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Dustin May’s salary arbitration preview for 2024

MLB: MAY 17 Twins at Dodgers Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Dustin May enters his second year of salary arbitration eligibility very similar to his first, coming off of major elbow surgery and surrounded by uncertainty. That makes finding comparable pitchers trickier than usual.

With four years, 59 days of major league service time, May has two seasons remaining before reaching free agency. In that way, he’s quite similar to Walker Buehler before the 2023 season, who was coming off his second Tommy John surgery as well as flexor tendon repair in his right elbow.

May had Tommy John surgery in May 2021. While his July 2023 procedure wasn’t a second Tommy John procedure, it was still major surgery that included flexor tendon repair and a revision to his first Tommy John elbow reconstruction.

May’s availability for 2024 remains in question, and at the earliest would be some time around midseason. That makes him similar to Buehler in another respect, in that I think the Dodgers would be best suited to sign May to a two-year contract that buys out his final two years of arbitration-eligibility.

I advocated a two-year contract for Buehler prior to 2023, to avoid the potentially corrosive arbitration process and because Buehler’s career numbers were likely to be similar in both offseasons. Because he did not pitch in the majors in 2023, those career numbers are exactly the same, and Buehler is likely to earn a similar salary in 2024 to his $8.025 million from 2023.

It’s not as cut-and-dry for May, who very well might improve his station by pitching and pitching well over the final month or two of 2024. That could earn him a nice raise for 2025 if he continues to go year to year. The Dodgers might also not want to rush to guarantee the 2025 salary for someone with an already extensive injury history.

Despite May’s four years of major league service, he has started only 34 games and pitched a grand total of 191⅔ major league innings.

Not that a non-tender is likely next winter for May, but it’s at least possible if he suffers a setback or needs another procedure. The Brewers non-tendered Brandon Woodruff in November after shoulder surgery rather than pay something near the $11.6 million salary projected by MLB Trade Rumors in his final year before free agency.

May doesn’t have the track record for Woodruff or Buehler, and isn’t expected to make the $11.6 million Woodruff might have made through arbitration or even the $8.025 million Buehler is projected to make.

Last year, May made just $1.675 million. For 2024, May is projected to make $2.4 million by MLB Trade Rumors and $2.25 million by Cot’s Baseball Contracts. It wouldn’t be a huge burden for the Dodgers to guarantee two more years for May, even with a raise included in the second year.

Mike Clevinger had Tommy John surgery in November 2020, and was projected by MLB Trade Rumors to make $4.8 million through arbitration in 2021. Clevinger instead signed a two-year, $11.5 million contract through his final two arbitration seasons. His deal included a signing bonus that was split across two seasons, but if we use that $4.8 million projection as the first-year salary, Clevinger’s remaining salary of $6.7 million represented a 39.6-percent raise.

Extrapolating such a raise for May over the average of his MLB Trade Rumors and Cot’s projections for 2024 ($2.325 million) would mean a 2025 salary of about $3.25 million. Perhaps this hypothetical two-year, $5.575 million contract for May could contain bonuses based on games pitched and/or innings, similar to Tony Gonsolin’s two-year contract last January.

But let’s take a look at similar pitchers to May to see what might await should he go year-to-year through the arbitration process.

Considering May made only nine starts in 2023, and has never started more than 10 games in a season, we’ll stick to career numbers only to find similar pitchers with four years of service time.

Comparable pitchers to Dustin May through four years of service time

Pitchers Arb year Service IP W-L K ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR Salary
Pitchers Arb year Service IP W-L K ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR Salary
Dustin May 2024 4.059 191⅔ 12-9 174 3.10 138 3.76 3.5 3.5 TBD
Mike Soroka 2023 4.122 214 15-6 171 2.86 159 3.40 6.2 4.9 $2,800,000
Dakota Hudson 2023 4.066 389⅓ 32-17 270 3.61 113 4.54 3.8 2.8 $2,650,000
Domingo Germán 2023 4.017 413⅔ 26-21 429 4.37 98 4.46 3.9 4.8 $2,600,000
Chris Paddack 2023 4.000 330⅓ 21-21 330 4.20 97 3.94 2.7 5.5 $2,500,000
Luke Weaver 2022 4.112 415 23-35 424 4.64 90 4.06 1.8 5.9 $2,875,000
Reynaldo López 2022 4.004 548⅓ 30-38 471 4.63 95 4.82 3.6 6.2 $2,625,000
Caleb Smith 2022 4.078 377 19-27 413 4.63 91 4.94 3.0 2.0 $2,000,000
Jakob Junis 2022 4.016 515⅓ 29-35 468 4.82 94 4.74 4.8 4.3 $1,750,000
Career numbers to date Sources include MLB Trade Rumors and Cot’s Contracts

These are by no means perfect comps for May, who pitched better than nearly everyone on this list, when he was on the mound. But he lacks the bulk totals of the rest. Perhaps the most similar pitcher here to May is Mike Soroka, and perhaps spiritually as well. They have similar career numbers to this point in their careers. Soroka in 2023 was in his third year of arbitration, and didn’t pitch in either of the previous two seasons. Nearly all of his career totals were concentrated in an excellent 2019 rookie season that saw him earn National League Cy Young votes. Because Soroka did not pitch in 2021 or 2022, he earned $2.8 million for three consecutive seasons going year-to-year through the arbitration process.

He represents an upper limit for May. Soroka pitched better than May but also at this point in his career hadn’t pitched in two seasons; May’s 15 starts the last two years is 15 more than Soroka in 2021-22.

Going back to the 2024 projections, MLB Trade Rumors has May earning $2.4 million while Cot’s Baseball Contract’s projects $2.25 million. Last year I undershot my guess for May, so I’m overcompensating this time. I don’t think May gets Soroka money, but let’s put the Dodgers right-hander at $2.65 million for 2024.

And if May and the Dodgers reach a two-year pact, I’ll guess that’s for $6.5 million.