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The perils of choosing to save $740,000 while angering your ace

Or “How the Dodgers dodged a blunder of their own making by coming to terms with Gonsolin as opposed to the Brewers and Corbin Burnes.”

NLDS: Dodgers vs Padres
It doesn’t look it, but this man is going to be happy that his contract will be resolved.
Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Sometimes I am right.

From non-tendering Cody Bellinger to retiring Fernando’s number and inducting Orel Hershisher as a Legend of Dodgers baseball, to cutting bait on the objectively worst signing of the Friedman-era Dodgers, I happen to accurately predict things from time to time.

However, the one item I am glad I got right to a relative degree of certainty is the Dodgers’ prudent decision to avoid a fight with Tony Gonsolin, when the Dodgers signed him for two years rather than have the arbitration hearing.

When news of the signing broke, I reacted with the same “quiet dignity” that I have become known for. Yes, I am obviously joking, but I did post the following meme at Eric on Twitter.

At the time of my argument to extend Gonsolin, I said the following:

“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....

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.

And lo and behold, the Dodgers got their man and avoided alienating a player under control over half the cost of Miguel Vargas in 2023.

Want to see what happens when a team does not take the easy way out?

Burnes v. Milwaukee: How to alienate your ace for $740,000

Let us examine the curious case of the current ace of the Milwaukee Brewers, Corbin Burnes, entering his second year of arbitration. Per our counterparts at Brew Crew Ball, Burnes was the lone member of Milwaukee’s large arbitration class not to reach an agreement with the team on a new contract.

Upon January 13’s deadline for exchanging figures, the Brewers filed for $10.01 million and $10.75 million, a difference of $740,000, slightly more than the cost of the minimum salary in 2023.

Considering that Burnes is entering free agency in 2025 and the difference in proposed salary was so relatively minor, one would think that the Brewers would try to work it out. After all, if barring a trade, Burnes was going to a Brewer for the next two years, why antagonize the man? The efforts to try and work it out was the narrative being pushed by the Brewers’ front office prior to the hearing.

On February 15, the hearing took place and the Brewers prevailed...and saved $740,000. Needless to say, Corbin Burnes was not happy and he made that fact publicly clear the following day to local and national media, after outright publicly denying that the team tried to make a long-term deal to avoid the hearing.

The following is four minutes of raw, justified umbrage that is well worth your time.

“You kind of find out your true value,” Burnes said. “You work hard for seven years in the organization and five years with the big league team, and you get in there and basically they value you much different than what you thought you’d contributed to the organization. Obviously, it’s tough to hear, tough to take, but they’re trying to do what they can to win a hearing.

“I think there were other ways that they could have gone about it and probably been a little more respectful with the way they went about it. At the end of day, here we are. They won it. But when it came down to winning or losing the hearing, it was more than that for me.”

Ouch. But the capper to this mess is Burnes’ assertion that the Brewers blamed him for not making the playoffs in 2022.

“[The team] basically put me in the forefront of the reason why [the Brewers] didn’t make the postseason last year.”

(Emphasis added.)

I do not know what is more shocking: that the Brewers would say that sentence out loud to anyone, or that an arbitrator would hear said sentence and think it was persuasive to deny Burnes his likely justified raise. We are talking about perennial Cy Young candidate Corbin Burnes, here?

After checking in with some in Milwaukee who would know more than I would, Burnes is the last person one would reasonably blame for the Brewers not making the postseason. Spoiler alert: the 2022 Brewers’ offense was about as potent as a pop gun and was quite middling against their own division.

I hope the damage control from that statement is worth the $740,000 in savings to the team’s payroll.

In a very real sense, I get what Burnes is going through. I am currently in the middle of salary negotiations myself at my day job. If you truly want to know your value to an organization, try to increase your pay and/or benefits, especially when you have leverage. My general moral is the following: If they say no, then it’s time to go! — which might be Burnes’ fate after the 2024 season.

In the interview, Burnes commits to being a pro and that he will go out there and do his best while having arbitration years to go. But he acknowledges that the Brewers’ conduct is a bitter pill to swallow when compared with his perceived loyalty to the organization.

If I were a Brewers fan, I would be absolutely seething at this outcome. Imagine if the Dodgers treated Walker Buehler like this or Clayton Kershaw like Burnes was just treated. It is utterly inconceivable.

Needless to say, I do not expect the Brewers to trade Burnes during the season unless the bottom goes out on that team. But based on what has transpired here, I would be genuinely shocked if Burnes suits up in mustard yellow and cobalt blue after Burnes reaches free agency. There will be plenty of teams lining up to try and sign Burnes in 2025.

The above is an opinion, colored by my own experiences. As such, I am grateful that the Dodgers had the foresight to not anger Tony Gonsolin during this past arbitration season. The Brewers seemingly have forgotten a core tenet of life: “Loyalty is rare. If you find it, keep it.”

Now, if the Dodgers want to try and extend Julio Urías or Will Smith this season, that is a discussion for a different day.