At first glance, there no question that the prospective 25-man Opening Day squad of the Dodgers could easily considered among the best in baseball. Yet after breaking down all the areas of the roster, the bullpen may be one of those areas which could use a slight upgrade, and veteran reliever Joe Blanton just may be the guy who fits the bill.
A few days before pitchers and catchers reported to camp at Camelback Ranch, Andy put together a story debating whether or not Blanton could provide the boost necessary to propel the Dodgers to a higher level of play during the 2017 campaign. While it’s unknown if Los Angeles has yet to make any serious offers for the 36-year-old righty, there have been a few whispers indicating that he won’t sign a deal for anything less than $4 million — the exact amount he earned last season.
One would assume, in theory, that Blanton was probably offered the $3 million deal which was eventually accepted by Sergio Romo. The 33-year-old Brawley native was rumored to have been courted by the Rays for a higher amount of cash, yet subsequently accepted the deal with the Dodgers, mainly because of the winning culture of the franchise. Not to be overlooked, there were also rumors that first baseman Adrian Gonzalez did a fine job in the recruitment process. Regardless, in addition to Romo, there were a few other players — most specifically Chase Utley — who took significant pay cuts to sign deals with Los Angeles because of the direction the club is heading.
At the beginning of the winter, several outlets estimated projected deals for Blanton to be in the range of two years and $10 million dollars total, yet he still remains unsigned. In 2016, he ranked 6th in the bigs with 80 IP out of the bullpen, including a 2.48 ERA, a 3.33 FIP, a 25.4% strikeout rate and a 8.3% walk rate. But perhaps a number of the general managers are looking at other peripherals like his ground ball rate, which plummeted from 48.6% in 2015 to 32.5% last year. Furthermore, towards the end of the season in the NLCS he appeared to be running on fumes having been pounded by the Cubs, allowing seven runs and three homers in three outings.
Taking all that into consideration, though, the Dodgers could still benefit heavily from the services of a healthy Blanton. Outside of Romo and Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers’ bullpen is full of unproven relievers, and nobody is even quite sure yet if Romo has what it takes to return to the superstar form of his 2013 and 2014 campaigns. Still, the idea wouldn’t be for Blanton to produce All-Star stats or anything of that nature, but rather to have the ability to be a trustworthy arm who could take the ball four to five times per week over the course of the regular season and eat innings consistently in the middle parts of games. As a bonus, Blanton could always slide into the setup role if needed, or even provide multiple innings of long relief should the occasion present itself.
The main objective here would be to ride on Blanton’s shoulders through the season until a spot is secured in the playoffs. If he’s fatigued again towards the end of 2017, there’s always the opportunity to upgrade at the trade deadline or retool when assembling the postseason roster.
As far as the Dodgers’ 40-man roster goes, right now it’s locked and loaded and would take a bit of tweaking to add another piece. Yet after Los Angeles has already gone the extra mile with roster additions and expenditures in efforts to make a World Series push, one would think that a mere $4 million payday for Blanton would not be that large of investment when considering the team’s ultimate goal.