The Dodgers Have Had a Unusual Offseason

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports activities

Perhaps we shouldn’t doubt the Dodgers. They’ve gained 9 out of the final 10 NL West titles, and within the 12 months they didn’t win the division, they gained 106 video games. They’re juggernauts by design, a staff constructed to resist the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. They draft properly, develop properly, spend a ton of cash, and spend that cash intelligently. They’re the closest factor baseball has to a dynasty today, and given the inherent randomness of the playoffs, that’s not more likely to change anytime quickly.

That’s all true – and regardless of all of it, I’m leaning in the direction of doubting their possibilities in 2023. For the primary time in years, I don’t have to leap by hoops to give you causes to take action. The Dodgers appear to be among the best groups in baseball, however they now not look, at the least to me, like absolutely the class of the league. It’s bizarre to think about it that approach, however let’s discuss by it collectively.

First issues first: the Dodgers misplaced a ton of fine free brokers this 12 months, similar to they do yearly. That’s merely the price of doing enterprise once you’re good as constantly as they’re; your staff will naturally be full of nice gamers approaching free company. This 12 months’s iteration of the staff misplaced a whopping 21.3 WAR value of 2022 manufacturing, the very best mark within the majors. The listing of the highest 5 groups in relation to misplaced 2022 manufacturing is a who’s who of golf equipment attempting to contend proper now:

2022 WAR Misplaced in Free Company

Staff 2022 WAR Misplaced
Dodgers 21.3
Yankees 20.8
Mets 18.2
White Sox 13
Padres 11.7

Hey, once you have a look at it that approach, it’s not so dangerous! The Yankees and the Mets are proper there with the Dodgers. Solely, it’s a must to think about each side of the ledger. The Yankees, for instance, misplaced 11.4 WAR value of manufacturing from Aaron Judge alone. However uh, they nonetheless have Decide after signing him again in free company. Listed below are these 5 groups once more, with two new columns this time: 2022 WAR added in free company and the online beneficial properties or losses total:

2022 Web WAR Misplaced in Free Company

Staff 2022 WAR Misplaced 2022 WAR Gained Web
Dodgers 21.3 6.9 -14.3
Yankees 20.8 20.3 -0.5
Mets 18.2 26.1 8.0
White Sox 13.0 2.9 -10.1
Padres 11.7 9.6 -2.1

The Dodgers have skilled the largest expertise drain within the majors this offseason. The crop of free brokers they’ve signed produced 14.3 fewer WAR in 2022 than the previous Dodgers who departed in free company. That’s the bottom mark within the majors by far:

2022 Web WAR Misplaced in Free Company

Staff 2022 WAR Misplaced 2022 WAR Gained Web
Dodgers 21.3 6.9 -14.3
White Sox 13.0 2.9 -10.1
Braves 6.5 0.4 -6.1
Brewers 5.7 0.0 -5.7
Rays 6.2 1.4 -4.9
Astros 10.5 6.6 -3.9
Pink Sox 11.4 8.2 -3.3
Twins 5.4 2.9 -2.5
Mariners 1.9 -0.5 -2.4
Padres 11.7 9.6 -2.1
Rockies 2.2 1.1 -1.2
Giants 8.9 8.1 -0.8
Cardinals 4.0 3.3 -0.7
Yankees 20.8 20.3 -0.5
Royals 1.9 1.5 -0.3
Blue Jays 3.1 3.8 0.7
Marlins 0.5 1.3 0.8
Tigers -0.1 0.8 0.9
Phillies 8.8 10.0 1.3
Reds 0.6 2.2 1.6
Nationals -0.6 1.1 1.7
Guardians -0.4 1.8 2.2
Pirates 0.0 2.5 2.5
Diamondbacks -1.5 1.3 2.8
Orioles -1.0 3.0 4.0
Athletics -1.6 2.9 4.5
Rangers 2.3 8.1 5.8
Angels -0.1 7.1 7.3
Mets 18.2 26.1 8.0
Cubs 3.4 12.1 8.7

These losses aren’t contained to a single space. Trea Turner was arguably their greatest participant in 2022. Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney gave them precious begins and innings. The bullpen misplaced an combination 153.2 innings of fantastic pitching, to the tune of a 2.87 ERA and three.02 FIP (excluding the mop-up innings that Hanser Alberto dealt with). Justin Turner posted a 123 wRC+. Even Cody Bellinger, who left after the staff non-tendered him, performed glorious protection and accounted for 1.7 WAR regardless of his continued offensive failings.

