Arbitration season was coming, and like Godot, it quickly departed. Labor law (in a baseball context) has always been a fascinating side hobby of mine. I admittedly was not paying close attention to how the negotiations were going with the Dodgers and their ten eligible players.
Luckily, Eric provided a summary of the nine settlements that the Dodgers reached in this arbitration season. “Wait — nine is not ten, who did not settle?” — I wondered. “Oh, it was Tony Gonsolin. Alright, that scenario is not an entirely unreasonable outcome. Gonsolin had himself a heck of a 2022, albeit slightly truncated.
“Maybe Gonsolin and the Dodgers are considerably far apart?” I thought. In any other context, the following would be funny. The difference in proposed salaries is $400,000 (Gonsolin submitted $3.4 million, the Dodgers $3 million. Are you kidding me? Are the Dodgers going to risk alienating a cost-controlled starter who will be with the team through 2026 (barring a trade) over the size of a small (for baseball) accounting error?
The Dodgers need to come to terms with a single, inescapable fact for the coming year — they are NOT resetting the Luxury Tax this year, which is less than ideal but hardly an unforeseen event.
As you may or may not recall, in an essay where I would have hypothetically traded Will Smith and others for Willy Adames and Brandon Woodruff (and others), I pointed out that the Dodgers’ 2023 salary plans were likely sunk barring a complete victory of the league at the previously-mentioned arbitration hearing.
I proposed this trade not because I want to see Smith gone (I don’t). I made this suggestion not because I want to see Adames and Woodruff in Dodger blue (I could take it or leave it really), not because I wanted to see Bellinger non-tendered (I did but it wasn’t personal, he seems like an okay guy), not because I wanted Justin Turner gone (I really did not, I figured he would transition into the Chase Utley portion of his career when he was ready).
I pointed out previously that the Dodgers had maneuvered themselves into a corner. As to why, please refer back to the included link. Apart from what I have already submitted that has yet to publish, I am a man of my word — I am done with him.
In the most recent podcast, Eric and Jacob Burch discussed whether the Dodgers could still get under the Luxury Tax threshold in 2023 of $233 million. Eric correctly pointed out many of the same arguments I proffered back in early December: the Dodgers’ are locked in salary-wise this year due to the reinstatement. The Dodgers lack a critical component from years past.
There is no one to play the role of Matt Kemp in 2018
In prior years, the Dodgers have spun “bad” contracts into figurative gold of salary relief. Arguably the most famous example of this magic happened in 2018 when the Dodgers traded Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, and Kyle Farmer for Homer Bailey (who was immediately cut), Josiah Gray, and Jeter Downs. Later on, Downs was eventually flipped, in part, for Mookie Betts and Gray was eventually flipped, in part, for Trea Turner and Max Scherzer.
Unfortunately, at this point in time, the Dodgers do not have any terrible or even bad contracts and even the ones that could potentially be flipped for salary relief are unlikely at best for the reasons described below.
The Dodgers aren’t going to trade Max Muncy who is in the last year of his deal and scheduled to make $13.5 million in 2023.
Why? Because they actually like Muncy, and while there is a youth movement afoot, it seems silly to do a salary dump for a solid veteran in his walk year. While Miguel Vargas would be significantly cheaper, I cannot fathom that the Dodgers would somehow part with Muncy.
The Dodgers aren’t going to trade Blake Treinen who is both injured and scheduled to make $8 million in 2023. While he may be at the front of my queue for such a move, in theory, no one is going to pay that much for a reliever, and definitely not for someone likely to miss most (if not all) of 2023.
The Dodgers aren’t going to trade Chris Taylor, who was pretty bad for someone not named Cody Bellinger, Joey Gallo, or Hanser Alberto in 2022. To be fair, I was thrilled when the Dodgers re-signed Taylor for four years, $60 million (at $15 million in 2023) during the 2021 offseason. But Taylor largely regressed with his team-leading strikeout total and was also hampered by injuries in the 2022 campaign.
Moreover, the Dodgers value Taylor’s versatility, and anyone who would conceivably do the same thing as Taylor but worse is likely long gone from the market. As such, the Dodgers have little choice but to try and correct Taylor and see if he regains his prior form.
Now that the Dodgers are stuck in a mess of their own making, it’s my view the team can loosen its purse strings, a little, to make one final move before pitchers and catchers report.
Avoid a protracted fight with Tony Gonsolin
It would be one thing if the Dodgers submitted a proposed salary of $3 million and Gonsolin had countered with $5 million. The parties would be well apart and while potentially acrimonious, an arbitration hearing would probably be best because the parties would likely be at an impasse otherwise.
But here we are talking about a difference of slightly more than half the minimum salary of any rookie in 2023.
If the Dodgers wanted to be proactive, they would take Eric’s advice as to Walker Buehler in 2023 (which they did not take) and instead buy out a couple, if not all, of Gonsolin’s remaining arbitration years. As is well known, Gonsolin is a “Super Two” player who reached arbitration a year early. As such, Gonsolin will not enter free agency until 2027.
Instead of quibbling over $200-$400 thousand for next year, instead, maybe the Dodgers should try to retain Gonsolin through the end of next year with performance incentives to try and earn some additional salary to sweeten the pot. Back-of-the-envelope math generally is not my forte but if it were left in my hands, I would propose the following:
- 2023 base salary: $3.25 million with $500k in performance incentives (elevators for innings pitched, maybe full payout of bonus at 165 IP)
- 2024 base salary: $4.55 million with $1 million in performance incentives (elevators for innings pitched, full payout of bonus at 185 IP)
That proposal would be a base contract of 2 years/$7.8 million, at an average cap hit of $3.9 million, which does not seem unreasonable considering Gonsolin’s performance in 2022 and the fact that the parties are going to have to live with each other through 2026. Gonsolin just needs to demonstrate some length (a full campaign would be a nice step in his development for the coming year) and if he could perform adequately in the postseason, that would be swell.
If my proposal works out and Gonsolin repeats his 2022 campaign, he would be in line for Buehler-type money entering his penultimate year of his arbitration status and potentially Julio Urías-type money entering his final year of arbitration in 2026.
If it does not, then the Dodgers would have a cost-controlled arm that they could flip to someone for something. At this point, I am not quite how that would be helpful at this point for 2023, but the market likely has not developed yet.
One would think the Dodgers would try to take a page out of Atlanta’s book and try to lock up some of its young core of Urías, Smith, and Gonsolin to below-market rates. What happens with Gonsolin remains to be seen, as the team has operated under the “file and trial” strategy under the Andrew Friedman regime.