While many fans of the Dodgers this offseason have been pondering potential roster upgrades on a position-by-position basis, the big question that has emerged is whether Andrew Friedman and his group will make a big splash rather than a few minor upgrades here and there.
As far as defining a “big splash,” we tried to put a monetary value on a prospective acquisition, but I think I like what our friend Scoop said the most—”any player who could immediately become an impact starter in the big leagues or slide right into the Top 5 list on the farm.”
Although there’s been quite a bit of chatter about free agents like Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson—alongside a few trade rumors surrounding Francisco Lindor—the consensus among most folks close to the team is that the club is more likely to pursue pitching. Since the free agent market is relatively barren of any high-impact relievers—coupled with the fact that Friedman often prefers to build his bullpens from within the organization—there’s a good chance the front office group might be targeting an upgrade to the starting rotation this winter.
If you haven’t been paying attention, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg sit alone in the elite class of free agent pitchers, as both righties will certainly net deals well over the $30 million AAV mark, regardless of the length of their respective new contracts.
So far this winter, we’ve talked about Ryu a ton. For the record, I’m among those who think a Ryu signing would be the smart way to go, especially since the lefty has gone on record as saying that he’d settle for a three or four-year deal if he would be able to remain on the West Coast. And, despite being represented by the notorious Scott Boras, some pundits feel that Ryu could ultimately agree to a deal somewhere in the three-year, $60 million range—a salary that certainly falls inside Friedman’s comfort zone.
If Ryu would be able to stay healthy over those three years—and that’s a huge “if”—he could end up being the steal of this winter’s free agent market.
Nevertheless, there’s been a lot of attention put on the right-hander Wheeler lately. There is certainly plenty of upside considering he has more than four quality offerings in his arsenal—coupled with the fact that he can touch near triple digits with his heater—but if there’s one downfall, it’s that he’s tied to draft pick compensation since he declined the Mets’ $17.8 million qualifying offer for next season. As much as Friedman and the Dodgers value high draft picks, one wonders if this would be a deal-breaker.
The biggest blemish on Wheeler’s resume is the UCL surgery he had administered early in 2015. It was anything but a normal recovery for the Georgia native, as several setbacks prevented him from pitching in two, full big-league seasons.
Once he did return in 2017, he had more elbow issues later that summer that kept him at bay for more than two months. In all, he made just 17 starts that season. Lately, though, he has proven his durability and logged 29 starts in 2018 and 31 starts last year.
As far as his scouting report goes, he has five different offerings, a four-seam, a sinker, a slider, a curve and a splitter (which is a version of his changeup on the stat sheets). Here’s a breakdown by velocity from Brooks Baseball:
Some pundits have Wheeler landing a contract worth five years and about $100 million, but his major numbers bug me enough to be bothered by the fact that he’ll be netting more than $20 million annually.
The 29-year-old former first-round draft choice had career highs in innings (195-1/3) and punchouts (195) last season, but his 3.96 ERA, 3.48 FIP and 1.259 WHIP in 2019 were not earth-shattering by any means.
In comparison, Ryu’s exceptional season netted a 2.32 ERA, a 3.10 FIP and a 1.007 WHIP over 182-2/3 innings.
Lifetime, Wheeler has a 3.77 ERA, a 3.71 FIP, a 1.294 WHIP and a 8.7 K/9 over 126 games (all of which were starts) and 749-1/3 innings.
Perhaps some scouts are high on Wheeler’s scouting report because of his repertoire, the fact that he’s still under 30 years of age, and his above-average velocity, but I’m still taking Ryu all day long regardless of his injury history, especially if he can be had on a contract of much shorter length for the same AAV.
Of course, a blockbuster trade is always a possibility (see Lindor)—specifically if Friedman has a desire to upgrade his relief corps from the outside—but everyone familiar with his history knows the tendency of Friedman to hoard all of his prospects of value, making a high-impact acquisition through the trade market rather unlikely.