LOS ANGELES -- We are two weeks from the first Dodgers spring training workout with pitchers and catchers, but it appears — appears — the opening day 25-man roster is mostly set. That includes the bullpen, in which I would contend there are six current locks.
But consider this a reminder that no matter the seven or so relievers that will be in the Dodgers bullpen at Petco Park on April 4, the team's relief effort is likely to feature several contributors, because that is what always happens.
There is no greater source of fan angst than bullpen performance. No matter how well a relief corps is performing, fans will always think they should do better, but that comes with the volatility of the position. This offseason, the Dodgers' major bullpen changes have consisted of one agreed-to-but-aborted trade for closer Aroldis Chapman and the signing of 35-year-old Joe Blanton, who found renewed life in relief after hitting a dead end as a starter.
"We're big believers in Pedro Baez, Yimi Garcia, and Chris Hatcher," Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said last Saturday at FanFest.
That trio, plus Blanton, closer Kenley Jansen and left-hander J.P. Howell are my six roster locks for the bullpen at the moment. Those six pitchers combined for a 2.85 ERA in 2015, with a combined strikeout rate of 28.6 percent, nobody under the 20.5-percent mark by Howell. The walk rate for those six in 2015 was just 5.5 percent.
It's not just the extraordinary Jansen skewing the numbers, either. Remove the closer, and the other five combined for a 2.94 ERA with a 26.5-percent strikeout rate and 6.2-percent walk rate, still very strong numbers.
As for the seventh spot in the bullpen, it could be Luis Avilan to open the season. Or if Hyun-jin Ryu is healthy and ready to start, then Alex Wood might find his way toward relief work. Or perhaps Carlos Frias if he's not starting in Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Friedman also mentioned Frankie Montas and Yaisel Sierra as potential bullpen options throughout the season. Though the Cuban defector Sierra still hasn't officially signed yet, his reported six-year, $30 million contract currently waiting in bureaucratic limbo.
"It's a complicated process. It's just going to take time, and there's not a ton of transparency to how that works in terms of timing," Friedman said of Sierra. "We're hopeful to have him in spring training when pitchers and catchers report."
Currently, there is also potential relief help on the 40-man in the form of Adam Liberatore, Ian Thomas, Josh Ravin and Jharel Cotton.
But the point is there will be several pitchers in relief for the Dodgers in 2016. Last year, 12 different Dodgers made at least 10 relief appearances, one shy of the franchise record set in 2005 and 2006. Ten different Dodgers pitched at least 20 games in relief.
That seems to be the trend of late.
Over the last 10 years, the Dodgers have averaged just over 18 relief pitchers used per season and just under nine pitchers each year making at least 20 appearances in relief.
Expect that to continue going forward. In other words, there is more to the season than just the opening day roster.