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Gone-Chih Kuo?

Hong-Chih Kuo has been a huge source of frustration and mystery for the Dodgers. Back in 2000, Kuo made his Dodger debut with the San Bernadino Stampede. He last three innings in his first start, and then had to undergo Tommy John surgery. After losing all of 2001, he made his first attempted comeback in 2002. After three tune up starts in the rookie league, he had four more starts in Vero Beach. After this less than stellar outing he then underwent yet another Tommy John surgery.  After missing almost all of 2004, Kuo came back in 2005 as a reliever and finally lived up to the potential that he showed when the Dodgers signed him out of high school. After starting the year in high A, Kuo was moved up to AA and finished the year with 86 strikeouts with only 20 walks in 54.1 innings. This performance impressed the Dodgers enough for Kuo to earn a September callup, where he struck out 10 more in the bigs in five innings, albeit with five walks.

This sudden loss of command would become Kuo's biggest problem in the majors. Kuo started 2006 in the Dodger bullpen, but was sent down after walking 15 in 13 innings. He spent a little over a month in the minors before returning to the Dodgers. Kuo fared slightly better this time, striking out 19 but still walking nine in 14 innings. At this point, the Dodgers seemed to lose faith in Kuo, and as seemingly a last ditch effort, they returned Kuo to the starting rotation. Suddenly, the control problems that plagued Kuo disappeared, and he walked only nine batters in 33 innings for Vegas. This gave the Dodgers enough confidence in Kuo to give him several crucial September starts, and he rewarded them with a month of Johan Santana like performance.

Kuo should have been a front runner to a starting job for the Dodgers come next March, but he lost out to Brett Tomko after suffering an injury in Spring Training. After two terrible relief appearances. Kuo had three decent starts, saw a dip in his velocity, got bashed, and then never pitched again on the year.

Now in 2008, Kuo's future with the Dodgers is very uncertain. The Dodger's rotation is seemingly set with the Dodgers starting the year with 42 million dollars committed to their starting five, and five or six palatable options waiting in the minors. Kuo is now out of options, so he can never leave the 25 man roster since there is no way he could possibly pass through waivers. Despite Kuo's injury and control issues, very few teams would not take a chance on a 26 year old who has a career strikeout rate over 10 per nine, especially in a market where Kyle Lohse is expected to receive more money per year than Derek Lowe. Unless Ned avoids signing another starter, Jason Schmidt is injured to start the year (admittedly fairly likely), or Estaban Loaiza is slated to start the year in the bullpen, Kuo will not be in the Dodgers rotation to start the year. This means that he'll have to go back to the bullpen that has given Kuo so many issues. Can Kuo find his command in the bullpen? If he can't, are the Dodgers willing or able to carry a useless arm in the bullpen?

There's no easy answer here. If it were up to me, Kuo would start the year in the rotation while Loaiza started the year as the long reliever. However, the reality is that Loaiza is going to be making seven million dollars next year, while Kuo has 11 career starts. There's almost zero chance of Loaiza stepping aside for Kuo to start the year. Kuo has tons of potential, but the Dodgers are already in a bit of a roster crunch as it is, and he's near useless out of the pen. Also consider the presence of Mark Hendrickson, who isn't on the roster yet, but he seems to be the only person that can get a second chance under the Colletti regime. I wouldn't be surprised if he was offered arbitration, and you would then have two left handed starters turned relievers in your pen. Finally, when you consider how likely a Kuo injury is, it's pretty easy to see him as expendable.

I hate giving up potential talent, especially for nothing. However, after the way Ned handled Jayson Werth, you could say that he doesn't see much need to commit to injured potential. There's a very good chance that Hong-Chih Kuo won't be a Dodger next year, and it's a pretty easy decision to justify. I certainly hope this isn't the case, but the Dodgers are overflowing with so much young talent that sometimes, some of it gets left by the wayside.