Dodgers face challenge of massive payroll required to re-sign premier free agents
Andrew Friedman said that “in a vacuum,” the Dodgers would want all five of their premier free agents — pitchers Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw, shortstop Corey Seager, utility man Chris Taylor and closer Kenley Jansen — to return in 2022.
In reality, that’s not going to happen, unless the club is willing to push its payroll beyond the $300-million mark, which seems like a stretch even for the deep-pocketed Guggenheim Partners ownership group.
“I didn’t say that realistically,” Friedman, the team’s president of baseball operations, said at baseball’s general managers meetings Wednesday. “I said in a vacuum, we’d like to have each one. Now, we just have to figure out the specific fits within our roster, within our payroll and the timing of different moves.”
When a reporter prefaced a question about the 2022 payroll by saying, “You have a lot of money coming off the books,” Friedman interjected, “We have a lot of money on the books.”
The Dodgers did shed $107.5 million from their major league-high $262-million payroll when Scherzer, Kershaw, Seager, Taylor and Jansen became free agents the day after the World Series.
But they still have about $207 million in payroll counting against the luxury-tax threshold for 2022, with $144 million of it going to six players — Trevor Bauer, David Price, Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Justin Turner and AJ Pollock.
The Dodgers could get some payroll relief if Bauer, who missed the final three months of the season while under investigation for an alleged sexual assault, receives a hefty suspension without pay from Major League Baseball. Bauer’s 2022 salary is $34 million so that is what they could be relieved of with a full-year suspension.
The Dodgers’ hat is bigger than baseball. The interlocking L-A is iconic, and to see it on someone’s head is to feel an instant kinship.
But Scherzer, Seager, Taylor, Jansen and Kershaw should command well over $100 million in combined salaries for 2022, so there is virtually no chance all of them will return to the Dodgers and little chance most of them do.
Friedman said he has not been given a firm budget for 2022. Payrolls remain fluid, he said, fluctuating as marquee free agents and trade-deadline targets become available. But would he be comfortable with a $300-million payroll?
“That’s a better question for ownership,” Friedman said. “Our group has demonstrated at every single turn its strong desire to win, and this year will be no different. What that means in terms of an actual payroll number, I’m not sure, but I feel confident we’ll have the requisite talent to be a real championship competitor.”
The Dodgers are banking on the ability of their pitching coaches, athletic training staff and game-planning experts to improve the performance of left-hander Andrew Heaney, whose one-year, $8.5-million contract with the Dodgers was officially announced Wednesday.
Heaney, 30, went a combined 8-9 with a 5.83 ERA in 30 games for the Angels and New York Yankees in 2021, striking out 150, walking 41 and giving up a career-high 29 homers in 129 2/3 innings.
“Last year was a down year — he had some home-run challenges — but we feel like there’s some real upside we can tap into,” Friedman said. “He’s got really strong ingredients in place, and there are a few different levers we feel like we can potentially pull with him that he’s bought into and is eager to dive in on.”
Heaney, who missed most of 2016 and 2017 because of Tommy John surgery, has an ability to miss bats with a high-spin-rate fastball that seems to rise as it approaches the plate. He averaged 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings over the past five seasons.
He had his best year in 2018 for the Angels, going 9-10 with a 4.15 ERA in 30 starts, striking out 180 and walking 45 in 180 innings.
The Dodgers also like that Heaney, who will provide rotation depth behind Walker Buehler, Julio Urias and Tony Gonsolin, preferred a one-year deal, which shouldn’t impede the progress of top pitching prospects such as Bobby Miller, Andre Jackson, Landon Knack and Ryan Pepiot.
“He wanted to do a one-year deal to put himself in the best position to go back to market next winter, which lined up well for us with our young pitching,” Friedman said.
A few days after the Dodgers lost a six-game National League Championship Series to the Atlanta Braves, 41-year-old first baseman Albert Pujols was in his native Dominican Republic playing winter ball for the first time, an indication the 21-year veteran and surefire Hall of Famer has no plans to retire.
“It was amazing how quickly he went from the NLCS to playing,” Friedman said. “At first, I was surprised, but as I thought about it, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all. It speaks to his passion for the game, how much he loves playing the game.”
Pujols hit .254 with a .754 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 12 homers and 38 RBIs in 85 games for the Dodgers after the Angels released him in May. He hit .154 (four for 26) with a .395 OPS, no homers and two RBIs in his first seven winter-league games for Escogido. A free agent, Pujols is not high on the Dodgers’ priority list.
“For us, it’s about trying to figure out what our position-player group looks like, the versatility, the handedness, there are so many factors that go into it,” Friedman said. “He was a real shot in the arm for us last year with all the injuries we had, and we’ll kind of figure that out as we go.”
The Dodgers did not offer pitcher Clayton Kershaw a qualifying offer, but team president Andrew Friedman said they definitely want him to return.
Dustin May, who had Tommy John surgery in May, has begun his throwing program and is on track to return after the All-Star break in 2022. “Everything to this point has been incredibly positive,” Friedman said. “I think he is going to impact us at some point in the second half. And if we’re fortunate enough to get into October, I think he’ll be a real weapon for us.” … Scott Boras, the agent for Seager, when asked if the star shortstop and 2020 World Series most valuable player wants to return to Los Angeles: “Corey was a world champion, he was treated great, there was really good communication. He had a great experience in L.A., and we look forward to talking about his future there.” … Relievers Tommy Kahnle and Caleb Ferguson, both recovering from Tommy John surgery, are working out in Phoenix, “and we expect them to be ready by opening day or shortly thereafter,” Friedman said.
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