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Shaikin: Dodgers’ payroll could be affected by Trevor Bauer decision

Trevor Bauer remains under contract with the Dodgers through 2023, and that could affect the players they can sign during the free-agency period.

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Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Trevor Bauer looks on from the dugout during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Thursday, July 1, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer looks on from the dugout during a game against the Washington Nationals on July 1, 2021, in Washington. (Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

Holiday joy is all around at these winter meetings, with Christmas trees and poinsettia plants throughout the lobby, and millions of dollars in the stockings of Trea and Clayton and Cody.

For the Dodgers, the ghost of a Christmas past looms.

Two winters ago, the Dodgers celebrated their first World Series championship in 32 years, then welcomed a hometown star by showering $102 million upon Trevor Bauer.

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Bauer pitched half a season for the Dodgers in 2021 and not at all in 2022, and he remains under contract through 2023. He also remains under suspension, and the uncertainty over his potential reinstatement has impacted the Dodgers’ winter plans.

Bauer is appealing his two-year suspension for violating baseball’s policy on sexual assault and domestic violence, and an arbitrator is expected to issue a decision late this month or sometime next month.

For Bauer, $60 million is at stake. For the Dodgers, perhaps $100 million is at stake, more than enough to sway the course of the team this winter.

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It is not the only factor, but it is an important one. Every business prefers cost certainty, and on that score, the Dodgers are no different than any other local company with a balance sheet.

The Dodgers have lost six free agents from their playoff roster, three alone on Tuesday: Cody Bellinger, Andrew Heaney and Tommy Kahnle, following Trea Turner and Chris Martin on Monday and Tyler Anderson last month.

They have retained Clayton Kershaw and signed reliever Shelby Miller, who has not even pitched 20 innings in the major leagues over the past three years. They did not sign Aaron Judge or Justin Verlander or Jacob deGrom. They could sign Carlos Rodón or Carlos Correa or Xander Bogaerts or Dansby Swanson, or they could sign none of them.

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Yes, these are the Dodgers, champions in attendance every year for the past decade, proud owners of the richest local television deal in baseball, vendor of the $20 ballpark drink. You should not feel sorry for them.

If Bauer’s suspension is overturned in full, he will get his remaining $60 million in salary. The Dodgers would be required to pay him in full, even if they never let him pitch another game for them.

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The arbitrator also could reduce the suspension without overturning it, in which case the Dodgers would owe Bauer less, or uphold it in its entirety, in which case the Dodgers would owe Bauer nothing.

So the amount the Dodgers might owe Bauer is capped at $60 million. However, the Dodgers also are liable for luxury taxes associated with his salary.

For the 2022 season, that could be an additional $18 million, if the league and the union decide to assess the tax retroactively. For the 2023 season, that could be $19 million if Bauer’s salary alone put the Dodgers over the tax threshold, even more if the payroll rose and taxes were assessed at more punitive levels.

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The Dodgers do not do rebuilding, and their fans should not stand for that. Yet, to hear Dave Roberts talk, the Dodgers are plenty comfortable replacing each departed free agent with an unproven minor leaguer.

“I don’t think it’s too much of a reach to say that five or six young kids, young ballplayers, are going to impact our ballclub,” the Dodgers’ manager said Tuesday.

After 10 consecutive postseason appearances, the Dodgers should get the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, fans are paying to see a star-studded roster, and as of Tuesday, the Dodgers have vacancies at shortstop, third base, center field and in the bullpen.

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If the Dodgers get an answer on Bauer next week, plenty of players might still be left in free agency. If the Dodgers get an answer on Bauer next month and wait to replenish their roster until then, the quantity and quality of available players will be diminished.

But if the Dodgers keep their payroll low enough that they do not have to pay a luxury tax this season, they can spend far more freely next winter, because tax penalties are lessened for teams that did not pay a tax the previous year.

That could make for a very happy holiday at Dodger Stadium a year from now. If the Dodgers restrain themselves financially this winter, in part because of Bauer, they could have more money to throw at Shohei Ohtani next winter.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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