Weighing the Options of Improving the Dodgers Bullpen

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(Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)

After observing an offseason managerial change, a near total makeover to the coaching staff, and a few tweaks in terms of player personnel, fans across Dodgertown began the 2016 regular season with a fresh attitude and a revived sense of enthusiasm.

Yet only nine games into the new campaign, these same followers of the Dodgers are already having flashbacks of seasons past from not so long ago, and aren’t one bit shy when it comes to expressing their frustrations — especially in regards to the bullpen.

A few times in those nine games, the relief corps has looked well-oiled and finely tuned, but for the most part hasn’t been very dependable at all, struggling to hit their location points, or in some cases, completely unable to find the strike zone — so much so that manager Dave Roberts had to turn to the seemingly sole reliable member of the bullpen  Wednesday night, Kenley Jansen, for the first five-out save of his career.

“Doc [Roberts] knows I’m willing to do that,” Jansen told Mike DiGiovanna of the LA Times. “I make sure I stay sharp, in shape and get plenty of rest, so whenever he needs me for two innings or a four-out save, I’ll be ready.”

At the end of the evening, after a hard-earned 3-1 victory over the Diamondbacks, everyone was happy, particularly the fans. But what happens when the Dodgers find themselves ahead by a slim margin and need the expertise of a shut down closer the following evening? Surely, if Jansen is continuously expected to hammer out two-inning saves over the long haul, his workload could very well be limited to as few as three appearances per week.

“You can’t predict the future,” Jansen added. “Sometimes if I’m fresh, I can pick up my teammates … but you can’t panic and use me as a savior all the time. I need these guys all year to set the bridge up. They’re more important than me closing that ninth, because they need to build that bridge from the sixth to the ninth.”

With the series on the line Thursday evening, the Dodgers very well may need to utilize another alternative to Jansen late in the game. Normally, the most effective and trustworthy set-up man would confidently step into the closer’s role in such a situation, but the Dodgers don’t really have a reliever that currently fits that description.

So what does management do to remedy the bullpen situation moving forward?

It goes without saying that the Dodgers’ front office has thoroughly done their homework in exploring the free agent market. A few names like Ernesto Frieri, Joe Thatcher and Casey Janssen jump out on paper, but at the end of the day, their respective spring training performances were so poor that even lower level squads thought it was too much of a risk to take a chance on sacrificing a valuable roster spot for a superfluous veteran.

The farm system is an option, as management has already taken measures to strengthen the minor league bullpens, indicated by the additions of veterans Sam LeCure and Sean Burnett. Both have been very effective in small sample sizes so far, but it’s difficult to guess if the same success will translate to the big league stage. The Dodgers will need to decide on Burnett quickly, as he will have the choice of becoming a free agent on May 1 if he isn’t added to the major league roster. Other not-so-appealing options from the farm include Adam Liberatore, Lisalverto Bonilla or Chin-hui Tsao.

The possibility of a trade always seems very appealing, primarily to the fans. After all, when the Dodgers finally get healthy and have their 40-man roster at full strength, there will be quite a number of expendable pieces, considering players like Charlie Culberson, Trayce Thompson, Austin Barnes and Enrique Hernandez have proven their everyday values beyond being productive players off the bench. Not to mention the Dodgers have a limitless pool of prospects to potentially barter. The problem here, of course, is that most opposing general managers won’t even acknowledge a potential trade until at least late May, as they want to wait to see how certain players fare or conceivably gel into their long term plans over a larger sample size of playing time.

Finally, probably the most favorable option, and one that fans surely don’t want to hear, is to simply wait. When being patient, roster complications sometimes have a way of working themselves out over the course of a 162-game season. Some players get healthy, others become injured. Flamethrower Frankie Montas is slated to return in early June, while starter Hyun-jin Ryu is fully entrenched in the rehab process once again. Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson are expected back at some point later in the season, as the opportunity of converting a starting pitcher into an effective reliever always exists as another conceivable bullpen fix. In the meantime, there’s always the recourse of mixing and matching to specific matchups, hoping that something eventually clicks into place.

The bottom line is that Dodgers fans everywhere should show composure and restraint while the path of the 2016 campaign takes its own shape. Things may actually get worse before they get better, but the true follower of the Boys in Blue can take solace in knowing that the vast knowledge and experience of the front office will ultimately prevail, and do everything possible to provide the club with all the tools necessary to make a successful postseason run.

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