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Julio Urías salary arbitration preview

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Julio Urías is the big kahuna among Dodgers players eligible for salary arbitration this offseason. He’s in his fourth and final arbitration year before free agency beckons after the 2023 season. And his career trajectory makes him difficult to comp.

Urías has five years, 117 days of major league service time, and most of the starting pitchers at this point of their careers going into arbitration had far more bulk numbers and starts that Urías. That was a product of the Dodgers limiting Urías’ innings after pitching in the full-season minors beginning at age 16, and because of his nearly two missed seasons after shoulder surgery.

His case is best made by using the last three years, after the Dodgers essentially removed the restrictions. That’s resulted in two straight years of Urías receiving Cy Young votes, including finishing third on the National League ballot in 2022. Since the start of 2020 the left-hander is tied for ninth in the majors in starts (73), ranks 14th in innings pitched (415⅔), and leads all pitchers in wins (40).

Last year when looking at Urías heading into arbitration, we looked at 21 other pitchers at roughly his level of service time in recent years, which was, frankly, too many. The MLB Trade Rumors projection last year for Urías was $8.8 million, which I thought was too high, so I guessed $7.2 million. Turns out I was way too low, and the Dodgers signed Urías right in the middle at $8 million, avoiding arbitration.

This time we’ll keep it simple, paring down the list of comparable pitchers, trying to see if there is any sort of pattern.

Comparable pitchers to Julio Urías in arbitration

Player Year Service time prev. arb Arb % increase Career WAR Launch WAR Career IP Starts
Player Year Service time prev. arb Arb % increase Career WAR Launch WAR Career IP Starts
Julio Urías 2023 5.117 $8.00 TBD TBD 12.8 4.1 599.7 101
Gerrit Cole 2019 5.111 $6.75 $13.50 100.0% 18.8 5.6 982.7 159
Dallas Keuchel 2018 5.089 $9.15 $13.20 44.3% 14.8 3.1 984.7 149
James Paxton 2020 5.151 $8.58 $12.50 45.8% 15.1 3.0 733.0 131
Marcus Stroman 2020 5.148 $7.40 $12.00 62.2% 14.8 3.9 849.3 140
Robbie Ray 2020 5.007 $6.05 $9.43 55.9% 10.8 2.0 790.7 146
Alex Wood 2019 5.123 $6.00 $9.65 60.8% 13.2 1.8 803.3 129
Sean Manaea 2022 5.157 $5.95 $9.75 63.9% 10.1 2.1 727.0 128
Kyle Hendricks (4-yr deal) 2020 5.081 $7.41 $12.00 62.1% 19.2 3.6 966.0 162
José Berríos (7-yr deal) 2022 5.044 $6.10 $15.00 145.9% 13.2 3.7 851.7 147
Hendricks and Berríos signed multi-year contracts. Their first-year salaries are included in the table Shout out to the MLB Trade Rumors arb tracker

All of the pitchers on this list have far more than Urías’ 599⅔ career innings and 101 starts. The closest pitcher to him in both statistics is Sean Manaea, with 128 starts and 727 innings through 2021.

By averaging Baseball Reference and FanGraphs WAR, the only pitcher on this list with a better launch season than Urías (4.1 average WAR) was Gerrit Cole, who in 2018 averaged 5.6 WAR. That earned Cole a $13 million salary for 2019, which was a 100-percent raise over the previous year.

Marcus Stroman’s 2019 season was fairly comparable to Urías in 2022, and he had higher career WAR and more bulk numbers as well. Stroman was paid $12 million in 2020, a 62.2-percent increase over the previous year.

I think year-over-year percent increase is the way to look at this. It’s complicated by Jose Berrios and Kyle Hendricks signing multi-year contracts, which muddle things. Considering Urías is only going to be 27 at the end of the season, he’s a prime candidate for a long-term deal now. But good luck getting Scott Boras to go for that with free agency so close.

For the pitchers who went through arbitration, the smallest increase was Dallas Keuchel (44.3 percent in 2018), and the highest non-Cole increase was by Manaea (63.9 percent last offseason). Applying those percentage increases to Urías gives us a range of $11.5 million to $13.1 million for 2023.

By raw salary, Keuchel earned $13.2 million at this point in his career, with 385 more innings (64 percent) than Urías. Cole earned $13.5 million, with 383 more innings (63.9 percent), and a better launch year than Urías.

But since Cole’s relevant arbitration year was four years ago, and Keuchel five years ago, it’s fair to assume some inflation bump to get to that territory.

This year, Steve Adams and Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors projected Urías to earn $13.7 million. I’ll go slightly lower, at $13.6 million, which would be a 70-percent increase over 2022. I expect to be very wrong, I’m just not sure in which direction.