LA Dodged the Luxury Tax But Still Found A Route to World Series

In the aftermath of the Game 7 loss to the Astros in the World Series, the Dodgers came to a point of financial reckoning. After five consecutive seasons with the highest payroll in Major League Baseball, and facing a 50 percent luxury tax for exceeding the soft salary cap, the Dodgers knew it was time to regroup.

The free-agent market last winter was soft, and this winter’s has the promise of being an impact market. So the Dodgers decided to peel back their payroll, get under the soft cap, and put themselves in position so that even if they exceed the soft cap this winter the tax will be reduced to 20 percent from 50 percent.

Here’s the wake-up call: Despite early season injuries that led to the loss of shortstop Corey Seager to Tommy John surgery, his season ending after just 27 games, and Justin Turner for the first 40 games of the season with a broken left wrist, the Dodgers prevailed. Oh, they stumbled early, but once Turner got back on the field it was apparent the Dodgers were moving upward.

Opening Day
Team Rank Payroll
Red Sox 1st 233,300,600
Astros 4th 184,309,929
Cubs 5th 183,050,500
Dodgers 6th 181,491,386
Yankees 7th 180,513,375
Indians 17th 143,759,833
Rockies 18th 142,698,099
Braves 21st 126,194,484
Brewers 25th 111,423,933
A's 30th 857,805,433

And here they are, a team that opened the season with a payroll of $181,491,386, which ranked sixth in MLB according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, getting ready for Game 1 of the World Series against the Red Sox, who now rank No. 1 with a season-opening payroll of $233.3 million, at Fenway Park on Tuesday night.

The key ingredient to the payroll paring was a five-player trade with the Braes in which Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy and Charlie Culberson went to the Braves in exchange for the return of Matt Kemp to the Dodgers, the team that originally signed him. Here’s the kicker to that: the plan was to release Kemp, but he had such a strong spring the Dodgers kept him on the roster and he became a prime player in the early part of the season.

They also refrained from re-signing free agents Andre Ethier, Yu Darvish, Curtis Granderson, Brandon Morrow, Franklin Gutierrez and Tony Watson.

The residual? They won the NL West, beating the Rockies in a Game 163, dispatched the Braves in the Division Series and then eliminated the Brewers in a seven-game NLCS.

Now they will attempt to claim a world championship for the first time since 1988 when Kirk Gibson limped about the bases with his Game 1, ninth-inning, pinch-hit home run against the A’s.

So how did they survive?

Balance in a lineup in which not a hitter had a .300 average, nor drove in 100 runs, but led the NL with 804 regular-season runs.  But they had six players drive in 60 or more runs, led by Kemp with 85. They had seven players hit 20 or more home runs.

Rich Hill was the only pitcher with a double-figure win total and he was only 11-5. Their rotation had an NL-best .600 winning percentage (57-38) but the 57 wins from the starters ranked seventh in the NL.

But, as much as anything, they found their way to restock their roster and avoid exceeding the soft cap. They made their moves for the stretch run. They acquired Manny Machado in mid-July, Brian Dozier and John Axford at the July 31 non-waiver deadline, and then added David Freese at the end of August, just in time to be post-season eligible.

And so they added depth in the infield, and help in the bullpen, and with the pro-rated salaries only added less than $10.7 million to their payroll.

Tracy RingolsbyComment