It’s all that everyone’s been talking about—with good reason. What many followers of the Dodgers have considered to be the team’s biggest weakness all year long is finally proving to be true. It took an illness from the team’s All-Star closer to prove, but what folks are now learning is that Kenley Jansen was the single cog which was seemingly holding the entire Los Angeles relief corps together.
After the bullpen’s latest debacle—a 3-2 walkoff loss at the hands of Ryan McMahon and the Rockies—the initial instincts of fans were to point fingers at almost every imaginable entity in the organization. Skipper Dave Roberts and his staff were blamed for making the incorrect late-game personnel decisions, Andrew Friedman and his executive management crew were criticized for not providing more bullpen help at the non-waiver trade deadline, and ownership was even lambasted for forcing the front office to remain under the luxury tax threshold in an effort to avoid harsher penalties. As recently as a few weeks ago, most of these claims would have been considered far-fetched; however, when contemplating where the team may be headed in the immediate future, each statement may have at least a little bit of credibility right now.
For a team that was once believed to be one of the deepest in baseball, it only took one player’s trip to the disabled list to reveal its biggest weakness. The organization may have outfielders and catchers galore, but, at the moment, there’s nobody in sight within the entire system who’s capable of bringing quality relief to an otherwise shoddy bullpen.
Some people have been discussing Friedman’s philosophy of undervaluing his relief corps and his unwillingness to invest a large portion of the club’s payroll to construct a formidable crew. Last year, the team got very lucky with the emergence of Brandon Morrow and it showed with a very strong run in the postseason. Coupled with healthy Jansen—who was no doubt a workhorse during the 2017 playoffs—the bullpen was part of a squad who came within a short grasp of winning a World Championship. Whether or not a more capable relief corps would have made a difference last year is nothing more than conjecture. But what we are seeing across the majors right now is that contending clubs in both leagues are still loading up on relievers via waiver trades, while the Dodgers are staying quiet, hoping that a few arms who are currently on the disabled list may make a difference over the next six weeks.
It was almost alarming to see righty J.T. Chargois on the hill Saturday night in what may have conceivably been the most critical inning of the entire four-game set in Colorado. I’m not defending Roberts by any means (regardless of his reasoning), but truth be told, there weren’t many options that were overwhelmingly better. An eight-man crew consisting of Chargois, Scott Alexander, Caleb Ferguson, Dylan Floro, John Axford, Pedro Baez, Pat Venditte and Zac Rosscup is nothing to write home about in the least. Baez fell apart on Thursday night, while it was Rosscup who got touched-up for the big hit on Friday evening. Chargois, who would have had no right being on the mound in that situation for another club with a reputable ‘pen, was victimized on Saturday. And there’s no telling what lies ahead in the days and weeks to come.
I guess one could say that the general construction of the relief crew was orchestrated poorly this year, as guys like Venditte, Chargois and Daniel Hudson were considered as players that nobody else wanted, except for perhaps providing depth at the fringe level. Rosscup and Erik Goeddel were snagged on the waiver wire after their respective clubs, the Rockies and the Mariners, had sent them out to pasture. Baez is still wearing the Blue for reasons unbeknownst to many. And Ferguson, who has been of the few bright spots in the bullpen lately, has had no big league relief experience aside from this summer.
As it stands now, there seems to be a few plausible options as the team is waiting for several arms to finish up their individual recoveries from injuries. Lefty Julio Urias has been somewhat impressive in rehab, but he has not thrown in a big league game since May of last year. Fields has an astounding fly ball rate and surrendered a scary 1.6 HR/9 last year, yet he could be one of the better options moving forward. Yimi Garcia may have been rushed back too soon and is likely gone for the year. Tony Cingrani is still stagnant in his recovery with no set timetable for a return. And Hudson, along with Goeddel, are not attractive options in the least when considering the recent portions of their pedigrees.
There has been some talk of moving righty Kenta Maeda to the back-end of the bullpen, which certainly couldn’t hurt. Some of our readers have even suggested moving Clayton Kershaw into a temporary closer’s role. One may laugh, but having Kersh on the Hill two out of every three days in critical game spots may actually be more valuable than him starting one game every five days.
Whatever the team decides, it better be good, because if the bullpen continues to collapse at the rate it has this weekend, there may be no playoff baseball come October.