It’s an important topic I wanted to take a little closer look at. Both teams have a number of free agents heading into 2021. None loom larger than superstar Mookie Betts. The Dodgers paid a kings ransom for one year of control by trading budding star Alex Verdugo, and solid prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong. They also absorbed David Price and his hefty contract. Now there is the possibility that Betts could be a free agent without ever having taken a swing for LA.
Other free agents for the Dodgers include Justin Turner, Joc Pederson, Enrique Hernandez, & Pedro Baez, who combined for 10 WAR in 2019. Alex Wood and Blake Treinen were signed to one year deals prior to 2020 and will be free agents at the end of this year.
Some of these free agents may end up resigning with LA of course, but not all of them.
Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks are not without their issues on this front. Arizona traded for two years of control of Starling Marte, giving up prospects Brennan Malone and Liover Peguero. Neither of those prospects were close to the majors, but losing one year of Marte still hurts some.
D-backs Free agents include Robbie Ray, Jake Lamb, and Andrew Chafin. They combined for just 2.3 WAR in 2019, so much less of a hit than LA is taking. The team has an option on Mike Leake, but that will certainly be declined and he will be a free agent as well.
Heading into 2020 the Dodgers had a payroll nearly 100M more than the Diamondbacks. Their roster combination of established veterans and young stars had them projected to win the NL West handily. While most of us were quite happy with Mike Hazen’s off season, and are feeling better about the prospect pipeline, on paper at least the gap between the two teams had not been closed.
Based on a number of sources I created the comparison chart below to see what 2021 might look like. It’s a rough cut. I didn’t agonize too much over the deeper parts of the roster. Obviously what’s below is simply a starting point, or a baseline. Both teams will make numerous moves between now and next February and the rosters will look a lot different. But in order to get an idea what 2021 might look like we have to start somewhere. (click or tap to enlarge if this is too small)
This shows a starting point of 168M Payroll and 89 Wins for LA, and 100M payroll and 78 wins for the D-backs.
First some explanations. I went to Baseball-Reference.com and pulled up the contracts page for each team to input the salaries of the remaining players. I also went to Fangraphs.com projections and depth charts pages to get an idea of where to place guys. Finally, I also referenced MLB.com for their prospects pages to see which prospects are most likely to get a shot at a roster spot in 2021. Please let me know in the comments if you think I have any big misses here.
It’s anybody’s guess how much the loss of revenue in 2020 will impact payrolls. I am hearing that 2021 projected revenue is way off as well. These starting points represent roughly 20-25% lower payroll compared to 2020. Can LA go after Mookie Betts and pay him a huge contract and go back up towards 200M in 2021 ?
It would seem that their bench here is awful thin and they’ll surely fill in a couple of veteran free agents. A year off may really benefit the oft injured Clayton Kershaw and David Price perhaps. But LA may feel they need one more veteran innings eater type starter for their rotation despite having a number of good young pitchers in Julio Urias, Dustin May, Ross Stripling and Tony Gonsolin.
For the Diamondbacks, note the players with salary highlighted in bold and italicized. Those are all team options. I think they’ll pick up Merrill Kelly’s option. They’ll need the innings. But if they are looking to really cut payroll well below 100M, which is entirely possible, then guys like Junior Guerra, Hector Rondon, and Stephen Vogt are on the bubble. Replacing those 3 roster spots with pre arb players would save the team 9M.
As we can see from above tables, the “on paper” gap has shrunk to an 11 game deficit as opposed to the 17-23 games deficit heading into 2020. But that jumps right back to 17-18 games if LA resign Betts and shores up their bench a bit.
In conclusion, I think it’s very reasonable to say that the loss of all or most of the 2020 season impacts LA greater than Arizona when looking at 2021. But LA may still have the ability to spend their way out of that impact, whereas I have serious doubts the Diamondbacks can spend enough to keep the gap from widening further.
Our hope is still the future, and the future has been pushed out another year.