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Previewing Walker Buehler’s 2024 salary arbitration

MLB: MAY 16 Twins at Dodgers Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Salary arbitration figures will be exchanged across Major League Baseball this Friday, which makes January 13 a de facto deadline for deals to be done. Walker Buehler, one of 10 Dodgers eligible for arbitration this winter, probably has the easiest salary to estimate for 2024.

Buehler did not pitch in the majors in 2023, while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery in August 2022, the second such procedure of his career, as well as flexor tendon repair in his right elbow. Buehler worked his way back into a minor league rehab assignment, but shut things down after just two innings at Triple-A Oklahoma City.

“Trying to come back from a second Tommy John in 13 months to pitch in playoff games at some point had to go perfect, and the nature of rehab is just that it doesn’t always go perfect,” Buehler said in September.

The focus on 2024 is important for both Buehler, who is eligible for free agency after the season, and to the Dodgers, who can use all the healthy and productive starting pitchers they can get after a tumultuous 2023 for the rotation. Buehler doesn’t necessarily need to be the ace in Los Angeles, especially after the team acquired both Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow in December. But having Buehler as an option in October could go a long way in improving the Dodgers’ postseason chances after consecutive NLDS drubbings.

Before last season, I advocated that the Dodgers sign Buehler to a two-year contract to cover his final two arbitration seasons, mostly because he was likely to earn roughly the same in both seasons, based on recent history of injured pitchers.

Instead, Buehler and the Dodgers agreed to terms on a one-year contract worth $8.025 million. Now, with five years and 168 days of major league service time, Buehler has one more year of arbitration-eligibility left.

Glasnow is a comparable pitcher to Buehler in terms of the timing of their injuries. Glasnow made $5.1 million with the Rays in 2022 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, then made two starts at the end of the season, totaling just 6⅔ innings.

With five years, 158 days of service time heading into 2023, Glasnow and the Rays worked out a two-year deal that paid the right-hander $5.35 million for what would have been his final arbitration year plus $25 million for what would have been his first free agent season in 2024. That latter number proved antithetical to how the Rays do business, and got Glasnow traded to the Dodgers, with a new five-year contract to boot.

But in terms of the final two arbitration years, Glasnow earned basically the same in both years – $5.1 million in 2022, $5.35 million in 2023, the latter a 4.9-percent increase.

Mike Soroka tore his achilles tendon with Atlanta in 2020, then made $2.8 million in his first year of arbitration-eligibility in 2021. He did not pitch that season, and earned another $2.8 million in 2022. Soroka also missed the entire 2022 season, adding an elbow injury into the mix, then reached a deal for another $2.8 million in 2023.

John Means signed a two-year contract with the Orioles after Tommy John surgery in 2022 that covered two arbitration years, paying him $2.95 million in 2022 and $2.975 million in 2023.

Similarly, Jeff Euston at Cot’s Baseball Contracts projects Buehler to earn $8.025 million in 2024, matching the right-hander’s 2023 salary. Anthony Franco and Steve Adams at MLB Trade Rumors in October predicted Buehler to make $8.03 million in 2024, but it’s likely that was rounded to two digits.

I think it’s a safe bet that Buehler will make in 2024 somewhere near the $8.025 million he earned in 2023. I’ll guess $8.2 million.

Should the two sides exchange salaries on Friday, we can dig deeper into Buehler’s career stats compared to similar pitchers with over five years of service time. But this feels like an easy opportunity for the Dodgers and Buehler to reach a deal without having to go through an arbitration hearing.