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Dodgers remaining offseason needs start with pitching

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An overview of LA’s 40-man roster and potential pitching targets

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Milwaukee Brewers v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Major league rosters are frozen during the lockout, but with time on our hands we can take stock of what the Dodgers have on the 40-man roster and what they will need once the offseason resumes. Not surprisingly, the Dodgers’ biggest need is pitching.

Multiple times during spring training in 2021, Dave Roberts made sure to mention how the Dodgers had eight starting pitchers on the roster. He included Jimmy Nelson as part of that octet, but by the end of spring it was clear Nelson’s role was in relief.

The seven starters that began the season on the active roster combined to start 133 games, which is a perfectly effective total. But even with that incredibly deep initial roster, the Dodgers still needed to fill 29 starts to complete the regular season schedule.

Over the last six seasons, the Dodgers averaged eight pitchers making at least five starts. That depth needs to be planned for, and is currently lacking.

The Dodgers currently have 22 pitchers on the 40-man roster. Let’s break them up into groups.

Dodgers pitchers on the 40-man roster

RHP starters (6) LHP starters (3) RHP relievers (7) LHP relievers (6)
RHP starters (6) LHP starters (3) RHP relievers (7) LHP relievers (6)
Walker Buehler Julio Urías Blake Treinen Alex Vesia
Trevor Bauer Andrew Heaney Daniel Hudson Victor Gonzalez
Tony Gonsolin David Price Brusdar Graterol Justin Bruihl
Mitch White Phil Bickford Garrett Cleavinger
Andre Jackson Tommy Kahnle Caleb Ferguson
Dustin May Evan Phillips Darien Núñez
Michael Grove
As of December 9, 2021

Using the most charitable accounting, the Dodgers at the moment have nine starting pitchers on the 40-man roster. But that includes Dustin May, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and not expected back until after the All-Star break, and David Price, who was more of a swingman and during his nine-game stretch with a regular starter’s routine lasted longer than four innings just four times.

Trevor Bauer is the wild card here, because he’s still under investigation by MLB through the league’s joint domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse policy and program. Bauer missed the final 81 games of 2021 while on paid administrative leave, and it’s unknown if any pending suspension would last beyond that. Bauer is under contract for $32 million for each of the next two seasons. It’s unknown how much that might be reduced by a potential suspension, and since the Dodgers haven’t commented substantially one way or another, it’s unknown whether they still want him around even if permitted to pitch.

But Bauer still counts against the payroll, which likely affects how much the Dodgers are willing to spend to add the starters they still need.

Out of the current roster — counting Bauer as unavailable since his investigation is still ongoing — the Dodgers starting rotation is roughly as follows:

Walker Buehler
Julio Urías
Tony Gonsolin
Andrew Heaney
Mitch White
Andre Jackson

That’s a thin group. Gonsolin has been effective during his parts of three seasons in the majors — 2.85 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 25.6-percent strikeout rate — but he’s also returning from shoulder inflammation that wiped away over half his season.

Prospects Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot, and Landon Knack will likely be called upon at some point in 2021, and with May due back in the second half the cupboard isn’t exactly bare. But some restocking is still in order.

It’s as obvious that the Dodgers need starting pitching as is the realization that the offseason is far from over. But the potentially available impact arms are dwindling.

Free agents

Taking a gander at MLB Trade Rumors free agent rankings as one measure, they ranked 18 starting pitchers in the top 50. Fifteen have already signed, counting Justin Verlander’s two-year agreement with the Astros that wasn’t yet officially announced before the lockout. Heaney, who signed with the Dodgers for $8.5 million, was ranked No. 50, for reference.

That leaves only three “top 50” free agent starting pitchers:

  • Carlos Rodón (ranked 18th by MLBTR)
  • Clayton Kershaw (33rd)
  • Zack Greinke (40th)

The Dodgers are in waiting mode with Kershaw, the franchise icon who the Dodgers have made very clear they want back. The Dodgers did not extend the qualifying offer of one year, $18.4 million to Kershaw, not wanting to rush his decision timetable.

“I think just with our respect for him and for what he’s done for this organization, that wasn’t something that we wanted to do and put him on that kind of clock when he wasn’t ready for it,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said at the GM meetings in November. “If he wants to come back, we will absolutely work together to make that happen. If he doesn’t for whatever reason, that’s his right. He is going to drive a lot of what he wants to do next year.”

Kershaw as early as last offseason made known his desire to spend more time with his family, especially as his kids reach school age. That family grew on December 3 with the birth of Chance James, the Kershaws’ fourth child. The lure of Kershaw staying close to his Dallas home became more enticing with the Rangers spending $500 million on a middle infield, including Corey Seager, and adding Jon Gray to the rotation.

The Rangers, including manager and former Dodgers coach Chris Woodward, are interested in Kershaw as well.

There’s also the question of what to expect from Kershaw, who missed over two months with elbow inflammation in 2021, then left his final start of the regular season with more elbow pain, which knocked him out of the playoffs. Kershaw didn’t suffer ligament damage in his elbow, and opted for an injection of platelet-rich plasma plus plenty of rest this winter.

That’s going to be my treatment and I’m just going to rest it, let it heal,” Kershaw told reporters during the NLDS. “Not going to get surgery on it or anything and everybody I’ve talked to, all the doctors and everything, feel good that I’ll be good to go by spring training. So, that’s the plan.”

