With the addition of Trevor Bauer, who will be the odd men out in Dodgers’ rotation?
Last week, before they agreed to make Trevor Bauer the highest-paid player in the major leagues, the Dodgers had six starting pitchers for five rotation spots.
Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and David Price would populate the first three slots. Some combination of Julio Urías, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin would hold the final two. One would not have made the cut to start the season.
Now, after Bauer’s arrival, two won’t be in the starting rotation on opening day, barring injury or a trade. As it stands Monday, a week before pitchers and catchers report to Camelback Ranch for spring training, the plan is for Urías to round out the rotation, leaving May and Gonsolin out.
Urías was a starter during the 2020 regular season and made two postseason starts, but he shined out of the bullpen in the playoffs. He closed out the Atlanta Braves with three perfect innings in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series and secured the final out of the World Series to complete 2 1/3 spotless frames against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Adding pitcher Trevor Bauer could lead to Justin Turner finishing his career elsewhere or Clayton Kershaw or Corey Seager departing the Dodgers after this season.
In all, he gave up one unearned run and four hits in 13 1/3 innings across four relief appearances in the postseason. The success fueled speculation about his future. Was he destined to become a late-inning weapon, maybe used the way the Milwaukee Brewers deploy Josh Hader?
The answer appears to be no, for now.
As for May and Gonsolin, the Dodgers could move both to the bullpen or have them start the season in the minors. Both have experience as relievers in the majors. Including the postseason, May has 18 relief appearances on his résumé. Gonsolin has seven.
Both right-handers, however, proved they’re major league-caliber starters in 2020. May, 23, finished the regular season with a 2.57 earned-run average in 12 games. Gonsolin, 26, forced his way into the regular-season rotation after not making the roster out of summer camp. He had a 2.31 ERA in 46 2/3 innings and was named Baseball America’s MLB rookie of the year.
Both pitchers figure to start games for the Dodgers this season, whether they’re in the rotation on opening day or not. Injuries are bound to occur. Teams can never have too much starting pitching. Josiah Gray, the Dodgers’ top pitching prospect, is also expected to contribute in 2021.
But Bauer’s addition does give the Dodgers the option to trade a starter to address another area, perhaps to replenish the farm system or address third base.
The easy answer at third is to re-sign Justin Turner. He would fill the hole at the position and give the Dodgers the right-handed bat they seek. But we’re into the second week of February and Turner remains unsigned, leaving open the possibility of the team acquiring another third baseman. Options include trading for Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs or Eugenio Suárez of the Cincinnati Reds.
A trade of some sort is possible. Bauer’s signing isn’t official yet because the Dodgers’ 40-man roster is full. They need to create a spot for him and would need to create another one for Turner to re-sign him. A trade could open slots for both.
Would the Dodgers trade the inexpensive May — who cannot become a free agent until 2026 — or Gonsolin, who can’t until 2027? What about Price?
Price, 35, was acquired from the Boston Red Sox alongside Mookie Betts last year but hasn’t pitched in a game for the Dodgers after deciding to opt out of the 2020 season. The 12-year veteran is slated to make $32 million each of the next two seasons, but the Red Sox agreed to pay half of it. The Dodgers could entice another team by offering to pay another chunk of his salary and reduce their competitive balance tax payroll.
It’s fiction that Trevor Bauer joining the Dodgers on a rich three-year contract means that baseball needs a salary cap so every team can compete.
As of Monday, the Dodgers are nearly $28 million over the $210-million CBT threshold.
As first-time offenders, the Dodgers would pay a 20% tax on all overages up to $230 million, and they would be subject to a 12% surtax on top of the 20% penalty for a payroll between $230 million and $250 million. They would be taxed at a 42.5% rate and have their first pick in the following draft drop 10 spots if the payroll exceeds $250 million. Re-signing Turner would likely inflate the Dodgers’ payroll to around that number, limiting the Dodgers’ flexibility for in-season moves.
Trading May or Gonsolin would garner a bigger return, perhaps giving the Dodgers a chance to replenish their farm system, but it wouldn’t afford them payroll relief and they are considered future rotation stalwarts.
In the end, the Dodgers could just stand pat, pay the taxes, find another way to create room on the 40-man roster for Bauer and maybe Turner, and enter the season with a surplus of starting pitching. You can never have enough starting pitching.
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