends to prefer for premium players. But he signed with the Mets instead, in a two-year, $86-million-plus deal that was finalized Wednesday.

The crowd is saying “Boo-urns”

Another player to whom the Dodgers have been linked is shortstop Carlos Correa, who might have a stronger market than Turner, who is 14 months older. Correa was on the Houston team deemed by MLB investigation in 2017 to have illegally stole signs en route to beating the Dodgers in the World Series. After the organization, manager, and general manager — but not any active players — faced sanctions, Correa was the most outspoken among the unrepentant Astros.

Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic on Wednesday reported, “The Dodgers are not pursuing shortstop Carlos Correa in part out of concern that a sizable portion of their fan base would not welcome the move.”

When asked this week of the potential fan reaction to a potential Correa signing, general manager Brandon Gomes and manager Dave Roberts more talked around the question than anything. Bill Plunkett at the Orange County Register has more on this dynamic, including Gomes saying, “From the talent-level piece, we’ll try to stay objective with the talent level. And then the other stuff we’ll take on as it becomes more real or not. Then we’ll start to sift through what is what.”

My guess is while the Dodgers might avoid Correa because of fan backlash, a pact with the shortstop is more unlikely because he’ll likely get a massive, long-term deal on the open market. Correa already did the short-term thing last year, signing a three-year, $105.3-million deal in March after the lockout ended. He opted out after $35.1 million over one year in Minnesota, and I doubt he settles for another short-term deal again this time around.

Follow the money

Whether the Dodgers would even want to spend that much this offseason is a matter of dispute. With some assumptions of salary arbitration figures plus filling out the active roster, the Dodgers’ competitive balance tax payroll at the moment sits at roughly $184 million. That’s $39 million shy of the first CBT threshold in 2023. If the Dodgers go over the threshold for a third straight year, they would pay a progressively higher tax rate that begins at 50 percent for the first $20 million over. If they stay under the threshold next year, their tax rates would reset for 2024, should they decide to spend more freely again, especially in an offseason highlighted by incredible unicorn Shohei Ohtani hitting free agency.

2024 is also a year in which Trevor Bauer is no longer on the books, no matter what happens with his appeal of the two-year suspension levied by MLB in April as part of the league’s joint domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy. Bauer’s $34-million average annual value does not count against the Dodgers’ 2023 total at the moment because it does not have to be paid, but should his suspension get reduced, the team would be on the hook for both salary and potential extra competitive balance tax.

Our Michael Elizondo last week wrote about Bauer as the elephant in the room looming over potential Dodgers’ plans this winter. Rosenthal in his column Thursday also mentioned the wide range of potential Bauer outcomes as affecting the Dodgers. Bill Shaikin at the Los Angeles Times dug into the numbers on Wednesday.

What’s next

The Dodgers still need to add players this offseason, no matter how quickly you think any of the number of young players can make their way into regular playing time. At the very least, they need depth.

At the moment, the Dodgers have 17 position players on the 40-man roster (to go with 20 pitchers). I would argue three of those position players won’t play in the majors in 2023. Eddys Leonard and Jorbit Vivas each played more than a year in Great Lakes, and will almost certainly start the season in Double-A Tulsa, but it’s a stretch to expect them to make the majors unless it’s later in the season. Diego Cartaya is the club’s top prospect but has played all of 62 games at High-A. He might make his way to the majors at some point next year just because he’s the third catcher on the 40-man roster, but I wouldn’t count on it.

That effectively leaves, at the moment, 14 position players on the roster, and 13 will have to be active at all times. Among the group are Andy Pages, Jonny DeLuca, Jake Amaya, and Michael Busch who have never played in the majors, with Pages and DeLuca yet to play in Triple-A. The Dodgers definitely need more depth on the position player side.

I would bet money they also acquire at least one more starting pitcher, rather than guarantee one of Ryan Pepiot or Michael Grove open the year in the rotation. Yes, Bobby Miller and Gavin Stone are also on their way (and not yet on the 40-man roster), but eventually. Not the first week of April.

There’s plenty of time left in the offseason to do all these things, even if it seems frustrating after a rather tame winter meetings.