The Dodgers have been one of the biggest-spending teams in baseball for a long time, including 2022, when they had the second-highest payroll in MLB behind only the Mets. Their ownership is committed to spending whatever it takes to build a winner, and the front office headed by Andrew Friedman is good at spending that money wisely.
That wisdom in spending came into play on Friday, when Friedman and his team chose to non-tender outfielder Cody Bellinger. The former MVP was due to make about $18 million in arbitration but has been a huge offensive liability the past two seasons, posting a combined OPS+ of 64 in 2021-22 (meaning he's been 36% worse than league average).
While Friedman and the Dodgers still believe in Bellinger's talent and expect him to figure out his struggles, it didn't make sense to pay him that much for such an uncertain return. There are rumors Los Angeles might try to get under the luxury tax for 2023 to reset the escalating tax rates, which go up each season a team is over the limit. As Fabian Ardaya reports in The Athletic, finances are definitely on Friedman's mind, even if they're not totally driving decisions.
“Payroll decisions factor into every decision that every team makes,” Friedman said. “If you look back over the last seven, eight years, it’s probably factored in less for us than it has for the other 29 teams. But it’s still a factor.
“Going over (the threshold) is something that we’ve done with regularity, and it adds cost. All of that gets factored in. It’s never been, ‘Hey, we have to get under.’ It’s been about putting the most talented team together. Now, again, obviously we have been aggressive the last two years, and not just in terms of payroll but in terms of taxes paid as well. All of that just gets factored in.”
The non-tender of Bellinger saves L.A. about $18 million. They still have to replace him, but there are internal options like Chris Taylor, Trayce Thompson, and James Outman, and there are cheaper external options (including Bellinger himself, who could return on a less-expensive deal).
Whether Los Angeles uses those savings to get under the luxury tax or to go after a big-name free agent or two (or both), it's a stark reminder that baseball is a business, even for the richest teams.