Undoubtedly, most of the speculation regarding potential player acquisitions for the Dodgers so far this winter has surrounded relief pitching.
There’s no question that Los Angeles internally has the arms to fill the vacated spots of Blake Treinen, Pedro Baez and Alex Wood. However, if the team wants to build a bullpen comparable to the 2020 relief crew, a trade may need to be orchestrated or a signing will need to occur from the outside.
Already, the Dodgers have traded for righty reliever Corey Knebel, but as Ian pointed out on Saturday, there are no guarantees the 29-year -old Texas native returns to even a glimpse of his 2017 All-Star form.
Nevertheless, the free-agent market is loaded with relivers this winter, albeit quite a few who are considered retreads or high-risk investments. Still, there are a few in the group who seemingly have the potential of being among the best bullpen arms in the game.
For today’s column, I thought it would be fun to build an All-Star bullpen consisting of eight available free agents not named Treinen. Obviously, the Dodgers have been connected to several of these names already, but by simply looking at all eight arms listed in one place, it certainly goes to show that there’s at least a little talent available for the taking in the market this offseason.
Liam Hendriks will be 32 years old by the start of the 2021 season, but he’s enjoyed two of the best years any reliever has had in the bigs. Over 104 appearances in the last two seasons, the Australia native owns a 1.79 ERA and 0.90 WHIP with 39 saves and an insane 161 strikeouts in 110.1 innings of work. Last year, the righty tallied a 0.671 WHIP with 14 saves, second only to the next name on our list. As Hendriks is surely the highest in demand of all the relievers on the market, he’ll also command the highest price tag.
At the conclusion of the 2020 season, lefty Brad Hand was placed on waivers, as Cleveland was hoping some team would claim him under his $10 million price tag. The three-time All-Star ultimately cleared waivers, mandating the Indians to pay his $1 million buyout. During the 2020 shortened season, the 30-year-old Hand led all of baseball with 16 saves, posting a 2.05 ERA, a 1.37 FIP, and a very impressive 0.773 WHIP, alongside 29 punchouts in an even 22 innings over 23 appearances.
Having once been the premier closer for both the Rays and the White Sox, right-hander Alex Colome might conceivably find himself as the feature bullpen arm for another MLB squad in 2021. During the 2020 shortened season, the 32-year-old Dominican native made 21 appearances, sporting a very impressive 0.81 ERA with 12 saves. His best year came in 2016, as he posted a 1.91 ERA and a 2.92 FIP over 57 games, tallying a 11.3 K/9 and being named to his first All-Star squad.
As Jose brought to light on Friday, there would potentially be a bit of disdain on the part of Dodger fans should the club sign long-time nemesis Archie Bradley. From Andres Chavez of Pinstripe Alley: “As a reliever, the right-handed Bradley has a career 2.82 ERA, a 3.18 FIP and a 3.60 xFIP. He has thrown 233.1 innings from the bullpen and carries a 9.91 career K/9 in relief appearances, so we have enough data to establish that he is a quality reliever with some swing-and-miss stuff. Additionally, Bradley offers a very enticing trait—he is extremely stingy with home runs, as he only allowed 0.49 per nine innings in 2020 and 0.83 for his career.”
Still trying to prove he can be an effective reliever after Tommy John surgery, 30-year-old Trevor Rosenthal pleasantly surprised his critics last year after posting a 1.90 ERA and a 0.845 WHIP over 23 games between the Royals and the Padres. Still, the righty has a lot to prove if he’s going to come anywhere near his benchmark year in 2015, when he collected 48 saves as the Cardinals’ featured closer. Despite the solid numbers last year, Rosenthal might be one of the more economical players on this list due to his track record. Nevertheless, he still throws hard, as his four-seam sat just a tad over 98 MPH in 2020.
Another righty in his early thirties, Shane Greene has proven in recent seasons that he can be an effective eighth-inning option, although he never really approached the stellar numbers he posted for the Tigers in 2017. In the 2020 shortened season, he registered a 2.60 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP over 28 appearances, primarily as the set-up guy for the next name on our list. Coming off a non-adjusted one-year, $6.25 million contract with the Braves, Greene might be another cheaper option, especially considering his level of experience and ability to mostly remain healthy.
The senior member of this group, 35-year-old righty Mark Melancon will be seeking a deal to carry him into his impressive 13th season of major league service. One thing that might draw teams to the veteran is his decent ground ball rate. Writes Drew Koch from Fansided, “Melancon is a ground ball pitcher with a 59.4% ground ball-rate last season with the Braves. During his last full season in the bigs, he put up a 62.1% ground ball-rate while splitting time between the Braves and the Giants. He’s not an overpowering pitcher, but he still misses a lot of bats.” Melancon is projected by MLBTR to take home a one-year contract worth $4 million, making him another one of those lower-risk, higher-reward types of pitchers.
Rediscovering himself after a down season for Milwaukee in 2019, 33-year-old Jeremy Jeffress arrived in Chicago to post a 1.54 ERA with a 0.943 WHIP and eight saves for the Cubs over 22 games in 2020. His best year came for the Brewers in 2018, when he registered an 8-1 record with a 1.29 ERA and a 2.78 FIP with 15 saves over 73 appearances. Last year, the righty Virginia native’s four-seamer sat right at 94 MPH, a few ticks down from his career-best 96+ MPH in 2018. However, the fact that he continues to refine his splitter makes him an intriguing option.
Having followed Baez since his early twenties as a promising third baseman on the Los Angeles farm, I’d have a tough time imagining the 32-year-old Dominican native in another uniform, even though he’s been one of the most scrutinized arms in the Dodgers’ bullpen in recent seasons. Skipper Dave Roberts has always had a personal affinity for the righty, so he might be an option to return, especially if he’s willing to provide a bit of a returning-team discount.