Happy New Year, TBPC readers! We’ve made it through the holidays — spring training starts next month, and the countdown to Opening Day is on. Most of the team has taken shape, and today we take a look at the state of the Dodgers bullpen.
The most important piece in the bullpen has returned. Kenley Jansen, although not officially signed, will be back. Dennis talked about how to make room for him on the roster last week. But what about the men who bridge the gap between the starting pitchers and Kenley?
Three pitchers from last year’s bullpen remain unsigned — Joe Blanton, J.P. Howell, and Louis Coleman. Blanton is thought to be the next domino to fall in the relief pitcher market. Going into his age-36 season, Blanton seems to be the best reliever on the market. He has seen a resurgence in the past few years. Unfortunately for him, most Dodgers fans just remember the blown game against the Cubs in the NLCS. But overall, he is coming off a very decent year, and teams will be interested. He pitched 80 solid innings last season, and that may have led to his breakdown in the postseason. The Dodgers are looking for an eighth inning guy to set up Jansen, and I’m not sure Blanton is that guy. Still, he’d be a good, solid, veteran arm for usage in the middle innings. I don’t know if Howell or Coleman will return, especially after Coleman wasn’t tendered a contract straightaway in November.
The most notable remaining pitchers in the Dodgers bullpen are Grant Dayton, Pedro Baez, Adam Liberatore, and Chris Hatcher. Dayton is the best of these guys right now, coming up from the minors midway through the 2016 season. He posted a 2.05 ERA, 13.3K/9, and 0.759 WHIP in 26.3 innings of work last year. If he can continue to build on this past season, he could be the bridge to Kenley. Baez, oft made fun of for the amount of time he takes between pitches, is another decent option. He does have a propensity to give up home runs in very inopportune spots, however. Still, he logged 74 innings and replacing that time and production would be difficult.
Adam Liberatore was a personal favorite of mine. He had an incredible first half of the season, then had some injury issues, hit the DL, and wasn’t quite the same when he came back. If he’s able to regain his first half form in 2017, he’ll continue to be a positive force in the bullpen. Hatcher is coming off a horrid season, posting a 5.59 ERA with a 1.500 WHIP. It’s tough to tell whether his 2014-2015 seasons are more true, where he was around a 3.50 ERA, or if it was 2016. Let’s hope that 2016 was an anomaly, and that he is able to bring that ERA and WHIP back down this coming season.
There are some guys waiting in the wings that could step up and give the Dodgers some relief next season. Players currently on the 40-man include Vidal Nuno, Josh Ravin, Josh Fields, Luis Avilan, Brock Stewart, Carlos Frias, Yimi Garcia and Jacob Rhame. Stewart was brought up for a few spot starts last season, and could benefit from time in the bullpen in the majors before transitioning back to a starting pitcher. Frias looks to be one of the guys DFA’d to make room for Kenley to rejoin the team. Ravin spent almost all of last season on the DL after being in a car accident, and also was suspended for 80 games for use of an illegal substance. When he did return at the end of the 2016 season, he posted a 0.93 ERA in 9.2 innings. Rhame has yet to pitch at the Major League level. Josh Fields pitched pretty well for LA, posting a 2.79 ERA after coming over from the Houston Astros. After a fantastic 2014, Yimi Garcia underwent Tommy John surgery on in October.
As far as long relief men go, Ross Stripling is a very good option. Stripling had some ups and downs last season, from taking a no-hitter in his debut start into the seventh inning, to giving up five runs in 2.2 innings to the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS. Still, he showed many times that he could pitch well, and another year in the bullpen as a long relief man will help him build towards being a reliable back-end starter down the road. Alex Wood is also an option, coming off a season filled with injury, but he may work his way into the tail-end of the rotation.
Overall, the state of the Dodgers bullpen is not that bad — the crew was a Top 5 bullpen last year, and most of the players are returning. They could use one more piece, perhaps a ground ball specialist, as this bullpen was prone to giving up the long ball. But conceivably this bullpen could head into the start of the season and be a-ok. Options to sign other relief pitchers are slim, although I wouldn’t put it past this front office to get one in a trade. But again, while an upgrade here or there would be welcome, I think that Dayton and Liberatore will have a bigger impact this year, and the bullpen will be just fine in the end.