Although the impending 25-man roster of the Dodgers promises to be one of the most well-rounded squads in the big leagues, many followers of the club believe there are still a few minor holes which need to be addressed before the beginning of the regular season. The starting rotation is solid, yet the perennial concern of not having a true No. 2 starter is still a popular discussion topic among fans. Add to the chatter the lack of quality depth beyond the first five starting pitchers, and the worries surrounding the rotation may actually be somewhat valid. Furthermore, many believe the team still has needs in the bullpen, as the search for a legitimate eighth-inning arm will once again recommence when pitchers and catchers report next month.
Looking back on the 2017 season, the bullpen—sans Kenley Jansen—was a borderline mess during the first few weeks of the campaign. Coming out of spring camp, the duo of Sergio Romo and Chris Hatcher were believed to be the most capable setup men, as Pedro Baez and Josh Fields began the year on the disabled list, and Brandon Morrow was stashed away in the depths of Triple-A Oklahoma City.
But as skipper Dave Roberts and his staff began to get a grip on the relief crew, changes were made for the better. By the All-Star break, the Dodgers had the best bullpen ERA in the majors, and the front office went as far as making even more upgrades at the non-waiver deadline with Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani. Seemingly, we witness a transformation each year, and each year the upgrades appear to be better and better. In 2016, Fields and Jesse Chavez were brought aboard to provide some relief to burned-out arms like Louis Coleman and Joe Blanton, and it helped, to a degree. The final product in 2017, though, may have been one of the best Los Angeles bullpens in the last five seasons.
Typically, splitting the year into halves is a tale of two seasons for the Dodgers’ bullpen. There are almost always two guys—again, sans Jansen (he is just an infallible machine)— who shoulder the brunt of the load in the first half, then appear to run out of gas in the home stretch. Through the first 70 games of the 2017 season, Baez posted a microscopic 0.91 ERA with a .178 BAA, but recorded a whopping 4.72 ERA and a .262 BAA thereafter. The normally dependable Ross Stripling, who tabbed a sub-2.50 ERA through the middle of June, posted a 4.71 ERA over the last 90 games of the year.
As unorthodox as it sounds, this is the way the management crew of the Dodgers operates, as do many other teams around the league. Adjustments almost always need to be made for the stretch run, and there’s usually not many better doing that than the Los Angeles front office team. Despite the potential concerns by fans entering spring training, there’s plenty of talent on board right now. Scott Alexander was brought in as a genuine LOOGY option this winter, while newcomer Tom Koehler has the ability and arsenal to fill any number of roles. Yimi Garcia may also play a key part at some point, as may Adam Liberatore, who hopes to rebound from an injury-riddled 2017.
There’s even more depth in the minors, headlined by righty swing-man Brock Stewart, lefty specialist Edward Paredes, as well as the flame-throwing phenom Walker Buehler, should the club be desperate enough to deter him from his starting pitching regimen. Southpaw Julio Urias may also 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 may finally receive some consideration as well. Leading the pack at OKC, right-hander Joe Broussard definitely has the makeup to succeed at the big league level.
The options are vast.
So, if the Dodgers stand pat with in-house options for the bullpen to open the 2018 campaign, it definitely isn’t the end of the world. There’s plenty of time between now and the summer deadlines for the relief crew to develop. And if there’s improvement or upgrades needed for the stretch-run of the season and the playoffs, fans can be certain the Los Angeles management crew will leave no stone unturned.