The Dodgers have avoided arbitration with catcher Austin Barnes by agreeing to a two-year deal worth $4.3MM, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports (Twitter links). The contract breaks down as a $300K signing bonus, $1.5MM in 2021, $2.5MM in 2022, and another $400K in potential incentives based on games played.
Barnes was seeking a $2MM salary for the 2021 season and the Dodgers countered with a $1.5MM figure, but the new deal both avoids a hearing and locks Barnes up for both of his remaining arbitration years. The catcher is still scheduled to hit free agency following the 2022 season.
MLBTR’s Matt Swartz projected Barnes to earn between $1.3MM and $1.7MM through the arbitration process, so the catcher will top that projection (counting both salary and the signing bonus) and he also banks some extra financial security for 2022 in the process. The Barnes deal wraps up the Dodgers’ arbitration business for the winter, and it is the second multi-year contract L.A. has struck this week in order to avoid an arbitration hearing, after reaching a two-year, $8MM pact with Walker Buehler.
Originally a ninth-round pick for the Marlins in the 2011 draft, Barnes came to Los Angeles as part of a memorable seven-player trade in December 2014. While not considered an elite prospect at the time, Barnes hit well in the Dodgers’ farm system and seemed to emerge as a catcher-of-the-future candidate when he hit .289/.408/.486 over 262 PA in 2017. His bat hasn’t been nearly as potent since, however, and Barnes has settled into a backup role behind Will Smith.
With another highly touted catching prospect in Keibert Ruiz on the cusp of regular playing time, it remains to be seen if Barnes will be part of the Dodgers’ long-term plans. His two-year agreement could now make him something of a trade chip, or the Dodgers might prefer to move Ruiz in order to land a higher-tier trade target. This all to be said, Los Angeles could also just end up keeping all their catchers as part of the team’s philosophy of amassing as much depth as possible — the addition of the universal DH would help in that regard, as more at-bats would be available.
Barnes’ deal carries a $2.15MM average annual value, adding to the Dodgers’ increasingly large luxury tax bill. The club now has a projected tax number of over $257.5MM (according to Roster Resource), beyond the highest penalty level of $250MM. The Dodgers are facing a tax bill of over $15MM and, for passing the $250MM mark, a 10-position drop in the draft order for their highest pick in the 2021 draft. There has been speculation that L.A. could look to trade a contract in order to at least duck under the $250MM threshold, but since the Dodgers are being taxed at the “first-timer” rate, they seem comfortable in making this one-year splurge to reload for another World Series title.