Dodgers’ Walker Buehler could become most expensive arbitration pitcher ever

Thomas Carannante
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 17: Walker Buehler #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates after retiring the side with the bases loaded against the Atlanta Braves during the second inning in Game Six of the National League Championship Series at Globe Life Field on October 17, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 17: Walker Buehler #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates after retiring the side with the bases loaded against the Atlanta Braves during the second inning in Game Six of the National League Championship Series at Globe Life Field on October 17, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /
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Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler has earned Super Two status.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have one of the best pitchers in the game and he’s only 26 years old. Walker Buehler, despite having minimal experience at the MLB level, is already a World Series champion and owns a ridiculous 2.35 ERA in 11 career postseason starts. Players his age are even lucky to sniff playoff action.

The only problem here? Buehler is going to be a significant expenditure for the Dodgers in the years to come. Well, it’s not really a problem because the Dodgers can pretty much afford anything, but it’s the only aspect of Buehler’s performance  that could create a bit of a headache when we take into account how complicated the financials can get at times.

On Tuesday, it was reported the right-hander earned Super Two status for the 2021 season, meaning he’ll be entering the arbitration process a year early. He’ll now have four arbitration-eligible seasons and he’s already slated to make $2.7 million this upcoming campaign.

In case you’re not familiar with Super Two eligibility, here’s how Major League Baseball’s arbitration system works. All players are under six years of control once they exceed their rookie limits. They have three pre-arbitration years and then three arbitration years, the latter of which feature hefty raises assuming the player continues to improve each season.

The Super Two designation occurs when players in their first two pre-arbitration years rank in the top 22% of service time among players who have accrued between two and three seasons in MLB. If that criteria is met, the player, in this case, Walker Buehler, enters arbitration in what would be his final year in the pre-arbitration process. Now here come the raises.

Look, there’s always a possibility the Dodgers opt to bypass Buehler’s arbitration years and ink him to a gigantic contract extension. After all, he’s their best pitcher, figures to be their ace in the years to come, and it’d be beneficial to avoid the annual headache of having to exchange salary figures in the arbitration process.

But that’s not always a reality. Often times, teams let the process play out and hope to get their way by saving a few bucks. However, that probably won’t be the case with LA, unless Buehler were to get hurt, so the organization and its fans should brace for the right-hander to become the highest-paid pitcher the arbitration process has ever seen.

There’s quite literally never been a pitcher like Buehler in the modern era who has seen this much success going through the arbitration process, especially when costs are rising exponentially.

The good news? The Dodgers are no stranger to this. They saw it happen with Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts in 2020 — Bellinger ($11.5 million) set the record for highest salary for a player in his first year of eligibility and Betts ($27 million) did the same in his third year of eligibility before coming over in a trade with the Red Sox. Both of them were Super Two players once upon a time.

Assuming Buehler continues on his current trajectory and the Dodgers opt to stay the course in the arbitration process, expect many more record-setting salaries from the star pitcher.

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