As it stands, the estimated luxury tax payroll for the Dodgers in 2021 sits at $197 million, which is about $13 million under the threshold. In normal seasons, fans might expect the team to blow past the cap to strengthen its player roster, especially since they’ve been under the threshold in recent years without penalty. But, when considering the state of finances in 2020 due to the pandemic, such an action for next season is extremely unlikely.
According to a NY Post story in late October, the Dodgers were on pace to lose a whopping $125 million due to the circumstances surrounding COVID-19. Similarly, right around the same time, President and CEO Stan Kasten told CNBC that it “will take the franchise years to overcome the lost revenue experienced during the pandemic-altered baseball season.”
Whether these financial circumstances have led the team to acquire questionable arms like Corey Knebel, James Pazos, Andrew Schwaab, Tommy Kahnle, Brock Stewart and Brandon Morrow instead of a proven, big-name reliever remain to be seen.
Recently, the Dodgers have been linked to veteran infielder DJ LeMahieu, but after doing the math, it seems almost impossible the team would be able to bring on the 32-year-old righty hitter without surpassing the threshold. Our friends Mark Polishuk and Connor Byrne at MLBTR outline the LeMahieu situation nicely, reflecting that the infielder could be seeking a contract somewhere in the range of five years and $100 million, a figure which the Yankees are even hesitant to commit.
Nevertheless, it still might be possible for Los Angeles to sign a free-agent reliever with a proven pedigree. While somebody like Liam Hendriks may end up being overpriced for the team’s budget, a capable arm like Brad Hand, Alex Colome or even Blake Treinen might be possible for the taking. Or, front-office boss Andrew Friedman could continue his pattern of acquiring restoration types of projects and snag somebody like the hard-throwing Trevor Rosenthal on a low-risk deal.
There have also been some suggestions that the Dodgers could potentially move some of their most burdensome salaries this winter in trades, specifically in the form of the $20 million owed to Kenley Jansen and the $8.3 million owed to Joe Kelly. However, based on how creative and frugal some rival clubs have been handling their money so far—see the 2020 Rule 5 Draft—chances of another team absorbing the salaries of Jansen and Kelly are slim, particularly when considering the inconsistencies of both players in recent years.
Something else to consider is the idea of David Price opting out of a second-consecutive season because of the coronavirus. According to manager Dave Roberts, the veteran left-hander still hasn’t decided whether he’s going to play in 2021, and his decision could significantly impact the payroll budget for both Los Angeles and Boston.
Price is owed $32 million in each of the next two seasons, with the Red Sox picking up $16 million of that amount for both years.
Regardless, while there probably will be a few other minor moves made by the Dodgers before players start filing into the clubhouse at Camelback Ranch, perhaps the more prudent strategy will be to wait until the 2021 summer trade deadline and upgrade based on the team’s overall first-half performance and needs.