Recently, there was a report in the LA Times that the Dodger payroll would drop to $185m-$190m in 2015. Because the report was unsourced, based on factually-incorrect assertions, and came from a writer of ill repute, I ignored it, as I do with most of the words from that particular author. But then ESPN’s Mark Saxon said something similar, specifically that “the payroll figures to go down, perhaps below the $200 million mark,” and I suppose this is something we’re going to need to talk about. It’s not that I know what the team is planning to spend next year, because I don’t. It’s more about… hey, is that even possible?
I went over what the team’s 2015 payroll looks like in detail the other day, so I won’t repeat it fully here, other than to give you the salient details. Right now, the team has 13 players under contract for $169 million next year. Assume that Dan Haren & Brian Wilson return with their player options, and that’s $188.5m.
Right there, already, that’s basically the supposed limit laid out. But we’re not done yet. The Dodgers have eight arbitration-eligible players, and while some of them will be non-tendered, certainly Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner, & Dee Gordon won’t, and A.J. Ellis probably won’t be either. This is probably another $10m-$15m or so, and by any measure, we’re already talking about a number over $200 million. (Haren could still retire, which would change that.)
That’s without any additions, of course, and that seems unlikely. I’m not saying it’s a given that the team will go get Jon Lester or Max Scherzer; in fact, they probably won’t. But I don’t think anyone believes even for a second that the exact same roster is coming back, with no improvements. They need at least one starting pitcher, and maybe two. They absolutely need some kind of help in the bullpen, even if that’s not throwing gobs of money at Andrew Miller. Maybe they need a catcher. Maybe they need a shortstop. Perhaps part of that gets filled internally, but certainly not all of it, and that doesn’t come free.
Now, when I say that on Twitter, the reply I usually get is something like, “but the Dodgers can trade some salary away,” to which I say: can they? Really? Who? Let’s take another look at that list of under contract players from the other day:
- 1B Adrian Gonzalez ($21m)
- 2B-ish? Alex Guerrero ($4m)
- SS Erisbel Arruebarrena ($3m)
- 3B Juan Uribe ($6.5m)
- LF Carl Crawford ($20.5m)
- CF Yasiel Puig ($4.5m)
- RF Matt Kemp ($21m)
- OF Andre Ethier ($18m)
- SP Clayton Kershaw ($30m)
- SP Zack Greinke ($23m, with an opt-out following 2015)
- SP Hyun-jin Ryu ($4m)
- RP Brandon League ($9.5m, $2m of which is signing bonus due in 2015)
- RP J.P. Howell ($4m)
Look at the pitchers, first. Obviously, Kershaw isn’t going anywhere. Greinke isn’t going anywhere. Ryu isn’t going anywhere, and he wouldn’t save you cash even if you did move him. Even if you can get someone to take League, no one’s doing that unless the Dodgers eat most or all of the money, which doesn’t save you anything. There’s not much point in trading Howell, because he’s useful and relatively inexpensive. Wilson and Haren, not listed here, don’t have trade value either.
How about the hitters? Gonzalez isn’t moving. Guerrero may not have a place to play, but doesn’t cost much, and reportedly can be a free agent if he’s traded, which limits his value. Arruebarrena doesn’t make that much, and Uribe is more valuable as a Dodger than as a trade piece.
The outfield, of course, is the most obvious place to see a move. I’m sure everyone would like seeing Ethier moved, but after a season in which he hit as many homers as Madison Bumgarner did and then make a costly running mistake in the NLDS, who’s really lining up to pay him $56 million over the next three years? The Dodgers might have to take on $45m of that to move him. Crawford rebuilt some value this year; he’s also very injury-prone and due $62.25m over the next three years. No one’s paying for all of that.
Kemp’s massive second half certainly changed his image, perhaps enough to trade him, but his two-year run of injuries, plus awful defense, plus $107m due over the next five years, are all limiting factors. As I’ve said for a while, he’s most valuable as a Dodger, especially if Hanley Ramirez leaves this winter. And Puig? Unlike some others, I don’t completely laugh at the rumors floating around about a trade, because I really do think the team has some considerable frustration with him. But simply trading him wouldn’t free up much money, and even if he could be used as bait to get someone to take Ethier or Crawford money, burning your most talented player just to dump cash makes no sense whatsoever.
Depending on how you calculate signing bonuses, the Dodgers had somewhere between $230m-$260m in 2014. If you think the Dodgers won’t go quite that high again in 2015, sure, I could see that. But below $200m? Even if they wanted to, which is questionable, it hardly seems possible, does it?