As many media outlets of the Dodgers have already ventured some sort of guess regarding the Opening Day 25-man roster, most are in agreement that there’s a good chance the club elects to carry a traditional seven-man bullpen to begin the season. But although there haven’t been many hints by management in terms of a preferred direction, an eight-man relief corps is certainly still in the realm of possibility.
Last year, skipper Dave Roberts, general manager Farhan Zaidi and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman began to reveal some indications as to which way the team was heading right around the two-week mark before the season opener. At the three-week mark this year, there haven’t yet been many clues, except for perhaps a statement saying that righty Ross Stripling could be utilized as a long man out of the bullpen.
All of us here at TBPC have been steering towards the model of the seven-man bullpen throughout spring training. With one simple tweak, however, it isn’t too difficult to add an extra arm to the relief crew. Right now, we have the five primary bench players as Chase Utley, Austin Barnes, Franklin Gutierrez, Enrique Hernandez, and Scott Van Slyke, with the chief reason for the presence of SVS being his ability to provide cover at first base. But as we discussed previously, if the club wanted to get a bit creative, the team could use Justin Turner, Logan Forsythe, Utley or even Andre Ethier at first, allowing both Gutierrez and Hernandez to cover the gaps in the outfield. The only problem with this idea is that it would limit the number of options off the bench.
In recent years past, the Dodgers have been known to carry four starting pitchers to begin the year making it easier to have the extra bullpen arm, yet 2017 is different because unlike previous seasons where there were a generous number of off days in the opening month, the 2017 schedule only allows two days off —April 11 and 20 — requiring the full compliment of five in the rotation. Still, due to the fact that most starters on average throw somewhere around five innings in the first couple weeks of the season, an eighth reliever would definitely come in handy — most specifically a long man. Throw in the injury history of three members of the starting rotation, and the thought of an eight-man bullpen sounds quite appealing.
So who would the eighth member be? Currently, our two most notable bubble guys are Adam Liberatore and Josh Ravin, but the most favorable option may be veteran Brandon Morrow, if the team doesn’t opt for the versatility of Stripling. The 32-year-old Morrow appears to be healthy and throwing well, but should he fizzle, he could easily be replaced by Liberatore or Ravin, who both have options on their contracts. Morrow hasn’t yet been named to the 40-man roster, but the Dodgers did indeed create an extra spot when Chase De Jong was sent to Seattle earlier in the month.
In the end, if the entirety of the bullpen is healthy and throwing well through the final days of March, there’s no question the management crew of the Dodgers will have a few critical decisions to make in the moments leading up to April 3. While last season saw a rocky start for the Los Angeles relief crew, the onset of 2017 may promise to be a bit smoother based on the early selections of the 25-man roster alone.
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