While there’s definitely enough time for the front office crew of the Dodgers to sneak in another roster addition or two before the beginning of spring training, the starting pitching department probably isn’t an area on the agenda to upgrade, as management is already challenged with the task of selecting a group of five pitchers to form a rotation from potentially ten or so healthy arms.
After witnessing the impact of several critical injuries over the course of last season, there’s really no point in elaborating the value of depth in a organization’s pitching staff. After seemingly being stacked at the beginning of spring camp in 2016, the Dodgers quickly called upon the services of various rookies, seeing righty Ross Stripling begin the year in the rotation, and ultimately utilizing Julio Urias, Brock Stewart and Jose De Leon at different points thereafter.
As it’s almost an exercise in futility to even make a generalized guess at a working rotation before spring camp begins, some type of outline seems appropriate just for the sake of having a prelude before we reveal the intermediate projections for the 25-man roster sometime later in the week. That being said, barring injury, the first three spots in the rotation are set with resident ace Clayton Kershaw, southpaw Rich Hill and Japanese righty Kenta Maeda as the headliners. If all the other contenders are healthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, Alex Wood, Stripling, Stewart and Urías will all be vying for the few remaining spots at the back-end of the rotation.
Perhaps one of the more interesting developments this winter, though, occurred when management revealed that they are toying with the idea of having Urías begin the 2017 regular season in extended spring training at Glendale. The whole idea behind this theory is conceivably limiting Urias’ usage early, trying to save his more impactful innings for the end of the regular season and the playoffs. Whatever all the true reasoning may be, even if the 20-year-old is among the best five on the club, it does in essence cross-off at least one pitcher from the list of ten.
Consequently, another bit of compelling news was revealed when Ryu told reporters that he was completely pain-free, in shape, and ready for the beginning of spring training despite missing a season and a half after left shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in 2015. Still, it’s probably safe to assume that Ryu won’t play into the rotation equation early, as the Dodgers will likely take things slow again this spring, making sure he is 100-percent or close before even being considered for the rotation.
It’s difficult to guess exactly where Kazmir fits into the Dodgers’ plans moving forward. 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, at his best, he’s a capable No. 3 or a solid No. 4. Again, that’s if he’s completely healthy.
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 and Stewart, the veterans likely have the upper-hand entering camp, although president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has no problem cutting loose players signed to lucrative deals when he sees absolutely no contribution potential.
Like Stripling and Stewart, Wood has options remaining on his contract, and could figuratively begin the year at Triple-A Oklahoma City if both Kazmir and McCarthy are included in the rotation. Although proving to the management crew that he has the makeup to throw in relief, a spot in the pen may be unlikely when considering the already large crowd vying for only seven or eight spots. This is yet another case where the options could come into play, but if Kaz and McCarthy are throwing well, the only important result is the team winning games thanks in part to quality starts from whoever is in the rotation.
In the end, like we’ve said in the past, as much as an entirely healthy pitching staff would complicate the 25-man roster come April, 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.
(Follow Dennis on Twitter: @thinkbluepc)