Padres, Yankees, Mets signed big free agents. Why didn’t the Dodgers?
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By not taking a raffle on any of this offseason’s high free brokers, the Dodgers as a substitute positioned one very huge, very high-stakes wager on one thing else.
That’s maybe the easiest way to summarize the membership’s winter exercise, during which the Dodgers made themselves an outlier amongst Main League Baseball’s large-market groups by not making any large-scale investments.
Virtually unanimously, the game’s different largest contenders determined that the size and price and danger of mega-deals was all price it — that heavy spending is just what it takes to compete within the majors’ present panorama.
The New York Yankees retained Aaron Judge and added Carlos Rodón.
The San Diego Padres (who signed Xander Bogaerts), Philadelphia Phillies (who signed Trea Turner) and Atlanta Braves (who traded for after which prolonged Sean Murphy) all spent their manner into the league’s luxurious tax.
Then there are the New York Mets, who have been already headed towards a league-record payroll with the additions of Justin Verlander and Kodai Senga even earlier than reportedly agreeing to an enormous cope with Carlos Correa.
The Dodgers, however, zagged in a special route.
They spent flippantly in free company, buying a string of cheaper veterans on one-year offers. They sat out lots of the winter’s most profitable bidding wars, and got here up empty-handed on a number of others they did pursue.
Their offseason strategy was little question influenced by the uncertainty surrounding Trevor Bauer’s status. The Dodgers didn’t study till Dec. 22 that the pitcher could be reinstated for the 2023 season following a discount to his home violence suspension and owed $22.5 million in wage. On Friday, they designated Bauer for project. They’ve till Thursday to commerce or launch him.
Even earlier than Friday’s information, the Dodgers’ reticence to pay premium costs on any of their largest wants — they’ve dropped from first to fifth within the majors in payroll, and at the moment straddle just under MLB’s $233-million luxurious tax threshold — signaled an unwavering belief of their core organizational beliefs.
Preserving monetary flexibility for the long-term future.
Extracting worth from missed veterans and extremely touted prospects.
And betting that their teaching employees and scouting division, analytics-minded entrance workplace and calculated strategy to roster building will proceed to maintain them within the championship image — even after an offseason that has seen much less addition than subtraction.
An essential inflection level on this Dodgers offseason got here proper at the beginning of the winter conferences in San Diego.
The membership had already freed up loads of cash by then, clearing greater than $100 million by chopping ties with Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger and eight different out-of-contract free brokers who didn’t re-sign in Los Angeles.
After main the league in payroll the earlier three seasons (and paying luxurious tax penalties the final two), the Dodgers have been eager on getting again to what they deemed have been extra sustainable ranges of spending.
They weren’t unwilling to make a serious acquisition, and even once more cross MLB’s luxurious tax line.
It simply needed to be beneath the appropriate circumstances.
In that vein, one splashy addition nearly did materialize — the soon-to-be 40-year-old Verlander turned one of many Dodgers’ prime targets, a reigning Cy Younger Award winner who match their desire for a shorter-term, high-value contract. The Dodgers introduced a two-year, $80-million contract provide.
Whereas the proposal included important deferrals, it nonetheless would have pushed the Dodgers over the luxurious tax line — no small matter with the membership dealing with at the very least a 50% tax fee this yr as a repeat offender — and given them an influence addition on par with the league’s different largest strikes this offseason.
Verlander opted to as a substitute register New York, accepting a two-year, $86.66-million deal from the Mets with an possibility for a 3rd season earlier than the Dodgers may current any additional counter proposals, in line with folks with data of the state of affairs.
The Dodgers shifted their focus to lower-cost veterans with probably untapped upside whereas largely sitting out the sweepstakes for extra established (and costly) free-agent stars.
For many of Andrew Friedman’s tenure because the membership’s president of baseball operations, that is how the Dodgers have operated.
They’ll flex their monetary muscle on offers they consider to be definitely worth the worth, however hardly ever broaden their monetary strike zone past what they deem a deal to be price.
In latest offseasons, that has meant hanging round “the backboard,” as Friedman likes to say, in hopes of scooping up a free famous person on the rebound.
Generally it really works, similar to their blockbuster commerce and extension for Mookie Betts in 2020, or the shock signing of Freddie Freeman after the league’s lockout final spring. Generally it doesn’t, similar to when the Dodgers missed out on Bryce Harper in 2018 and Gerrit Cole in 2019.
