While the Dodgers have made it no secret that the bullpen is an area they’d like to address this winter, they still haven’t made any significant upgrades in terms of a true difference maker.
Sure, the club has already added arms like Corey Knebel, Brandon Morrow, Brock Stewart, Jimmy Nelson and James Pazos, but all five of these relievers will be trying to resurrect their careers in some shape or form. Additionally, as we reported on Wednesday, the team signed righty Tommy Kahnle to a two-year deal, even though he’ll be taking off the entire 2021 season recovering from UCL surgery.
Obviously, it’s almost impossible to guess what front-office boss Andrew Friedman is thinking when it comes to roster building, especially with regards to the relief corps. However, if the team ends up being relatively dormant with player acquisitions for the remainder of the offseason, it’s not too difficult to make some guesses about a prospective 2021 relief crew.
If they’re healthy, veterans Kenley Jansen and Joe Kelly will make up the core of the 2021 bullpen, despite being two of the most inconsistent performers lately. The interesting part about the duo is that both players will be entering the final years of their respective contracts, and it’s probably safe to say that there’s a chance that neither returns to the team in 2022, particularly when looking at all the younger arms starting to emerge at the top levels of the farm.
As much as fans don’t want to hear it, Jansen could very well open the season as the main closer. If this is indeed the case, my guess is that his leash might be rather short, and once he’s removed from that role this time around, he’ll probably never return to it.
Along those same lines, 30-year-old Dylan Floro and the 29-year-old Knebel will make up the other part of the veteran presence. Floro still has one option on his contract, which might be useful, considering that he sometimes has a bout of command issues during some point of the year. If Knebel can return to the All-Star form he showed in 2017, the Dodgers could have a reliable eighth-inning arm at their disposal, replacing the departed Blake Treinen.
Speaking of setup guys, I think there could be a trio of arms involved—Brusdar Graterol, Victor Gonzalez and Julio Urias. Fans might be surprised to hear Urias’ name mentioned among the relief corps, but I honestly believe that the days of Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin opening the season in the minors are finished. You can probably interchange Urias, May and Gonsolin however you see fit, but I honestly think as far as effectiveness goes, we could see May and Gonsolin open the year in the rotation with Urias as one of the featured arms in relief. Should the 24-year-old Urias rise to the occasion, fans might just be looking at the franchise’s closer of the future.
Rounding out the relief crew will be either Scott Alexander, who was recently signed to a guaranteed one-year deal, or Adam Kolarek, who, at 30 years of age, surprisingly still has one option year on his contract. Personally, I’d consider this spot a push.
As far as free agent arms go, some folks feel that both Treinen and Pedro Baez could have advantages over others, as they might conceivably offer some type of returning discount. Ideally, fans would be ecstatic if Friedman and his troops are able to land someone like Liam Hendriks, but my gut tells me that the club has no intention of entering a bidding war over a reliever. Still, if the club is likely to land an All-Star arm with closing skills, it might be lefty Brad Hand, who was waived by the Indians at the conclusion of the 2020 season.
Regarding fringe players, in addition to Morrow, Stewart, Pazos and Nelson, both Mitch White and Dennis Santana will be around competing for spots. Depending on health and performance, there’s a reasonable chance we see young righty Josiah Gray make his debut in 2021, whether it be in either a relief or starting role.
One dark horse name to keep in the back of your mind is the long-forgotten Yadier Alvarez, who will turn 25 before the beginning of the upcoming season.
All that said, here’s my best guess at a preliminary eight-man relief crew to open the 2021 season:
- Kenley Jansen
- Joe Kelly
- Julio Urias (L)
- Brusdar Graterol
- Corey Knebel
- Victor Gonzalez (L)
- Dylan Floro
- Scott Alexander/Adam Kolarek (L)
Be sure to stay tuned for more insight surrounding the bullpen as more rumors and stories continue to develop.