Many media outlets who cover the Dodgers have been spending quite a bit of time this winter discussing the components of the prospective 2018 bullpen, and we are no exception. For the most part, the group who will make up this season’s relief corp is defined, but which roles each pitcher will ultimately assume—sans Kenley Jansen—may take some time to develop. Last season, after a few years of searching, the club’s quest to find a quality eighth-inning arm was finally fulfilled when righty Brandon Morrow eventually settled into the part; however, that exact pursuit will begin anew when players begin reporting to spring training next month.
More than once, we reiterated how the 2017 relief crew began their respective campaign, as Sergio Romo and Chris Hatcher were among those considered to be the feature eighth-inning arms during the early weeks of the season. It took a little time for the bullpen to take shape, but once skipper Dave Roberts and his staff got a handle on the group, the bullpen eventually soared to the top of the National League in several key statistical categories. The 2018 season could prove to be a similar case.
With about three weeks left before pitchers and catchers show up at Camelback Ranch, it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that the Dodgers make any more major additions to the bullpen—at least any big names who will command multi-year, seven-figure deals. As it stands now, chances are good that Los Angeles builds a relief corps from within. We’re here to throw out a few names who may be used as the late-inning bridge to Jansen to begin the season.
The first pitcher who many fans probably don’t want to read about is Pedro Baez. Undeniably, it was a tale of two halves for the 29-year-old righty. 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. He was included on the NLDS roster to face the Diamondbacks, but he was omitted when the squads were selected for the NLCS and World Series. Yet, despite his rocky second-half in 2017, his fastball is still one of the finest on the club when it’s working right, and if his slider is also in tune, there’s no question that he has the potential to succeed in high-leverage situations. It will definitely be interesting to see if Baez is throwing with confidence and authority early. In recent weeks, Baez was able to avoid salary arbitration by inking a one-year, $1.5 million deal.
Another player who may be considered for as an eight-inning option is Josh Fields. Like Baez, Fields also avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $2.2 million pact for 2018. He was a frequent visitor to the disabled list last year, but despite his health, his overall numbers weren’t too shabby. The 32-year-old righty logged a 2.84 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 60 strikeouts in 57 innings last season, and may be the early favorite to set-up Jansen. Also like Baez and many of the other relievers, Fields ran out of gas during the playoffs, and basically forced Roberts’ hand to ride the arms of Morrow and Jansen as his key relief arms in the World Series. The scary thing about Fields is that he has recently shown the propensity to give up the long ball. He surrendered double-digit home runs for the first time in his career, and five of those came within a two-week period in the middle of June. Still, when his heater is working well, he’s definitely tough to handle.
Aiming for a return to the bump in 2018 is Yimi Garcia, he of the high spin rate, who agreed to a one-year, $630,000 contract in early December. 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 over 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. Nevertheless, once the season progresses into the later stages, Garcia may be a candidate for late-inning relief action.
“We definitely expect Yimi Garcia to be in the mix next year,” GM Farhan Zaidi said not long after Morrow and the Cubs agreed to a two-year pact.
Newcomer Scott Alexander could also see a bit of late-inning action, as fellow southpaw Tony Cingrani fills the role of the chief LOOGY. Alexander, a 28-year-old ground-ball machine, logged a 2.48 ERA over 69 innings with the Royals in 2017 while posting the second-highest ground-ball rate—73.3 percent—among qualified MLB relievers, behind only Zach Britton. He will not hit free agency until 2023 and is not eligible for arbitration until 2020, setting him up to be a key contributor in the pen for many years down the road.
Depending on the way things play out, Tom Koehler may also campaign for some eighth-inning relief time. The Dodgers signed the righty a few days before Christmas, and the 6’3″ Bronx native certainly brings versatility to the table, having the ability to pitch in any level of relief as well as making an occasional spot start, if needed. When looking at Koehler, some folks are reminded of righty Joe Blanton, who logged a whopping 80 effective relief innings for the Dodgers in 2016 not long after being converted to a reliever exclusively.
At the end of the day, any way it stacks up, the Dodgers have plenty of internal options for late-inning relief, and although they’re not choices fans are overwhelmingly enthusiastic about, there’s enough talent in the group to get the job done, at least until the management group has time to evaluate and make a few upgrades when the trade deadlines roll around during the summer.