Now that the winter hot stove is finally beginning to heat up, many followers of the Dodgers are wondering if the Los Angeles management crew will make any significant moves to bolster the club’s roster before pitchers and catchers report to Camelback Ranch in just a few short months.
Some fans of the team believe that an immediate starting pitching upgrade is in order, but president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman believes he already has the depth in place to succeed, at least for the early portion of the year. Others feel that the addition of a power-hitting outfielder should be considered, despite a career year from Yasiel Puig, the imminent return of Andrew Toles, and the prospective shift of Cody Bellinger to the outfield when veteran Adrian Gonzalez returns to the lineup next spring.
Yet, when looking at all the different areas of next season’s 40-man roster, the biggest gray area of all could be the bullpen. Righty Brandon Morrow has been snagged by the Cubs, which was tough news to swallow for many fans, at least from a sentimental perspective. Southpaw Tony Watson is being courted by a handful of teams, as it’s just a matter of time before he signs a deal elsewhere.
In the meantime, while names such as Wade Davis, Greg Holland, Mike Minor and Jake McGee have been linked to the Dodgers in some shape or form, Friedman appears content with the core crew that he already has in place. On Tuesday, he told Ken Gurnick that Yimi Garcia and Tony Cingrani can conceivably pick up the slack left by Morrow. What’s more, Friedman told Alanna Rizzo that the team’s luxury tax number will not exceed $237 million in 2018, in essence guaranteeing a lower payroll for the upcoming campaign.
And while all of this sounds like bad news to Dodger fans, let’s not forget the foundation which the Dodgers already have in place. The real spending happened last winter with the signings of Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner, who Friedman and his crew found paramount to bring back in order to succeed. Jansen had yet another outstanding season, and will return to the relief crew next year more determined than ever to bring home a World Championship.
Friedman and his bunch are quite adept in building successful bullpens, and oftentimes the construction takes a bit of time to shape itself. If you remember last spring, Josh Fields wasn’t included on the Opening Day roster, while Morrow was stashed away in the confines of Triple-A Oklahoma City until late May. Furthermore, in early April, Chris Hatcher and newly acquired Sergio Romo were considered the chief eighth-inning guys. So if any year was a legitimate example of a successful mid-season overhaul, it was certainly 2018.
As far as the returning pieces go, joining Jansen is Garcia, he of the high spin rate, who agreed to a one-year, $630,000 contract a few weeks back. The 27-year-old righty was part of the Dodgers’ bullpen in 2014-16, going 3-5 with one save, a 3.12 ERA and 0.95 WHIP while striking out 81 in 75 innings. However, he missed all of 2017 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, and it could take some time before he’s back in full swing.
Cingrani was tendered a contract by the club on December 1, meaning he’ll have a deal in place at the beginning of the year, whether it be by mutual agreement or salary arbitration.
Pedro Baez promises to be back with a vengeance after being left off both the NLCS and World Series rosters. Baez had a sub-1.40 ERA through the end of July last season, but began to unravel later in the summer. By the end of the year, whether it was because of strain from all the innings or a problem with mechanics or even a mental approach, the former third baseman didn’t have much to contribute. He certainly has the potential, though, and hopefully with a few tweaks can return to the form we saw early last season.
Fields returned from the depths of OKC to post a 2.84 ERA with a 0.965 WHIP and collect 57 strikeouts over an even 57 innings of work.
Also returning are Luis Avilan, Ross Stripling, along with a potential re-emergence of Adam Liberatore, who hasn’t pitched since last May. The biggest X-factor in the bullpen could be righty Kenta Maeda, who, although Friedman has said the club has intentions of using him as a starter, certainly proved during the 2017 postseason he has the skills to effectively deliver in the relief corps.
There’s still some depth in the minors, headlined by righty swing-man Brock Stewart, lefty specialist Edward Paredes, as well as the flame-throwing phenom Walker Buehler. Southpaw Julio Urias could return later in the season, and could conceivably contribute in relief in some fashion. Additionally, hard-throwing righty Dennis Santana was just added to the 40-man, and with his wicked sinker, triple-digit fastball, and deceiving splitter, could be an option at some point. Highly coveted prospect Yadier Alvarez could finally receive some consideration as well. If he’s still available to the Dodgers after this week, right-hander Joe Broussard definitely has the makeup to succeed at the big league level.
And the end of the day, even if Friedman and his troops walk away from the winter meetings empty-handed, there’s still a lot to choose from when building a bullpen behind Jansen. And even if there are still a few gray areas when Opening Day rolls around in April, there’s a whole seven months to make adjustments, including both of the trade deadlines in the middle of the summer. The opportunities to deal down the road may actually prove to be better than what’s available right now.
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