With the way the injury bug devastatingly ripped into the Dodgers‘ 2016 pitching staff, it’s almost futile to even make a generalized guess at a working rotation before the winter months fall upon us. However, just for the sake of having a starting point and an impetus into November, we thought a cursory list may be worthwhile if only to create a perspective for discussion during the Hot Stove season.
Yesterday, we explored a few ideas in regards to the bullpen. As we saw over the final few months of the 2016 season, several pitchers, most specifically Ross Stripling and Alex Wood, proved to Dodgers’ management that each had the ability to work effectively in relief after beginning their respective MLB careers as starters. And that’s a very good quality to have, especially if there’s even a hint of uncertainty in the club’s plan for a starting five.
It’s also worth mentioning that Andrew Friedman has already expressed interest in pursuing a deal with veteran lefty Rich Hill. When asked recently if he had a desire to return to Los Angeles, Hill responded in a very positive fashion.
“Absolutely,” Hill told SportsNet LA. “With all the leadership that’s here and Clayton being the best pitcher in baseball, it’s something that you want to be around.”
It definitely seems workable from the front office end to offer a deal to Hill somewhere in the range of two years and $30 million, plus some type of option for an additional year if Friedman feels like being in the giving mood. If Hill does indeed have an overwhelming interest in staying, perhaps he and his representation are willing to be somewhat flexible. In a perfect world, there’s no question that Hill could comfortably and effectively fill the No. 4 spot in any MLB rotation if he was able to stay healthy for the majority of the season.
That being said, based on Friedman’s recent trade patterns alone, it’s probably safe to suppose the Dodgers do not pursue a prized arm to fill the No. 2 slot in the rotation — at least until the trade deadline nears next July. He’s already shown that he has faith in the future abilities of his higher-end prospects, and there’s certainly no sense in deviating from that philosophy in the early stages of next year.
Despite fighting evident weariness late in the season, Kenta Maeda proved his durability and demonstrated his value as a solid No. 4 starter after throwing 175 innings in 2016. It could be possible that management employs a number of new strategies to keep Maeda fresh when the later months and playoffs roll around next season.
It’s really tough to guess exactly where Scott Kazmir fits into the Dodgers’ equation moving forward. Kazmir has the choice of opting out of his three-year contract this winter, but there’s no conceivable way that has even a slim chance of occurring. In September, he was diagnosed with thoracic spinal inflammation — something that probably sounds a lot more severe than a common diagnosis of a strain or fatigue. Regardless, if we assume that Kazmir’s healthy entering camp in February, even at his best, he’s still not much better than a capable No. 3 or a solid No. 4.
Brandon McCarthy falls into an almost identical category as Kazmir. If he’s in peak condition, he undoubtedly has the stuff of a decent third man. McCarthy was able to put together four effective starts in July after returning from Tommy John surgery in 2015, however, it appeared as if he went through a phase of the yips towards the end of the summer, ultimately being left off of both the NLDS and NLCS rosters. Yet, only because Kaz and McCarthy have no options unlike youngsters such as Stripling, Jose De Leon and Brock Stewart, the veterans likely have the upper-hand entering camp, although Friedman has no problem cutting loose players signed to lucrative deals when he sees absolutely no contribution potential.
Hoping to build upon his 122 combined innings in 2016, 20-year-old lefty Julio Urias fills a No. 5 slot comfortably. And anything at all that the Dodgers can get out of Hyun-Jin Ryu would be a bonus. Once considered a strong candidate to be a solid No. 2 in Los Angeles, Ryu only appeared in one game last season after missing all of 2015 recovering from shoulder surgery.
In the end, if Friedman and Farhan Zaidi remain relatively quiet on the trade front over the winter, the Dodgers’ starting rotation presumably heads into spring training once again with an absence of a genuine No. 2 starter. Resident ace Clayton Kershaw headlines the group, followed by Maeda, Urías and Hill, if a contract agreement can indeed be reached. Kazmir, McCarthy and Wood all fight for the final spot, while Stripling, De León and Stewart wait in the wings for their own respective opportunities.
As much as an entirely healthy pitching staff would complicate the 25-man roster next spring, it certainly would be a good problem to have, as the Dodgers hope that the true spirit of competition will finally dictate the starting five rather than fielding a rotation based on which pitchers happen to not be injured.