In Dan Szymborski’s not too long ago revealed ZiPS projections, you’ll be able to see the staff’s shortcomings. For the primary time because the 2019 season, the Dodgers have a beginning place projected for lower than two WAR – James Outman and Miguel Vargas mix to challenge for 1.2 WAR in left subject, and Outman and Trayce Thompson challenge for 1.9 WAR in heart. A second base by committee state of affairs barely clears that arbitrary 2.0 WAR bar; Chris Taylor, Max Muncy, and Michael Busch are the headliners of a gaggle that ZiPS initiatives for two.1 WAR.

After all, it was by no means affordable to count on a staff to proceed racking up common season wins on the clip the Dodgers have managed lately. Previously 5 full seasons, they’ve averaged 104 wins per 12 months. They performed at a 116-win tempo within the shortened 2020 season. In need of churning out a brand new batch of phenoms, they had been by no means going to carry that tempo.

That’s to not say that their farm system hasn’t produced huge league expertise. Vargas, Busch, and Outman are all rookies. Diego Cartaya and Andy Pages are every solely 21, however each appear to be future stars. There’s a crop of pitchers on the best way, too, led by Bobby Miller. Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May are younger, controllable, and glorious. As of final season’s finish, The Board had the Dodgers because the quantity seven farm system within the recreation even after all of the trades they’ve made up to now few years.

However in case you’re on the lookout for a 12 months the place the Dodgers appear mortal, 2023 is likely to be your greatest guess. Gavin Lux is not any certain factor at shortstop. Vargas has performed precisely one inning at third base within the majors. Muncy is 32 and might be taking part in out of place virtually on daily basis; he’s posted respectable numbers at second base, however with incoming defensive positioning restrictions, his vary and arm might be examined greater than ever. The Dodgers’ offense will nonetheless be glorious – they’ve Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts, and Will Smith anchoring their lineup – nevertheless it’s unlikely to be the very best lineup within the recreation this 12 months. Per our Depth Charts projections, they’ve the eighth-best crop of place gamers.

The beginning rotation checks in at ninth in those self same projections, although I feel that underrates the Los Angeles starters. Lacking Walker Buehler will undoubtedly damage, however even with out him, they’ll run out 5 above-average starters with extra reinforcements accessible within the excessive minors. They’ve additionally proven a constant means to get extra out of short-term free agent signings than anticipated; would it not shock anybody to see Noah Syndergaard bounce again this 12 months?

The Dodgers are nonetheless betting favorites to win the division, however they’re almost neck-and-neck with the Padres, and our projections just like the Padres extra. This absolutely hasn’t gone unnoticed in Chavez Ravine. Even when the Dodgers are extra optimistic about their inner replacements than our projections, the expertise drain is simple. Why haven’t they achieved extra in free company?

I’ve a number of concepts, none of that are ironclad. First, it’s value noting that the Dodgers will doubtless squeeze underneath the primary aggressive stability tax threshold this 12 months. That threshold is $233 million, and we presently have the Dodgers juuuuuust underneath, with a projected $232,899,125 CBT payroll. Being a greenback underneath that threshold has enormous financial advantages due to repeat overage penalties.

The aggressive stability tax price adjustments primarily based each on the quantity by which a staff exceeds the primary CBT threshold and the variety of seasons in a row that staff has exceeded the primary threshold. Right here’s the matrix of attainable tax charges primarily based on these two variables:

CBT Tax Charges by Threshold and Years

Over By First 12 months Second 12 months Third+ 12 months
0-20M 20% 30% 50%
20-40M 32% 42% 62%
40-60M 62.5% 75% 95%
60+M 80% 90% 110%

How does this have an effect on the Dodgers’ whole payroll outlay? In each 2021 and ’22, the Dodgers exceeded the primary CBT threshold. That signifies that in the event that they finish the 12 months with a payroll above $233 million, they’ll pay the very best attainable tax price on their overages.

That may add as much as some huge cash. For example, think about that beginning in 2024, the Dodgers run a CBT payroll of precisely $300 million yearly. In the event that they head into 2024 after not paying any tax in ’23, they’ll owe $91 million in funds from ’24 to ’26. In the event that they as an alternative run that very same $300 million payroll yearly, however head into 2024 having exceeded the primary threshold for 3 straight years, they’ll owe $122 million over these three years. That’s a considerable financial savings, and this 12 months is the primary the place it’s made sense for the Dodgers to take action; they couldn’t have fairly ducked underneath the edge in 2021 or ’22 due to roster development, however they’d an enormous variety of gamers depart this winter.

