As things currently stand, the Dodgers own a 61-30 record and don’t carry any glaring weaknesses on the major league roster, but between that and the lack of need for reinforcements, there is a substantial gap.
Every Major League Baseball team could always use help at some place or another, but even with a more realistic view, there are specific spots on the roster that probably should be addressed in order to maximize this team’s chances of a deep run in October, and chief among them is the bullpen right now.
Looking at the season so far, the Dodgers’ bullpen is putting up above-average numbers, and atop the NL leaderboards in some categories, it trails only the Braves in strikeout-minus-walk rate (18.7 percent) and FIP (3.42).
The Dodgers ‘pen also leads the NL in WHIP (1.119) and opponent’s on-base percentage (.290).
In a vacuum, it is easy to look at some of these numbers and assume the bullpen is fine, and that an acquisition or two would be more of a luxury rather than filling a need, but it goes beyond that, and to understand it, you have to look at individual names.
The Dodgers best reliever coming into the year has been out since the first month of the season, in the loss of Blake Treinen the Dodgers lost their primary setup man, and although the expectation is that he will return at some point in the second half, his injury was a serious one, and the team shouldn’t take a 100% return for granted.
Tommy Kahnle flashed a comeback to his better days but is also on the shelf indefinitely, and the man who had pitched his way into covering the role of Blake Treinen is out for the year with an ACL injury. Daniel Hudson had been lights out in 2022 with the Dodgers and will be sorely missed, especially in the playoffs.
Combine all those injuries with the very shaky performance of Craig Kimbrel in the first half, and the lack of steps forward from the likes of Phil Bickford, who only found his footing recently after a poor start to the year, and Alex Vesia who despite putting up a really good ERA has also walked 15 batters in a little over 29 innings, and you get concerned about this ‘pen, especially in postseason play.
if not for the emergence of Evan Phillips as one of the premier relievers for the 2022 season, and the surprising performance of Yency Almonte, the Dodgers would be in a dire spot right now.
Looking at the market, there are quite a few interesting names available, and multiple routes the Dodgers can take in adding to this bullpen, depending on how aggressive they want to be.
The high-end acquisition
David Bednar (PIT) - 2.89 ERA, 43⅔ IP, 1.076 WHIP, 32.4 K%
Bednar is unquestionably the best reliever out of the market today. The Pirates’ relief ace is in the middle of another masterful campaign, and firmly entrenched in a rebuild, Pittsburgh has no reason not to listen and entertain offers for his services.
However, the acquisition of Bednar would represent a shift in the MO of the Dodgers front office. Primarily because Bednar has quite a few years of team control left, as he’s only set to reach free agency following the 2026 season, the Pirates are likely to ask a significant haul for him, one much higher than most other ‘pen improvements would require.
This front office has historically opted to use its financial resources to add relief help, looking at the Craig Kimbrel trade, and the acquisitions via free agency of Blake Treinen and Daniel Hudson.
From a fit standpoint, Bednar would be perfect for this bullpen, and a stretch run with his proven ability to go multiple innings and pitch in any high-leverage situation with success, as a closer or setup man.
However, a deal remains unlikely, as the Pirates aren’t exactly forced to deal an arm with that many years of team control left.
The ideal middle ground
Scott Barlow - 2.06 ERA, 43⅔ IP, 0,962 WHIP, 25.4 K%
The Royals closer has quietly established himself as one of the most reliable relievers in baseball over the past couple of seasons. Since the beginning of 2021, Barlows has a total of 118 innings and a 2.29 ERA in that period.
Much like is the case with the Pirates, there’s no reason why the Royals would be hesitant to move Barlow if the right offer came along. Like Bednar also, he has years of team control beyond just this season, Barlow will be a free agent following the 2024 campaign.
Barlow isn’t quite the same dominant force as David Bednar, and between that and one less year of service time, the package in a hypothetical trade wouldn’t be as demanding to the Dodgers system as the Bednar one would, which makes this trade a likelier one, although not as much as the ones from the next tier.
Barlow may be the best fit in terms of acquiring help for 2022, and also planning for 2023 and beyond with Kimbrel’s impending free agency and the uncertainty following Treinen and Phillips, but the organization could opt to go year by year.
David Robertson (CHC) - 1.93 ERA, 37⅓ IP, 0.991 WHIP, 31.8 K%
The longtime Yankee signed a one-year deal with the Cubs hoping to re-establish his value after having pitched fewer than 20 innings from 2019 through 2021, and the first half couldn’t have gone any better for Robertson.
The Cubs closer is in the middle of an outstanding campaign as one of the better closers in the National League, and possibly all of baseball. Robertson has put him in the name on the watchlist of every contender out there in the market, and his trade at the deadline is all, but a certainty, it’s only a matter of where will he go.
Daniel Bard (COL) - 2.02 ERA, 35⅔ IP, 1.009 WHIP, 28.8 K%
Another successful comeback story, Bard was out of the sport for years suffering from the yips and came back at the age of 35v to put together a very successful three-year run in Colorado of all places.
2022 has been Bard’s greatest year in the big leagues as the Rockies closer rebounded from a poor 2021 to put up electric numbers in the daunting hitters’ paradise that is Coors Field.
Bard will be a free agent after the year, and the Dodgers call will hardly be the only one the Rockies get for his services.
The Dodgers are likely to add to their bullpen, and that’s regardless of the return of Blake Treinen, and if and when they do, they can go a different number of routes in making that happen, likeliest one being with rental acquisitions.