LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Yes, the Dodgers are mindful of the luxury tax. No, they don't feel compelled to make Winter Meetings deals.
Those were two takeaways from president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman's first media session since Shohei Ohtani chose the Angels and Giancarlo Stanton joined the Yankees.
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Without providing specifics, Friedman expressed disappointment at missing on Ohtani, but indicated there was little the Dodgers could do to counter the American League's designated hitter rule that will more easily accommodate the Japanese phenom's primary goal of being a hitter as well as a pitcher.
"Obviously, we're disappointed we didn't end up with Shohei, but obviously we understand it was his decision and we wish him the best," said Friedman. "I feel like the AL, we always knew it was looming with the DH situation. But we did our best to try to present scenarios and structures that made it less compelling. He is very uniquely talented to do both. Even with that, there's a real physical toll in terms of recovery and stress on the body. I understand the desire to do it in the AL. I think there are ways to be creative. I get where the AL makes more sense."
Ohtani was the Dodgers' top target because he would have cost a relative pittance in bonus, compared to the $295 million left on Stanton's contract, plus the accompanying luxury tax that could have ballooned the commitment to a half a billion dollars at a time when the Dodgers are trying to reduce payroll because of the tax.
The Dodgers' payroll in 2017 was $244 million and Friedman said it was "fair to say" the '18 payroll will not exceed $237 million, the threshold that increases the tax rate from 62 percent to 95 percent. Clubs more than $40 million above the initial tax threshold of $197 million will be additionally penalized by having a high selection in the June Draft moved back 10 places. Coming off the payroll after '18 are Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, John Forsythe, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Howie Kendrick and Erisbel Arruebarrena, representing $65 million. That's when Clayton Kershaw can opt out of his contract.
"Stepping back from that specific player," Friedman said, referring to Stanton, "I just think where we are payroll-wise, moves of significant substantial commitments in 2018 require some creativity. We consciously did a lot of our heavy lifting last winter [re-signing Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner and Rich Hill for a combined $192 million], realizing we are locking a lot of our core in place for the foreseeable future. We were happy about it then and we're happy about it now. That got in front of a lot of things heading into this offseason. Look around our team and there are not a lot of obvious areas to address."
Winning 104 games in the regular season and finishing one win shy of a World Series title is evidence of the roster strength. Friedman said the bullpen, which is about to lose setup man Brandon Morrow to the Cubs, is a priority. He said Tony Cingrani (acquired at the non-waiver Trade Deadline) and Yimi Garcia (returning from Tommy John surgery) could pick up innings. He said starting pitching isn't a priority, another indication that Yu Darvish is considered too expensive to bring back.
"I like the depth we have," Friedman said. "If [an acquisition] happens, great. But I actually think it's a great opportunity to start working in some of our younger upside starters. We don't want to continue taking away opportunity from those guys, and give them a soft landing spot in the big leagues to go through their acclimation process. We have a talented enough group to ride that out a little bit."