This example is much more precarious due to Trevor Bauer’s contract. Bauer gained an appeal that lowered his suspension by a 12 months. He’s now due roughly $22.5 million this 12 months, which counts towards the staff’s CBT payroll no matter whether or not Bauer rejoins the staff (his wage is included within the projected CBT payroll determine referenced above). The uncertainty round that call reportedly factored into the staff’s conservative offseason plans, and given how shut they’re to exceeding the primary threshold, it appears doubtless that they made their selections with Bauer’s attraction in thoughts. They could must make additional concessions to stay underneath the CBT restrict, however given their proximity to it and their decision-making to date this offseason, I’m guessing resetting their CBT standing is essential to them.

That value financial savings ties into my subsequent concept: the Dodgers are setting as much as land Shohei Ohtani subsequent offseason. Ohtani appears to be like to be headed for the biggest contract in historical past, and with good motive: he’s a generational expertise hitting free company in his prime. The bidding might be fierce, and a few early estimates have eclipsed a $500 million whole contract dimension. Groups that suppose they stand an inexpensive shot of touchdown Ohtani ought to completely be planning round that now if it doesn’t mess with their present plans an excessive amount of, and I’d argue that the Dodgers have achieved simply that.

Regardless of their constantly excessive spending habits, the Dodgers are hardly within the enterprise of signing a prime free agent yearly. They’ve completed lots of staff constructing by creating and lengthening their very own gamers or by buying and selling for stars. For each Freddie Freeman, there’s a Julio Urías. Even in case you consider Betts as basically a free agent signing – they traded for him a 12 months earlier than he would attain free company and gave him an extension that 12 months – he and Freeman are the one gamers incomes greater than $20 million a 12 months. Clayton Kershaw is available in at precisely $20 million. The Dodgers run huge combination payrolls, however they do this as a result of they pay as much as retain their very own gamers.

In case you suppose that they’ll usually proceed to construct the roster in that model, including one other top-tier free agent this offseason would begin to complicate their means to signal Ohtani whereas working a remotely affordable payroll. One of many Dodgers’ long-running strengths has been depth; when one among their stars disappoints or will get injured, they at all times appear to have another person to throw into the combination. Most groups lose these gamers to roster crunch and free company, however not the Dodgers. They constantly have extra succesful beginning pitchers than they will use in a rotation at one time, and so they gave each Taylor and Muncy eight-figure common annual values to keep up that depth. In the event that they’re intent on persevering with that roster model and have their eyes on a giant identify within the 2024 class, it will make sense to take a seat ’23 out for essentially the most half.

One different possibility: perhaps the Dodgers simply didn’t like every of the highest free brokers this 12 months. Decide was the one top-tier outfielder available on the market this offseason, and if the Dodgers are increased on Lux than trade consensus, it’s totally affordable that they merely didn’t see a motive to splurge on a shortstop once they had a younger participant of their very own they wished to offer the job. Positive, there have been loads of glorious pitchers accessible, however I like their rotation, and it’s totally attainable that they aren’t prepared to offer long-term offers to pitchers, interval. To the very best of my data, they haven’t signed a pitcher to a contract longer than three years since Kenley Jansen’s extension kicked in approach again in 2017.

No matter what the Dodgers are doing, I don’t suppose you’ll be able to write this offseason off as merely them being cheapskates. Their entrance workplace has constantly been among the best within the recreation for a decade, and possession has by no means been averse to spending when it is sensible. It’s enjoyable to play armchair GM and say {that a} staff merely isn’t doing sufficient, or that they don’t know easy methods to construct a winner. That might be a laughable declare right here; the Dodgers have proven time and time once more that they deserve the good thing about the doubt.

That is no blind attraction to authority; the Dodgers are a well-run group. That doesn’t make their plan any much less fascinating, although. The Dodgers might have achieved extra to maximise their 2023 staff’s probabilities of profitable the NL West or the World Collection. In case you might ask Andrew Friedman that query in personal, I’m certain he’d concur. The query, then, is what they’re doing as an alternative. I feel they’re constructing to a otherwise formed however nonetheless dominant staff in 2024. Their NL West opponents can be properly suggested to place their greatest foot ahead this 12 months – I don’t know what the longer term holds, nevertheless it’s totally attainable that 2023 will find yourself because the weakest Dodger staff of the last decade.