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Dodgers could use another relief pitcher

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St. Louis Cardinals v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

We are less than three weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Dodgers camp at Camelback Ranch, but now the question is are all the pitchers expected to report in Arizona currently on the roster, or are there a few tweaks still to be made to the roster?

The signing of Teoscar Hernández essentially completes the Dodgers position-player set on the active roster, and while it’s possible another batter could be added it seems more likely that it would be more for depth, and perhaps someone with minor league options, like Yonny Hernández last year, for instance. Combing the waiver wire as players get designated for assignment could be the avenue for an addition in this vein.

Pitching seems to be where the next Dodgers addition could come from, and with 39 players on the 40-man roster, they have room to do so.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow were added to a rotation with Bobby Miller and a returning Walker Buehler. There are a stable of young arms behind that group, like Emmet Sheehan, Gavin Stone, and others. Swingman Ryan Yarbrough could see some starts as the only non-reliever left-hander on the roster.

Let’s focus on the bullpen for a moment. Big-ticket relievers Josh Hader (Astros) and Robert Stephenson (Angels) came off the board over the weekend, so if the Dodgers add another arm to the bullpen it likely wouldn’t break the bank, even when factoring in the 110-percent tax for any additional salary in 2024.

Then again, with a payroll already at roughly $300 million for competitive balance tax purposes, the shards of said bank have already been strewn on the floor.

“We feel good with our team right now. If spring training started tomorrow, we have talent and depth in most areas,” general manager Brandon Gomes said on Zoom last week. “It’s just continuing to evaluate where opportunities present themselves for us to become even better. We’ll try to do that, but not feeling pressured to do anything either way.”

The Dodgers at the moment have Evan Phillips and Brusdar Graterol at the back end of the bullpen, along with Joe Kelly, who signed a one-year deal to return to Los Angeles.

Not that the Dodgers would send Phillips, their best reliever, to the minors, but even if they wanted to, he is out of options. Caleb Ferguson has five years of service time and can’t be sent down without his consent. Same for Kelly and Blake Treinen, who if healthy — a large question after shoulder surgery and just six games pitched in the last two seasons, none in 2023 — would need to remain on the active roster if still employed by the Dodgers.

Dodgers 2024 bullpen

Pitcher Optionable?
Pitcher Optionable?
Evan Phillips No
Brusdar Graterol Yes
Joe Kelly No
Ryan Brasier No
Blake Treinen No
Ryan Yarbrough* No
Alex Vesia* Yes
Michael Grove Yes
J.P. Feyereisen Yes
Ricky Vanasco Yes
Gus Varland Yes
Matt Gage* Yes

Yarbrough has five years of service time too, and can’t be sent to the minors without his consent.

A standard five-man rotation leaves room for eight relievers. Currently, the Dodgers bullpen has four pitchers (Phillips, Kelly, Ferguson, Treinen), maybe five (with Yarbrough) who can’t be sent down.

It’s entirely possible Treinen opens the season on the injured list, and Kelly had three injured-list stints last season, but either way that’s not a ton of roster flexibility in the bullpen.

The performance of the group is probably good enough to overcome that lack of flexibility. Graterol can be optioned but likely won’t, and with him and Phillips on the back end that’s something to build on. Any of the young, excess starters — Stone, Kyle Hurt, Nick Frasso, Landon Knack — could even be potentially used in relief.

Last year, 10 different Dodgers pitched at least 20 games in relief. Twelve pitchers did in 2022, and 11 did in 2021 (plus four more pitchers that year with between 16-19 relief appearances). Outside of starting pitchers, the Dodgers’ 40-man roster at the moment has only 11 relievers, including the swingman Yarbrough. It’s possible one or two of the non-roster invitees in camp — Daniel Hudson? Nabil Crismatt? — makes the team.

But it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Dodgers add even more relief pitching, to augment the depth.

Whether it’s a reunion of Ryan BrasierFabian Ardaya at The Athletic and Jon Heyman of the New York Post have reported the Dodgers’ interest this offseason — some other right-hander, or adding another able-bodied left-hander to Ferguson, Alex Vesia, and Yarbrough, another relief pitcher seems like the most likely way for the Dodgers to fill that open spot on the 40-man roster.