Let’s Talk Bullpen Upgrades

(AP Photo)

Indeed, many media outlets covering the Dodgers could probably spend half of the winter writing about what Andrew Friedman told reporters at his end-of-season press conference on Monday.

If you happened to miss it, Andy did a fine job discussing some of the highlights in her column on Monday afternoon.

Perhaps one of the most controversial points was when Friedman said that he felt his 2019 bullpen had the ability to win a World Series.

Personally, I had many mixed reactions immediately after reading that comment.

Obviously, my first notion, and the one that seemed to dominate social media on Monday, was when a slew of fans retorted, “If the team had that much confidence in the relief crew, then why use Clayton Kershaw and Joe Kelly for multiple innings in NLDS Game 5?”

With that question comes plenty of fallout, much of which we’ll talk about in the coming weeks. Nonetheless, Friedman explained that Roberts has final say on in-game personnel decisions, suggesting that perhaps the skipper did not trust Kenley Jansen and others in that particular situation. Either that, or Roberts was getting a little to sentimental or gutsy in his decisions.

But, that’s complete speculation on my end.

I suppose one thing that does give credence to Friedman’s claim, though, is the fact that the 2019 bullpen was packed with plenty of arms who were regular starters or decent swing men. Kenta Maeda comes to mind right away. Whether he should remain a reliever or rejoin the rotation in 2020—like Friedman hinted—is another one of those secondary topics.

Flanked around Maeda were Ross Stripling, Dustin May and Julio Urias. All of these pitchers may not have otherwise been in the bullpen if they would have been part of a starting rotation. I suppose that Friedman considered that an upgrade in itself. Certainly, that theory would apply to Maeda, as he was absolutely brilliant in relief during the NLDS this year.

Still, it baffles me how the Dodgers—who, coincidentally, were tied with Washington for most blown saves in the NL—would have had a good enough bullpen to capture a World Championship.

Part of me thinks that Friedman was using a bit of reverse psychology in the sense that he was defending his philosophy of mostly building his bullpens from within the system. After all, fans were pleading over the summer of a few big names—Craig Kimbrel comes to mind immediately—but look what happened to him. The Braves swiped up almost every reliever who had a reputable pedigree, and it didn’t get them very far at all.

Consequently, maybe Friedman was preparing fans for what’s to come over the winter in terms of possible upgrades. By saying his 2019 relief crew was good enough to go the whole way, perhaps he was inferring that he’s confident sticking with the same crew heading into 2020.

He did confirm that Jansen, the same Kenley who had eight blown saves by himself, will conceivably begin next season as the squad’s primary closer.

Nevertheless, one can’t help but take a gander at this winter’s free agent market. Some of the big names who jump out are Will Smith (the pitcher, obviously), Will Harris, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman, should he decide to opt out of his contract. Almost every fan and their brother had the lefty Smith linked to the Dodgers at last summer’s trade deadline in some shape or form.

Will the Dodgers use some of the money that’s coming off the books to buy one of these heralded arms? Probably not, especially after Friedman invested millions in Kelly only to produce an extremely disappointing campaign.

The reality of all this is that while fans were hoping for some type of change at the top of the organization this winter, they might not even see much changes to the existing roster, much less the bullpen itself.

Perhaps the plan is not to spend the extra $25+ million at all, giving it back to investors while showing the baseball world how a team that is $50 million under the Luxury Tax Threshold can be perennial division winners.

Seemingly, that makes ownership quite happy.


39 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Bullpen Upgrades

  1. Of course Andrew is going to say his bullpen was good enough to win a WS. You want your guys to know you have their backs and you don’t want the other GMs to think you’re in a panic. Both free agent and trade prices on relievers are high enough already considering that very few of them ever have more than one or two very good years in succession. Were the fans actually expecting Friedman to say “OMG, I can’t believe how bad our bullpen is. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’ll pay whatever I have to in order to fix it.” ?

