Of all the pending story lines heading into Dodgers spring training camp at Camelback Ranch, the injury to closer Kenley Jansen has ripple effects throughout the bullpen. Multiple roles will be affected, with the Dodgers searching for a short-term closer to open the season, and an extra bullpen spot opening up for those on the roster bubble.
Jansen had surgery on Tuesday in Los Angeles to remove a growth from the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot. He is expected to miss 8-12 weeks, a range that could keep him out until mid-April or mid-May, depending on how he progresses.
In-house closing options
If the Dodgers choose to find their temporary closer from their current roster, as president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman indicated to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, there are a number of candidates.
Hard-throwing right-hander Chris Hatcher had a breakout season in 2014, putting up a 3.38 ERA and 2.56 FIP in 52 games for the Marlins while striking out 25.9 percent of his hitters faced. Manager Don Mattingly mentioned Hatcher is one of his key late-inning candidates to get the ball to Jansen, and could move up on the depth chart with a solid spring.
Joel Peralta doesn't throw hard like Hatcher but still gets outs. He struck out 27.9 percent of batters faced last year with the Rays, but also put up a 4.41 ERA and allowed nine home runs. He has saved nine total games in the last four seasons, which is nine more saves than Hatcher, not that this is necessarily a prominent requirement for the temporary fill-in role.
The Dodgers could play matchups, with southpaw J.P. Howell pitching ninth innings when a few left-handed batters are due.
The other in-house options range from the relatively inexperienced in former starter Juan Nicasio and former third baseman Pedro Baez — like Hatcher, hard throwers — to non-roster veterans like Sergio Santos and David Aardsma, the latter two with prior closing experience, assuming of course they can gain their former form.
The two big-name relief pitchers remaining on the free agent market are a pair of former closers in Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano, the latter having been acquired by Freidman in Tampa Bay in 2010. Both had decent numbers but poor finishes to their 2014 seasons.
K-Rod put up a 3.04 ERA and 4.50 FIP in 69 games for the Brewers in 2014, with 73 strikeouts and 18 walks in 68 innings. He saved 44 games for the Brewers, his fifth season of 40 or more saves. In baseball history, only Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman have more 40-save campaigns, with nine each.
Rodriguez also allowed a career-worst 14 home runs in 2014, only one fewer than his two previous seasons combined. His 14 home runs allowed were the most allowed by any relief pitcher in baseball last season.
Soriano put up a 3.19 ERA and 3.08 FIP in 64 games with the Nationals last year, including 32 saves, but he also lost his closer job in early September to go with his 6.48 ERA after the All-Star break.
There is no real urgency for the Dodgers to cave into the presumed high demands of either Rodriguez or Soriano, so acquiring one of them could require more time to allow for their market expectations to become more aligned with those of the Dodgers. In other words, cheaper.
If the Dodgers do decide to go in-house for Jansen's temporary replacement, that essentially means movement up the depth chart for the existing members of the pen. So when the Dodgers break camp, there will be an open spot in the bullpen that is up for grabs.
With the caveat that we don't really know how the new front office will operate just yet, there are a few locks for spots in the bullpen, or at the very least some players who are exceedingly likely to make the opening day roster. Howell and Brandon League are both under contract for large money, Peralta was a key acquisition from Friedman's old team, and both Hatcher and Nicasio are out of options.
With Jansen out, instead of a gaggle of pitchers fighting for one spot, there are now two slots that need filling, which is only good news for Baez, Paco Rodriguez, Yimi Garcia, Adam Liberatore, plus non-roster pitchers Aardsma, Santos, Ben Rowen, David Huff and Ryan Buchter.
If anything, the Jansen injury is a reminder that while much of our focus during the spring is often on the opening day roster, in reality the active roster is fluid, ever changing throughout the season. The Dodgers can use the depth they have built this offseason, or they could add to that depth with another signing or trade. Either way, several pitchers will make an impact on the big league club in 2015, some a little earlier than others.