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MLB arbitration hearings are coming, which means a Tony Gonsolin resolution is near

Gonsolin filed for a $3.4-million salary in 2023, while the Dodgers filed at $3 million

Sometimes players can use multiple sports to create leverage in contract negotiations.
Sometimes players can use multiple sports to create leverage in contract negotiations.
Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images

Major League Baseball salary arbitration hearings begin on Monday, which means at some point in the next three weeks we will have a resolution between Tony Gonsolin and the Dodgers.

Gonsolin was the only one of ten arbitration-eligible Dodgers not to agree to a contract for 2023 by the January 13 deadline to exchange salary figures. Gonsolin filed at $3.4 million, while the Dodgers filed at $3 million.

In the nine offseasons under the Andrew Friedman-led front office, the Dodgers have agreed to terms on a contract with 63 of 70 arbitration-eligible players by the exchange deadline. Of the previous six before Gonsolin to exchange salaries, four players — Max Muncy and Chris Taylor in 2020; Walker Buehler and Austin Barnes in 2021 — signed a multi-year contract to avoid an arbitration hearing.

In 2020, the Dodgers had their first arbitration hearings in 13 years, losing to Pedro Báez (who made $4 million instead of $3.5 million) and beating Joc Pederson (who made $7.75 million instead of $9.5 million). To date, none of the Dodgers to exchange salaries over the last nine years have compromised on a one-year agreement.

Gonsolin was one of 33 arbitration-eligible players this year to exchange salaries with their teams. To date, at least six have avoided a hearing with a new contract, most notably Mets second baseman and outfielder Jeff McNeil signing a four-year, $50-million deal, per Jeff Passan at ESPN. The one-year deals, for Yankees infielder Gleyber Torres and Orioles pitcher Austin Voth, were at the exact midpoint of the salaries exchanged by player and team.

The midpoint for Gonsolin is $3.2 million, which seems like a reasonable compromise for both sides. He and the Dodgers are fairly close in exchanged salaries, but not remarkably so.

Projections for Gonsolin highlight the divide between player and team. Jeff Euston at Cot’s Baseball Contracts projected a $3-million salary for the right-hander in 2023, the same number filed by the Dodgers. Steve Adams and Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors projected $3.5 million, just $100,000 above the number Gonsolin filed. My guess was an outlier, on the high side at $3.7 million.

But you might wonder why don’t the Dodgers and Gonsolin just settle on a deal somewhere in between?

One principle for both sides is helping to set a precedent for future arbitration cases. If Gonsolin wins his arbitration hearing, his $3.4-million salary would help similar pitchers in later years. Same for the Dodgers, if they win at $3 million, it keeps the total cost down for the next Gonsolin-type pitcher across the league.

With Gonsolin specifically, his 2023 salary sets the stage for the next four years before reaching free agency. With two years, 152 days of major league service time, Gonsolin is a Super Two player, among the top 22 percent of players in service time with at least two but not yet three years. A Super Two player gets four years of arbitration instead of three. Gonsolin’s salary this year affects his salary from 2024-26 as well.

Think of Cody Bellinger, who was a Super Two after his MVP season in 2019. That earned him an $11.5-million salary in 2020, which set a high baseline for the remaining arbitration years, even as his production declined, and it helped inform the Dodgers’ decision to non-tender him in November.

Side note: This isn’t about what Bellinger “deserved” during those years. He was paid $605,000 for his 8.6-WAR MVP season. What the Dodgers paid for Bellinger’s six years in Los Angeles was a bargain relative to his performance. This is the system MLB has.

As a hypothetical example, let’s say Gonsolin gets a 50-percent raise every year through arbitration. If he wins a hearing at $3.4 million this year, that means $5.1 million in 2024, $7.65 million in 2025, and $11.475 million in 2026. That’s a total of $27.625 million for his four arbitration years. If he starts at $3 million in 2023 and gets 50-percent raises each year, the four-year total would be $24.375 million.

So it’s not as simple as saying the difference between Gonsolin and the Dodgers is “only” $400,000. It could be $3.25 million over the next four years. That’s why they fight.

As for when an arbitration hearing might happen, the actual schedule is usually kept under wraps until close to the day of. But the hearings this year will be in-person, all in St. Petersburg, Florida, and per Ronald Blum of the Associated Press will be held from January 30 through February 17.

In other words, we’ll find out what Gonsolin will make in 2023 soon.