Welcome to January! We're not quite counting down when pitchers and catcher report just yet, especially because there's much work to do in free agency and on the trade market. But this month we'll have arbitration hearings, and the Los Angeles Dodgers have plenty on deck.
The Dodgers tendered contracts to all 13 of their arbitration-eligible players back in November, but since have parted with Victor González (in a trade with the New York Yankees) and Wander Suero (who was outrighted to Triple-A). They also avoided arbitration with Yency Almonte, so there will be 10 players to take care of this month.
Might LA consider doing one of their favorite moves and extending one or more of these key players? Guys like Walker Buehler, Will Smith and Brusdar Graterol will be headed to hearings. Buehler will be a free agent after 2024, as will Ryan Yarbrough and Caleb Ferguson (though those two are unlikely to be extended).
Looking at the current list, perhaps only Smith's situation makes the most sense. Buehler hasn't pitched since 2022 and it's unclear how he'll perform after his second Tommy John surgery. Graterol has three more years of team control left, as do Gavin Lux, Evan Phillips, Alex Vesia and JP Feyereisen.
Smith is entering his age-29 season and is controlled through 2025, but might it be smart for the Dodgers to ensure his stay in Los Angeles is longer than that?
Could Will Smith be a Dodgers extension candidate during arbitration process?
With top prospect Diego Cartaya taking a massive step back in 2023 and lefty slugger Dalton Rushing only just completing 89 games at High-A (in addition to splitting his time at first base), can the Dodgers really risk projecting their future at backstop with two relatively unknown commodities?
Smith earned his first All-Star nod in 2023 despite unofficially earning such honors in 2021 and 2022, when he was arguably the best hitting catcher in the league for two straight years. He's emerged a defensive stalwart, and a lot of Dodgers fans would say he's integral to the team's current window of contention.
It's unclear what an extension might look like, however. And the Dodgers, in their recent dealings with Buehler and Tony Gonsolin, haven't bought out any free agency years when giving out extensions during the arbitration process. A two-year extension with Smith, for example, could save them a headache for next offseason when the slugger is entering his final year of arb and will likely be due for his biggest raise yet.
Nobody would be opposed to tacking on an additional 4-5 years to keep him in LA for the rest of his prime, though. And it's something the Dodgers should look into, because he could eventually move to first base when Freddie Freeman's contract is up after 2027.