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Dodgers and the continual pursuit of relief

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Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt will have a few different options in the bullpen in 2015 than in 2014.
Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt will have a few different options in the bullpen in 2015 than in 2014.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES -- With all their offseason moves the bulk of Dodgers major transactions appear to be done as we inch closer to spring training. But one place they could add is in the bullpen, with the team reportedly looking to add a "late-inning reliever," per Jon Morosi of Fox Sports.

To date the Dodgers this offseason have brought in Joel Peralta, Chris Hatcher and Juan Nicasio, all of whom figure to have a role in the 2015 bullpen. But the interest in adding more relief fits with what president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said in December.

"It's against my nature to ever feel comfortable with the bullpen in the offseason. It's so difficult to predict year to year," Friedman said. "It's something that we'll continue to be mindful of and thinking through."

In free agency there are still some options with late-inning experience on the market, most former closers.

Casey Janssen

Janssen, 33, is a local boy who went to Fountain Valley High School and UCLA. He was sidelined the first month of 2014 with a back injury, and put up a 3.94 ERA in 50 games, with 28 strikeouts and only seven walks in 45⅔ innings. His strikeout rate plummeted to 14.6 percent in 2014 after three straight years of a sub-2.60 ERA and from 2011-2013 a FIP of 2.77 and a 25.2 strikeout rate. Janssen has saved 81 games in 91 opportunities over the last three seasons.

Francisco Rodriguez

Rodriguez is 33 and has struck out at least a batter an inning in all of his 12 major league seasons. His 27.2-percent strikeout rate in 2014 was near his 29.2-percent career rate, and his 6.7-percent walk rate was a career best. He put up a 3.04 ERA with the Brewers last year, but in near Huston Street fashion gave up the bulk of his runs via home runs. Rodriguez allowed 23 runs all year, with 16 runs scoring on his career-worst 14 home runs allowed.

Rafael Soriano

Soriano, 35, struck out 59 and walked 19 in 62 innings for the Nationals in 2014. He put up a 3.19 ERA, 3.08 FIP, and saved 32 games, but after back-to-back blown saves to start September lost the closer role for the final month of the season. Soriano had a 23.4-percent strikeout rate on the season, but after the All-Star break that fell to 19.7 percent to go with his 6.48 ERA. Soriano saved 45 games for Friedman's Rays in 2010.

John Axford

The right-hander, who turns 32 in April, saved 105 games for the Brewers from 2010-2012, and has been well traveled in the last two seasons, pitching for four teams (Milwaukee, St. Louis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh) in 2013-2014. He throws hard, averaging 96 mph on his four-seam fastball per Brooks Baseball, and strikes out a bunch - 25.9 percent in 2014 and 27.2 percent in his career. He put up a 3.95 ERA in 62 games in 2014, and has a FIP north of 4.00 for three years running, thanks in part to an inflated walk rate of 11.2 percent in his career, including 14.8 percent in 2014. Axford does have a 48-percent ground ball rate in his career, including a personal best of 53.6 percent in 2014.

Joba Chamberlain

Chamberlain is the youngest of this quintet at 29, and unlike the others won't have the Big C closer price tag attached, with all of nine career saves. The right-hander struck out 59 and walked 24 in 63 innings for the Tigers last year, with a 3.57 ERA and 3.16 FIP. Chamberlain struck out 22.4 percent of batters faced in 2014, and has a 21-percent strikeout rate over the last six years.


Andrew Friedman on building a bullpen, on Nov. 7: "It's about having as many good options as you can down there, and giving Donny and Honey different looks from different guys." (Photo: Gary A. Vasquez | USA Today Sports)

However, it is unclear whether the Dodgers necessarily want to add a free agent relief pitcher, or look for a trade. General manager Farhan Zaidi addressed the market for late-inning relievers on New Year's Eve.

"There are always trade options for those type of guys, particularly as teams start nearing their own payroll and budget limits, and might be looking to move guys like that who are making some money," Zaidi said. "That kind of guy would come more likely in trade than via free agency."

This opens up a much wider net of players, depending on the class of pitcher available. Here are some speculative possibilities in trade.

Jonathan Papelbon

The Phillies closer has one year and $13 million remaining on his contract, and with Philadelphia out of contention it's just a matter of coming close to satisfying general manager Ruben Amaro Jr's demands in return. Papelbon, 34, put up a 2.04 ERA and 2.53 FIP while saving 39 games in 2014. He has put up a sub-3.00 ERA in every year of his career but one (2010), and has a FIP of 3.05 or below in eight of the last nine years.

Sean Marshall

Marshall, 32, is coming off left shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in 2014, repairing a problem that plagued him for most of the last two years, but before that was one of the best relievers in the game. From 2010-2013, the left-hander put up a 2.44 ERA, 2.11 FIP, and averaged 62 games per year while striking out 27.9 percent of batters faced and walking only 6.6 percent. Marshall is due $6.5 million in 2015 in the final season of a three-year contract on a Reds team that seems unlikely to contend.

Boone Logan

Logan has had two surgeries to remove bone chips in his elbow in the last two years, with the latest procedure in September an attempt to finish the 2013 procedure from which he didn't fully recover. The left-hander hit the disabled list four times in his first season with the Rockies, and has two years and $11.75 million remaining on his contract. From 2012-2014, Logan, 30, has a 4.64 ERA and 4.33 FIP, inflated thanks in large part to a quarter of his fly balls ending up home runs during that span. During those last three years, Logan has also struck out 29.8 percent of his hitters face, walked 9.7 percent, putting up an xFIP of 2.77 and a SIERA of 2.53.

Kansas City

"It's against my nature to ever feel comfortable with the bullpen in the offseason." -Andrew Friedman

It seems highly unlikely the Royals would be willing to part with any of their back-end bullpen trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis or especially Kelvin Herrera, the latter with four years until free agency. The only way one would be available is if Kansas City was over budget, and that seems unlikely after the windfall of their extended 2014 postseason run.

Davis, 29, makes $7 million in 2015 and, in a contract he signed with Friedman in Tampa Bay, has two more option years at $8 million in 2016 and $10 million in 2017, with a $2.5 million buyout. Davis struck out 109 and walked 23 in 72 innings last year with a paltry 1.00 ERA (and 1.19 FIP).

Holland, the closer, put up a 1.44 ERA and 1.83 FIP with 90 strikeouts and 20 walks in 62 innings. He has two more years of arbitration eligibility before free agency. Holland, 29, filed at $9 million for 2015 while the Royals countered at $6.65 million, with a midpoint of $7.825 million.

Glen Perkins

If Perkins, 32 in March, were available, he'd be a great addition to the bullpen, with four straight years of at least a 25-percent strikeout rate, three straight years of a walk rate of 6.3 percent or less to go with his 2.74 ERA and 2.80 FIP from 2011-2014. But the Twins seem perfectly happy with Perkins, a Minnesota native, as their closer, with the $18.15 million and three years remaining on his contract, plus a club option for 2018, well within their budget. Put it this way: if the Twins were in rebuild mode, they would have made other trades by now, and probably wouldn't have signed Ervin Santana to a four-year, $55 million deal.

File Perkins away as a pipe dream, along with the Kansas City pair. But the rest of these pitchers should be available, if the price is right.