The Los Angeles Dodgers have made some intriguing minor league signings as the free agency period is underway, and the deals feature some familiar faces.
The most recognizable name in terms of big beague track record is Brandon Morrow, who is set to begin his second stint with the Dodgers.
Jeff Passan of ESPN is reporting that Morrow and the Dodgers have agreed to a minor-league deal, with Ken Gurnick of MLB.com also reporting that Morrow will be in big beague camp as a non-roster invitee.
The Dodgers have also agreed to a few other minor league deals in recent days, bringing aboard right-handed pitchers Brock Stewart and Jimmy Nelson, left-handed pitcher James Pazos, and utility-man Carlos Asuaje.
Gurnick is reporting that Stewart, Nelson, Pazos, and Asuaje will all be receiving invitations to the Big League camp as well.
Depth is invaluable throughout a season, and the Dodgers are hoping that these players being signed to minor league deals end up making whatever type of impact they can.
There are intriguing aspects to each of these signings, and the organization has shown an ability to get the most out of players they bring in.
Morrow is the one with the most major league experience attached to his name, although he has been plagued with injuries in recent years.
He hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2018 when he was the closer for the Chicago Cubs after signing a two-year, $21 million contract following a great 2017 season with the Dodgers.
It’s unclear what exactly Morrow still has left in the tank, having not appeared in the majors in so long and about to turn 37 in July.
When healthy, though, he was a dynamic option out of the bullpen in the second half of his career and a starter who showed flashes of brilliance in the first half of his career.
Back on August 8, 2010, while starting for the Toronto Blue Jays, Morrow came one out away from a no-hitter against the Tampa Bay Rays, striking out 17 in the process.
Up to that point, it was just the ninth pitching performance that registered a Game Score of 100 or more, illustrating just how historically dominant Morrow was that outing. For greater perspective, there have been just seven games in the entire history of baseball where a pitcher has earned a higher Game Score than Morrow had for that game.
Had his career not been beset by injuries so often, it’s fair to wonder about the level of greatness that Morrow could have achieved in this league. After all, he was selected ahead of pitchers like Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, and Max Scherzer in the 2006 MLB Draft.
Whether Morrow can make an impact this season for the Dodgers remains to be seen, but any time a veteran pitcher like him can be brought in on a minor league deal, it’s well worth the gamble to see what he can still do at the big league level.
This is also set to be Stewart’s second stint with the Dodgers, as he was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays in 2019 and eventually spent some time in the Cubs organization as well.
Back in 2016, Stewart was named the Dodgers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and his best season came in 2017 for the Dodgers, when he pitched 34.1 innings and registered a 3.41 ERA.
Throughout his time with the Dodgers, Stewart appeared in 36 games from 2016-2019, tallying a 5.46 ERA and 1.61 WHIP over that span.
Nelson has suffered multiple serious injuries over the last few seasons, being forced to miss all of 2018 with a torn rotator cuff and all of 2020 due to back surgery.
The Dodgers originally brought aboard Nelson in January 2020 with a one-year deal and a team option for another year.
The Dodgers decided to decline Nelson’s option of $2 million as a part of that previous contract but chose to bring him back on this new minor league deal.
Nelson had previously been a starting pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, starting 107 games for them over six seasons.
Nelson led the majors in hit batters in both 2015 and 2016, and also ended up leading the Majors in walks in 2016 and the National League in losses in 2016. He had the best season of his career in 2017, though, finishing 12-6 in 29 starts with a 3.49 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, which earned him a ninth-place finish in the NL CY Young Award voting.
Returning from his torn rotator cuff in 2019 proved difficult for Nelson, though, as his ERA ballooned to 6.95 and his WHIP shot up to 1.91 over 22 innings.
Given that the Dodgers brought him back for this season despite not pitching at all last season, the team is really curious to see what type of pitcher he still is after all the injuries. Nelson is going to turn 32 this season, and like Morrow, the team is buying low on an often-injured veteran pitcher who has put up solid stats at the big league level when healthy.
Pazos is probably the player amongst this flurry of minor-league signings who is most recently removed from major league success.
In 2019, Pazos had a 1.74 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 10.1 innings for the Colorado Rockies, who had acquired him from the Philadelphia Phillies earlier that season.
Pazos was originally acquired by the Phillies from the Seattle Mariners as a part of the trade the sent Jean Segura to the Phillies back in December 2018.
Pazos was just coming off a 2018 campaign in which he appeared in 60 games as a reliever and registered a 2.88 ERA and 1.24 WHIP.
Pazos eventually imploded for the Rockies in 2020, however, allowing 10 earned runs over just 5.1 innings before being designated for assignment.
Pazos isn’t coming off a serious injury like some of these other pitchers being signed, so that’s something to be encouraged about. However, that clean bill of health eliminates any struggles being blamed on an injury, and it’s unclear if Pazos can be able to get back to his 2017-2019 level.
Going back to the theme of acquiring players who haven’t seen much big league action these past few seasons, the Dodgers are also signing former San Diego Padres utility man Asuaje.
Asuaje spent 2016-2018 with the Padres and then left the States to play with the Lotte Giants of the KBO League in 2019. He originally was drafted by the Boston Red Sox and came up in their farm system. Back in 2014, only Mookie Betts had a higher OPS than Asuaje in the entire Red Sox farm system.
Asuaje was eventually traded to the Padres as a part of the deal that sent Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox back in November 2015.
In 2016, he won the PCL Rookie of the Year Award, an award previously won by players like Joc Pederson, Howie Kendrick, Adam Eaton, and Felix Hernandez.
Asuaje played in 175 games for the Padres from 2016-2018 and had 520 at-bats, 24 doubles, 6 home runs, 42 RBI, a .240 BA, a .312 OBP, and a .329 SLG. His best season came in 2017 when in 89 games he had 307 at-bats, a .270 BA, a .334 OBP, and a .362 SLG for the year.
Those stats fell off drastically in 2018, however, and the Padres eventually designated him for assignment after he had the lowest batting average in the league against left-handed pitchers.
The Texas Rangers sold him to the Lotte Giants after acquiring him from the Padres, and Asuaje has also since spent time in the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cubs organizations.
Asauje has played second base, third base, and first base at the Major League level, and started as a shortstop in the minors. That type of infield versatility is likely why the Dodgers acquired him, even if the intent is mainly for him to provide minor league insurance.
These signings are the Dodgers doing their due diligence on players who certainly have the potential to make an impact for next season.
Each one comes with a distinct set of question marks, though, which explains why each was able to be acquired with just a minor league contract.