    And by the way, it just might turn out that the horrific Washington bullpen is actually good enough to win a World Series. What does that mean? It means that no matter how well or badly they pitched their team won the ring. Chances of their beating the Yanks or Astros are less than 50-50 but they’re a long ways from zero.

    1. I would have said something like this:

      “We have good arms in our bullpen and will do what is necessary to improve the results”

      Why say something that everyone knows is bullsh*t? “You gonna believe what you see or what I tell you?” Just makes you look more like a tinsel head politician than a competent General Manager.

      1. Just write into his contract “No Paternity Leave”. How dare he! Baseball is more important than kids. And while we’re at it we should hire Sampson to replace AF. He knows how to do things.

      2. Sampson. Ralph or that guy that guy that got trimmed by Delilah. Ice Cube thinks we need more black dudes. I won’t argue with Ice Cube. As long as Bora$$ isn’t their agent…..

  2. Here is something to ponder, and I checked the roster twice to make sure. The Dodgers, despite a huge presence in the market, are devoid of a Latino star for the first time in quite a while. Despite his peccadillo’s, Puig was pretty much universally loved by the Latino community. You look down the roster and Kike, Baez, Garcia, were the only Latino’s who spent a lot of time with the LA roster. While Kike is very popular, he is by no means a star. That was one of the reason’s they traded for Gonzalez. With all the signings from Cuba and elsewhere, you would think they would find a premium nut somewhere.

    1. Interesting point Bear. Does Verdugo count? Born in Tucson but played for Mexican National Team. Jansen is Latino. He’s paid like a star. Urias could be a star. Ruiz and Rios. Santana. Cartaya. We’ve got them in the system. Nobody looks like Fernando.

  3. Curacao is not really a Latin country. It was a Dutch colony. I also believe they had slave trade there.
    It is just north of the South American continent, but Jansen looks more African than he does Latin. And his name is definitely not Latin. Verdugo is not a star, and neither are any of the other guys you mentioned. They have a lot of Hispanics in the system, but no Hispanic stars. Rendon would be adored here. That being said, they clarified what was wrong with Kelly, and my point is, if he was that much out of whack, what the hell was he doing on the active roster. He had oblique, leg and arm problems. Friedman also said he was surprised at the fans calling for Roberts head. He said this team won 106 games. Yeah they did and then they got knocked out in the first round. That’s like a boxer beating all the contenders to get to the championship bout and getting KOed in the first round. He also said he sometimes questions decisions Doc makes. Gee, ya think?

  4. Dodgers Nation and Jon Heyman are reporting, at least surmising, that Cole really want’s to be on the west coast and are predicting that he is one free agent they might leave their comfort zone to sign. Plus the FO is getting a lot of heat and backlash for the early exit. Fans are not happy.

    1. If Moreno lets us sign Cole, he should be forced to sell the Angels. Just checked on an Angel blog and if they would commit to spending up to the tax limit (in other words not have to pay any tax), they would have about 70 million to spend on free agents and that’s after a rough guess as to what their arb eligible players will get. The last few years they’ve had a payroll of about 170 mil so if they even upped that by 10-15% they would have about 50 mil.
      If the Yankees decide to throw the bank at Moreno and he decides he wants to do that, that’s one thing, but if Arte lets the other home town team sign him in spite of the fact that he rooted for the Angels (and Yanks) as a kid, he doesn’t deserve to own the team any longer.

      1. Maddon was just signed as the manager of the Angels. 3 year deal 12 to 15 million. A signing like Cole would definitely help their cause. They get Ohtani back as a pitcher this year too. But their rotation is weak. Heyman said it would most likely come down to a battle between the Dodgers and Yanks, if the Dodgers open the purse.

      2. I’m a little surprised at how well Eppler did on that deal with Maddon. I would have thought they would have to go more than 3 years.
        Also, I’m guessing (because Maddon is no dummy) that part of the negotiations involved Maddon getting at least a verbal promise that the Angels would spend on some big time pitching this winter. They could go after some of the following: Cole, Strasburg (if he opts out), Madbum, Ryu, Wheeler, Odorizzi. Cole and Strasburg would be very expensive, but they could actually afford two of the other four without much problem.