However for a membership that prioritizes “sustained success” — one other Friedman precept — and considers multi-year outlooks when establishing its roster and payroll, it has turn into the default plan of action.
This winter proved no totally different.
Whereas Rodón and Jacob deGrom obtained nine-figure ensures, the Dodgers crammed out their pitching employees with Noah Syndergaard and Shelby Miller (they have been additionally closely linked with Seth Lugo).
Whereas Trea Turner, Bogaerts and Correa secured long-term offers, the Dodgers added J.D. Martinez on a one-year deal, and Jason Heyward and Steven Duggar on minor league contracts (in addition they made a robust push for Kevin Kiermaier).
The group by no means fully deserted the considered one other marquee signing. With Dansby Swanson, for instance, they positioned themselves as a shorter-term various for the All-Star shortstop in case he didn’t get the mega-deal he was looking for. Swanson finally agreed to a seven-year contract with the Chicago Cubs earlier than the vacations.
However in the long run, the Dodgers successfully determined to double-down on themselves, bypassing the very high of the free-agent market with the idea they might contend in 2023 in different, cheaper methods.
Whereas Dodgers followers have been ready on a serious signing that by no means got here, the entrance workplace was ready on a serious ruling concerning Bauer’s 324-game home violence suspension.
For all of final season, the pitcher’s destiny lingered within the background, his future clouded by an enchantment to an unbiased arbitrator that took seven months to play out.
If upheld, Bauer’s suspension would have lined the rest of his contract with the Dodgers and absolved them of his $32-million wage for 2023.
If reversed, it will haven’t solely put Bauer again on the Dodgers’ books, however probably compelled them to retroactively pay extra luxurious taxes for his or her 2022 payroll.
No matter temptations the group had about becoming a member of fellow World Collection contenders and splurging on a high free-agent goal, the uncertainty of Bauer’s state of affairs helped stamp that out.
The ultimate ruling was neither a best- or worst-case situation for the Dodgers.
Bauer’s decreased pay of $22.5 million, although, nonetheless supplied a pathway for the Dodgers to both keep beneath the luxurious tax, or at the very least guarantee themselves of a small tax invoice that would protect extra monetary flexibility for the long run — thus making potential pursuits of future free brokers, similar to Shohei Ohtani, extra viable of their long-term plans.
The place all of it leaves the Dodgers in 2023 is way much less clear.
Their cautiously calculated strategy won’t have been out of the norm, particularly as they awaited a solution on Bauer. However this yr, it was thrust into distinction with the large spending that befell across the league.
As different groups made big-money strikes for marked roster enhancements, the Dodgers at the moment look much less gifted on paper than the group that racked up a franchise-record 111 wins final season.
Trea Turner is gone, and although the membership is assured in Gavin Lux taking up at shortstop, nobody has arrived to exchange Trea Turner’s bat on the high of the lineup.
Clayton Kershaw was retained, however Tyler Anderson’s departure nonetheless leaves an All-Star-sized gap within the rotation.
Middle discipline additionally stays unsettled in Bellinger’s absence. And even the de facto swap of Justin Turner (who signed with the Purple Sox) for Martinez (who left the Purple Sox to signal with the Dodgers) isn’t any assured improve, particularly when factoring in Justin Turner’s position as a long-time chief within the clubhouse.
Dodgers brass sees different methods to fill these gaps.
The membership is raring to combine a brand new wave of prospect expertise, with infielder Miguel Vargas, outfielder James Outman, and pitchers Gavin Stone, Ryan Pepiot and Bobby Miller all showing prone to get huge league alternatives sooner or later subsequent season.
Additionally they have time to maintain exploring the commerce market, the place anybody from shortstop Willy Adames of the Milwaukee Brewers (whom the Dodgers like) to beginning pitcher Pablo Lopéz of the Miami Marlins (whom the Dodgers had curiosity in final yr) to outfielder Bryan Reynolds of the Pittsburgh Pirates (who has already requested to be dealt) could possibly be moved earlier than the midseason deadline.
The core of the roster — with Kershaw and Julio Urías anchoring the rotation, and Freeman and Betts headlining the lineup — stays among the many most gifted within the majors.
However after a winter during which they’d ample payroll house, crucial roster wants, and but did not land any variety of the highest free brokers, the Dodgers’ lack of splashy offseason exercise is shaping to be a raffle of self-belief.
They’ll solely hope it pays off..