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Dodgers, Walker Buehler avoid salary arbitration

RHP will earn $8.025 million this year

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Dodgers Game Photo by Jerritt Clark/GC Images

Whether Walker Buehler will pitch in 2023 remains to be seen, but there is certainty in what his salary will be this season. The Dodgers avoided salary arbitration with the right-handed pitcher before Friday’s exchange deadline, the team announced.

Throwing a wrench into Buehler’s situation this offseason is that he had his second Tommy John surgery in August as well as flexor tendon repair in his right elbow, and he last pitched in June. Buehler is expected to miss most if not all of the 2023 season, and will be eligible for arbitration one more time next offseason, too.

Back in December, I advocated for the Dodgers to sign Buehler to a two-year contract now, avoiding both potential arbitration hearings, since his starts aren’t likely to change much between now and next January:

Considering that Buehler through the arbitration process would likely receive similar salaries in 2023 and 2024 anyway, a two-year deal wouldn’t substantially alter the average annual value, which is relevant given the Dodgers’ focus on the competitive balance tax.

Buehler in 2022 had a 4.02 ERA and 4.28 xERA in 12 starts before his season ended, the ERA and xERA both more than half a run higher than any of his other four seasons as a major league starter.

But his career bonafides are unquestioned, with a 3.02 ERA and 3.26 FIP, with two All-Star nods and Cy Young votes in two years, including finishing fourth in 2021. Buehler has a deserved reputation is a big-game pitcher, with a 2.94 ERA in 15 career postseason starts, including five Game 1 starts from 2019-21.

With four years, 168 days of major league service time, Buehler was eligible for arbitration this year for a third of four times. He signed a two-year, $8-million contract before the 2021 season that took care of his first two arbitration years. That deal included performance bonuses, such that he earned $6.25 million in 2022.

My guess for Buehler’s salary this season was a too-high $8.5 million, while Steve Adams and Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors projected an $8.1-million salary for Buehler in 2023. Jeff Euston at Cot’s Contracts predicted $8 million for Buehler.