      3. Cole to the Angels makes sense. I live 20 minutes from Angel Stadium. I grew up in Orange County. Maybe it’s time I got on the Angel bandwagon. Need to find an Angel chat room as there is not a lot of player rumors yet. Also need to take care of the Skaggs tragedy. And, the farm system sucks. Maybe I’ll wait a year.

  5. I have thought about this a lot in the last few days. As much as the Dodgers getting knocked out of the playoffs was a disappointment, it was nothing new. All of us who love this team have seen it happen way too much in the last 32 years. All the hope that this would be the year and then the melt down, and more disappointment. I would dearly love to see them on top of the baseball world again. I am 71 now, and do not know how many more seasons I have to watch the team I have never wavered from or changed allegiance to not bring home the crown. I have been lucky to see as many as I have. I have seen some great players, and a few not so great. For years after they moved they were the model of stability. Ticket prices never changed, O’Malley was in charge, Bavasi was the GM. Walt in the dugout and Vinny at the mic. Even after Peter took over they still were the family oriented, family friendly Dodgers. And those teams won. Not all the time, but enough to keep the turnstiles turning and 3,000,000 in the park year after year. And all of that without big ticket renovations to the park. Then came the sale to Fox and it all started to change. Tickets that once were very affordable for the common fan climbed a lot. There were plenty of stars on the field, but no continuity. After having only 2 managers for close to 40 years, now they have had 8 since 1996. Only Tracy and Mattingly lasted 5 years. Roberts will tie that this season. We all know what a lousy owner McCrappy was. Then Guggenheim bought the team and in their initial presser, they brought hope to the fans by declaring they were committed to bringing a championship to LA. One of the first orders of business was the trade. Gonzalez was the centerpiece of that deal, the others were basically throw in’s that Boston just wanted to unload. If you think about the trade though, despite the heavy contracts, they got at least some return from every player the obtained in that deal. They got the most from Gonzalez, which was expected, but Crawford had some decent stats and Beckett threw a no hitter in Philly. Nick Punto became a cult hero known as The Shredder. None of the 5 players they traded went on to more productive careers. Loney was the closest thing to a regular player for the Sox. Jerry Sands is playing in Korea. All the others are either out of baseball or in the minors. Rubby DeLaRosa is in Korea also. So the fans had at least some hope things would change. And they have. But the Dodgers even at this point are more like Kasten’s Atlanta Braves of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, than they are like the Yankees of the same period who actually won some World Series. You look at the Dodger roster and there really are no superstars there. Some very good and talented players, yes. Some players who could become super stars also, Buehler, Bellinger, and if he stays healthy, Seager. Remember, Seager has only 3 full seasons under his belt and he is one of the better SS in the league. Kershaw’s star has faded. He is no longer a dominating pitcher. He is still very good, but this year the home run bug bit him as hard as it did the entire MLB. I have no doubt that Friedman is a pretty smart guy, and I also have no doubt that a lot of his player strategy’s are based on directives from ownership that the payroll be kept below the luxury tax. This is after all a corporation, and they are in it to make money, not lose it. He still runs the team like a small market team. Ownership has never really gone all out to win either. They still look for the cheap fix. It was so obvious at the deadline. They could have gotten someone besides Vazquez at that time, but they did not. Admittedly Kolarek did a nice job, but they still did not address the closer problem and that was compounded by the fact that Jansen would look good for a couple of games, and then implode again. So now we have another winter of Dodger fans discontent. One positive is that I love good baseball. For the regular season, this was the best baseball I have seen in years from the team. 2017 was great, but these guys were the comeback walkoff kings. The kids actually contributed and Belli had a season to remember until the playoffs. Hopefully they will win before I am dust. If not, well at least I will always have 63.

