The Purpose of Stretching the Dodgers’ Bullpen

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It seems like it happens every single year. This year, it just happened a little bit later. The Dodgers go shopping and sign a handful of scrappy, veteran, middle relievers to help fill out what projected to be an extremely young bullpen.

Ned Colletti was notorious for this. The winter of 2010-11 comes to mind in particular, when the former GM went on a spree in an attempt to re-invent the relief corps, signing a group of veterans that were either unrecognized or weary from many years of service. A few of the players in the haul included Matt Guerrier, Merkin Valdez, Roman Colon, Ron Mahay, Jon Huber, Oscar Villarreal and Mike MacDougal. Although Guerrier and MacDougal generated a bit of success, most were non-roster invitees who persevered through spring training only to be sent packing upon the arrival of Opening Day.

Assembling the 2014 bullpen was one of the chief factors in Colletti’s demise as general manager. Overall, everyone not named Kenley Jansen, Chris Withrow or J.P. Howell performed horribly. The Dodgers paid former closers Brian Wilson $10 million, Chris Perez $2.3 million and Brandon League $8.5 million. The team’s $30-plus million bullpen contained several high profile names, but significantly less talent than there should have been at that price.

While acquiring a few veteran players for minimal dollars who are willing to teach and share experiences is always beneficial, spending lavishly on a laundry list of high-profile, prominent headliners past their primes always proves to be detrimental in the end.

Last season sparked a few memories, as one commonly wondered if Colletti, now a senior advsior to team president Stan Kasten, played a role building the pen with his antiquated beliefs and philosophies. The 2014-15 NRI relievers included David Aardsma, Mike Adams, Ryan Buchter, Chad Gaudin, David Huff, Ben Rowen and Sergio Santos. Huff and Santos were able to contribute on very small scales, while the others migrated away from Los Angeles and either retired or pursued other opportunities.

The 2016 offseason had a feel for the first time in years that the youth of the Dodgers’ organization would shoulder the brunt of the relief duties. At one point, a deal for flame-thrower Aroldis Chapman seemed like it would elevate the bullpen to an elite level; however, the front office eventually used its best judgement and declined a surefire trade, leaving the impression that the existing corps would need to fend for themselves.

Ultimately, the Dodgers would make only three notable free agent signings in efforts to strengthen the bullpen — Joe Blanton, Louis Coleman and Jamey Wright. The Blanton and Coleman deals were both one-year, MLB contracts, while the Wright signing was minor league in nature with an invite to spring training.

Wright, a 19-year major league veteran, has pitched with 10 teams, including two separate stints with the Dodgers. He had no offers from other clubs after being cut at the end of spring training by the Rangers last year.

Coleman appeared in just four games for the Royals in 2015, allowing no earned runs. The bulk of his season was spent in Triple-A Omaha, where he recorded a 1.69 ERA in 38 relief appearances, striking out 63 and walking 23 in 64 innings of work. In parts of five seasons with Kansas City, Coleman has a 3.20 ERA in 152 games, all in relief.

After posting a 6.04 ERA in 132 innings with the Angels in 2013, Blanton retired and was out of baseball for the entirety of the 2014 season. He rediscovered his mechanics last year and settled in as a reliever with the Royals before being dealt to the Pirates for cash at the trade deadline.

Although Blanton projects to play an active role as long man in the bullpen, the true value of all three of these veterans goes well beyond the numbers. They have an opportunity to exhibit professionalism, share real game experiences, offer advice on workout routines and critique pitching mechanics — things that the young pitchers in the organization need to develop their own personal acumens.

This is the part of baseball where all the sabermetric analysis in the world has no value.

A good friend of TBPC, Todd Boldizsar, had an opportunity to get up close and personal with Blanton, which further illustrates the wealth and knowledge a veteran player has to offer his teammates, especially young relievers like Jacob Rhame, Caleb Dirks, Chris Anderson and Jharel Cotton — all of whom are attending big league camp for the first time in their careers.

In the end, sometimes the few million dollars spent on contracts and the mediocre statistics should take a backseat to the valuable experience that these veterans possess, and most importantly, the desire and willingness they have to share with others on the squad.

After all, the youth in the Dodgers’ organization deserve nothing less.

(Photo Credit: dodgersnation.com)

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