When healthy, even a diminished Kershaw is still well above average. In his worst season in 13 years, Kershaw posted a 3.55 ERA, 3.00 FIP, and 3.17 xERA in 22 starts, and his 29.5-percent strikeout rate ranked 13th among major league pitchers with 100 innings. Even if he’s limited in 2022, Kershaw still merits a multi-year contract, likely incentive laden since he hasn’t topped 28 starts since 2015, averaging just under 25 starts over his last five full seasons.

Rodón had a breakout year in 2021, posting a 2.37 ERA and 2.65 FIP in 24 starts, with 185 strikeouts in 132⅔ innings. He threw a no-hitter. The left-hander coming into 2021 had a career 4.14 ERA and 100 ERA+, plagued by a shoulder injury and Tommy John surgery.

Rodón, who was identified by Dustin Nosler at Dodgers Digest as a top target for Los Angeles, missed time in the final two months of 2021 with left shoulder fatigue. Rodón’s injury history makes for a wide range of contract projections:

But free agency isn’t the only avenue by which the Dodgers can add pitching.

Trade targets

The universe of available pitchers expands when considering potential deals with other teams. But we’ll focus on a pair of teams that have made quite clear they don’t plan to be competitive in the immediate future.

Reds general manager Nick Krall said in November, “Going into 2022, we must align our payroll to our resources,” and thus far has lived up to the plan. Pricy yet effective catcher Tucker Barnhart was traded to Detroit, and Wade Miley was placed on waivers to avoid Cincinnati paying a $1 million buyout.

Luis Castillo, who turns 29 on Sunday, and Tyler Mahle, 27, are the Reds’ two best pitchers, both with two years of salary arbitration before free agency. Understandably they would both be ideal trade targets, but just as reasonably, both are apparently off limits.

A more realistic poaching from the Reds is Sonny Gray, who turned 32 in November. The right-hander had a 4.19 ERA, 3.25 xERA, and 3.99 FIP in 2021, and over the last three seasons ranks 20th in MLB in ERA (3.49), 18th in FIP (3.57), 14th in strikeout rate (28.5 percent), and 17th in FanGraphs WAR (8.6).

Gray is under contract for $10 million for 2022, plus a $12 million club option for 2023. That perfectly reasonable contract fits any team’s budget, but also could fetch a decent prospect haul for a team wishing to shed payroll.

The A’s lost four lineup regulars — Mark Canha, Starling Marte, Jed Lowrie, and Yan Gomes — in free agency. They let widely respected and beloved manager Bob Melvin leave for the Padres without compensation, and bench coach Ryan Christensen will reportedly follow that path to San Diego as well.

All signs point to a rebuild in Oakland, especially with team officials seemingly having one foot out the door while plotting a potential move to Las Vegas.

Among their starting pitchers, Sean Manaea and Chris Bassitt each have one more year of salary arbitration before free agency, and old friend Frankie Montas has two arb years remaining.

Available (?) A’s starters

Pitcher Age IP ERA/xERA/FIP K rate BB rate bWAR fWAR 2022 arb proj.
Pitcher Age IP ERA/xERA/FIP K rate BB rate bWAR fWAR 2022 arb proj.
Frankie Montas 29 187 3.37/3.98/3.37 26.6% 7.3% 3.6 4.1 $5,200,000
Sean Manaea 30 179⅓ 3.91/4.18/3.66 25.7% 5.4% 3.4 3.3 $10,200,000
Chris Bassitt 33 157⅓ 3.15/3.45/3.34 25.0% 6.1% 3.9 3.3 $8,800,000
age as of June 30, 2022 Sources: Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, MLB Trade Rumors

Montas figures to net the biggest return for Oakland, either in prospect cost or perhaps the trading team assuming a deadweight contract like shortstop Elvis Andrus, who is due $14 million in 2022 (the Rangers are paying the A’s $7.25 million as part of their February trade).

First baseman par excellence Matt Olson has two more arbitration years remaining as well should the Dodgers wish to capture two birds with one stone in a larger, more costly trade.

Relief work

There is no such thing as a complete bullpen, with teams in constant search of adding relievers no matter the time of year. Even with free agent losses, the Dodgers are in fairly decent shape at the moment on the roster.

Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, Phil Bickford, and Alex Vesia all pitched key innings in October, and the Dodgers signed free agent Daniel Hudson. They are expecting contributions from Tommy Kahnle and Caleb Ferguson, both of whom missed 2021 after Tommy John surgery.

“Bullpen, I think we’re in a really strong spot to start the winter. That being said, we’re going to be open-minded about continuing to reinforce it, Friedman told reporters on October 27. “I’ve never in my career been in this good of a position with the bullpen when the offseason starts.”

Free agents available include Kenley Jansen, a franchise icon in his own right, and Joe Kelly. Back to the MLB Trade Rumors free agent list, seven relievers were ranked in the top 50. Five have already signed, including old friend Corey Knebel in Philadelphia. The two top-50 relievers left are Jansen (No. 29) and former MVP vote-getter Ryan Tepera (No. 45).

Perhaps Jimmy Nelson might merit a multi-year contract like Kahnle, with the hope of a 2023 contribution. Such a move might happen closer to spring training, when the 60-day injured list could be utilized as to not occupy a 40-man spot for someone who might not pitch at all in 2022 after Tommy John surgery and flexor tendon repair in August.

There are plenty free agent relievers outside of the top 50 rankings who could still contribute. Trades are also likely. Last offseason, the Dodgers traded for three relief pitchers — Corey Knebel, Garrett Cleavinger, and Vesia — for instance.