    1. Since I became a Dodger fan, 1959, the team has been to playoffs 24 times. Out of those 24, we’ve made it to the World Series 11 times and won 5. I read somewhere the Dodgers have lost more World Series’ than anybody. Good news bad news I guess. 5 World Series wins from ‘59 to ‘88 and none since. The giants hadn’t won any, which was fine with me, until they won 3. Yes, this is frustrating. 106 wins means little to me. Before that we had been to the playoffs 6 straight, eventually being knocked out in all of them. Yeah, fans are frustrated. How does this 7 straight group finally finish it with a win. That is the question for the fans. The question for management may be different. It’s a business first, and everyone involved is making bank. Maybe that’s good enough.

      1. That’s the point I’ve been trying to make. Maybe the Dodgers will never exceed the Luxury Tax Threshold again under Friedman’s regime. Hell, maybe Friedman is setting a trend throughout baseball where no teams will exceed the threshold. That said, I feel that while the need to snag, big-named free agents is diminishing overall, the Dodgers may still be a veteran FA or two away from putting together that “perfect” roster.

      2. Well Dennis, since I really respect your opinion, just which free agent veteran do you think they should trade or sign? I think they need a better starting rotation. But I also think they need a certified power hitter from the right side. They have power from the left up the wazoo. 3 guys with 35 or more. Only 1 RH hit 20 or more, Turner. With Ryu and Hill most likely out, the need a veteran in there to team with Kersh, and Buehler. Maeda fits the bill, but he is far better out of the pen because he is less likely to nibble at the corners as much as he does as a starter. I also think he would be a terrific trade chip. They could move Joc as his trade value is higher than it has been. I doubt they even consider moving Seager no matter how many disgruntled fans have suggested such. Turner is getting old, still a viable player, but losing that everyday thing. And they definitely need to address the bullpen. Going to be interesting to see how Ol Andy does any of that stuff. I honestly believe they have no shot at either Rendon or Cole.

      3. Joc – had a nice season (trade value up), but now has only one year left on his contract (trade value down). Total change, probably pretty much neutral from a year ago.
        I think they have an excellent shot at Cole or Rendon……………………if they actually take the shot. You have to load and fire before you have any chance of hitting the target.

      4. Just a penny under is good enough and with about 40 mil they could certainly sign one of those two guys. Trade Joc and you get about 8 mil more to play with. Of course, that’s assuming you’re OK with an outfield of Belli/Verdugo/Pollock/Taylor/Beaty (assuming no other outfielder trades or FA signings).

      5. 8 million is about what he will earn in arbitration, but I still think they could get a decent player for him and maybe more if he was packaged with another piece.

      6. Dennis, as you know, I thought the addition of a solid late inning guy at the deadline would have been the move that did it. But maybe that would not have really mattered. Dodger hitters did not come through against Nationals pitching. In the end we lost because of both our hitting and our pitching. From the top to the bottom these guys are coming back. After 7 years of this, Division Titles, Cy Young’s, Rookie of the Year Awards, MVP’s, 2 World Series losses, what will make the difference with these guy? I have no idea. How is it possible to expect something different at this point?

      7. Scoop… What would you say if they blew past the threshold and signed both Rendon and Cole this winter? It’s very doubtful that Friedman makes that kind of splash, but if two moves like those wouldn’t bring home a championship, I don’t know what would.

      8. Let’s say it’s a given that they absolutely refuse to go over the luxury tax minimum limit for the sake of this discussion. Can somebody tell me when we were last anywhere near 40 million under the limit? Friedman is a very smart guy. It seems to me that with 40 mil to play with, a few possible outgoing trade pieces to add to that 40 mil if need be and lots of possible prospect pieces to trade if necessary, he could dramatically alter the look of this roster for next season by bringing in one or more major pieces as free agents and trading for others.
        I know I’m in the minority but I expect a few major changes for next season.

