Without a doubt, December is much too soon to start thinking about building a big league bullpen, especially when considering the prospective long and middle relief spots of the 2020 crew. However, since this has been the slowest winter in quite a while for the Dodgers news-wise, we thought this would be as good a time as any to take a very preliminary look as to what the Los Angeles relief crew might look like for the upcoming season.
With the debut of the 26-man roster, there could be a few different looks the Dodgers employ during the 2020 campaign. Over the past several seasons, the team elected to mostly utilize an eight-man relief corps, although there were several occasions when we saw as many as nine or ten arms in the bullpen. My best guess is that there will be eight arms in the relief crew for most of the season, preventing the team from being handcuffed with a shortage of position players late in long, extra-inning affairs like we saw last year.
Without examining a ton of numbers, it’s quite easy to insert the impact arms of the 2020 bullpen straightaway, assuming everyone stays healthy through Opening Day. As much as some fans disagree, both front-office boss Andrew Friedman and skipper Dave Roberts have said that the closer role is Kenley Jansen‘s to lose, so there’s one spot filled right off the top.
As far as the key setup arms go, we’re looking at a trio of candidates—newly acquired Blake Treinen, Joe Kelly and Pedro Baez. Depending on how thing go during 2020 Cactus League play, Friedman/Roberts might have a good idea of his main guy right out of the gates. Still, it would not be surprising if the chief setup roles change often throughout the regular season. Regardless, with the inclusion of Treinen, Kelly and Baez, we have half of our eight slots filled.
There’s a small chance that swing man Ross Stripling earns his way into the starting rotation, but my guess is that he’ll be available to throw in relief, especially if the team decides to add another quality starting arm before the beginning of spring training. Even if the club stands pat personnel-wise, the final rotation spot could conceivably be decided in a Cactus League battle between right-handers Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May.
Already, there has been plenty of chatter about Adam Kolarek potentially not earning a spot because of the elimination of a bonafide LOOGY. Over the course of his career, lefty hitters have slashed just .198/.243/.281 against him while righty batters have hit a whopping .300/.368/.480. Those numbers certainly say a lot, but I think the Dodgers will give Kolarek every chance to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster. Even with the new minimum-batter rule for relievers, there should still be opportunities for Roberts to use Kolarek to his maximum potential.
As far as the last three openings go, there are a whole slew of arms that could contend for roster spots. Scott Alexander is definitely coming back, so he’ll be in the run to make the team. Casey Sadler and Dylan Floro, who both showed flashed of brilliance in between spells of absolute ineffectiveness, will also be in the running for the remaining few spots.
Other contending pitchers who have big league experience include Caleb Ferguson, Dennis Santana and Josh Sborz. Further down the totem pole are relievers like Joe Broussard, Marshall Kasowski, Jordan Sheffield, Logan Salow and Shea Spitzbarth, although it wouldn’t be surprising to see either Victor Gonzalez or Mitchell White throw in relief at the big league level since both players have recently been added to the club’s 40-man roster.
Furthermore, there’s still a really good chance Friedman adds an MLB-ready arm or two to the relief mix for 2020. After all, there are still more than 45 days remaining before pitchers and catchers start filing into the clubhouse at Camelback Ranch.
Nevertheless, here are my Opening Day projections (keep in mind, this is how I think the bullpen will look, not how I want it to look):
- Kenley Jansen
- Pedro Baez
- Blake Treinen
- Joe Kelly
- Adam Kolarek
- Ross Stripling
- Scott Alexander
- Casey Sadler
My guess is that Gonsolin and May battle for the final rotation spot, and whoever loses out stays fresh and ready to go at Triple-A Oklahoma City. Sadler was included over Floro because Floro has one option remaining on his contract while Sadler has none. In this scenario, Ferguson could conceivably one of the first arms recalled.
Whatever the result ends up being, fans can expect the bullpen carousel to be spinning quite rapidly by mid-season. Even with the changes to the injury list rules, Friedman will be certain to utilize the IL to its max.
As the winter progresses and the club acquires new players, stay tuned for even more projections.