      9. I think there’s a ton to dissect this winter. We can probably breakdown the roster entirely and make reasonable claims for several upgrades. For example, is the team content with the catching combo of Smith and Barnes for 2020? How long will the Dodgers wait on Ruiz? Will Smith regain his firepower at any point or has MLB pitching figured him out?

      10. I think that Smith’s career will wind up somewhere between what he showed when he first came up and where he wound up at the end of the season. I’m guessing that AF would settle for a Smith/Barnes combo but wouldn’t be thrilled with it. I’ve always liked Stephen Vogt (who hits left handed) but I’m not sure what his rep on defense is like. That might be a disqualifier. Cole loves throwing to Maldonado so if we sign Cole we can always do a 2-pack.

      11. What would I say if they blew past the cap and signed Rendon and Cole?

        Damn. Did not see that coming.

        There will be some moves. There are always moves. But the core of this team will remain the same. Verdugo, Lux, Seager, Turner, Bellinger, Muncy, Smith, Pollock. The rotation I already called. I don’t believe they will sign Cole. The projections for 5 years won’t support it and if he continues to do well in these players somebody is going to go 6 and over $200. I believe Rendon stays in Washington. We will do what Friedman does. There will be another McAnderzmir or two to add to our existing 6 man rotation and lengthy bullpen. Jansen will close because he’s paid to close. Some trades will be made, but no blockbusters. They won’t butcher the cash cow. Win the West and roll the dice in October.

    1. Always liked Howie. Happy for him (as happy as I could be for a player from another team who knocked us out of the playoffs…………………………………..Damn, I really don’t like Howie very much).

  6. I have no problem with a starting outfield of Pollock, Belli and Verdugo. Plenty of players to back them up, and do not forget they have another power hitting lefty not very far away in Peters. If he cuts down his K rate, he has awesome raw power and also can play CF, something Joc cannot do anymore. Some of their prospects could be trade pieces. I do not know why so many think that Will Smith cannot be a better hitter than he was the last few weeks. The guy was still a rookie and still learning the league. I think he can be as big a power threat as Grandal with better defense. He already calls a good game. Ruiz may be the #1 prospect, but he is going to need at least a year at AAA and after that he still has to prove he can hit big league pitching, something we know Smith is at least capable of. I would rather have Martin back for another year than Barnes. He has gone way down hill and I believe very strongly that he will be one of the non tenders.

    1. Peters hits right-handed which is actually better for us.
      I agree that Ruiz probably needs another full year in AAA.
      I think Barnes actually has a little trade value and would prefer that to non-tendering him. Actually, I guess they could try to trade him if they don’t want him and still have time to non-tender if they can’t find a trade partner. I think the deadline is somewhere in the late Nov-early Dec time frame.

      1. My bad there Jefe. For some reason I thought he was a southpaw. Barnes is only scheduled for about a 100,000 dollar raise. He is relatively cheap. But he is a good defender. Somewhere between his really good offense in 2017 to now, he has lost that confidence he had at the dish. Sad to watch because I really thought he would be able to do a lot better.

      2. I’m guessing the don’t just dump him (trade or non-tender) until they know they have something at least as good to replace him. Unless, of course, the want to bring back Martin, whom I’m sure would be happy to come back for another year. One other thing to keep in mind. Martin made over 8 mil last year, Barnes was at 1/2 mil. Think Martin would come back for a million?

    2. If they are considering not tendering Barnesy a contract, I betcha they’re on the phone trying to move him right after the World Series. I’m sure there would be plenty of teams willing to bite, but the bigger question would be how much they’d be willing to give up to get him.

      1. I read on one of the sites Barnes is a trade candidate. He’s a decent catcher that can play other positions. We don’t need him. Ruiz hit at both AA and AAA. He can do what Barnes did

        Peters is an interesting prospect. He too hit at both levels. And strikes out 37% of the time but he showed a very Dodger-esque presence hitting .341 pre All Star and .240 post All Star, including .111 in September. He’s ready. Just don’t start him until mid July. He fades like a Santa Monica sunset.

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