The Los Angeles Dodgers have reportedly backed off their pursuit of a starting pitcher and are looking for relief help instead. Of course, there’s a good reason to take any statements about a team’s plans with a grain of salt at this time of year. However, the Dodgers would benefit more from adding a good reliever or two than from adding a big name in their rotation.
As things stand, the Dodgers have the best pitcher in baseball in Clayton Kershaw, two very good arms in Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu and veterans Josh Beckett and Dan Haren, one of which could fill out a postseason rotation. Beckett hasn’t pitched as well as his 2.74 ERA would indicate, and Haren has seen his strikeout rate dip. Still, adding a top notch starter for ten starts plus a postseason run would not represent a huge upgrade given the Dodgers already formidable rotation. In addition, adding Jon Lester or David Price would result in a significant cost in terms of prospects.
On the other hand, the Dodgers have relied heavily on relievers such as Brian Wilson and Chris Perez. Both have been terrible this year and project as replacement level pitchers. Kenley Jansen is sporting a higher ERA than last season, but his strikeout and walk rates are excellent and he’s been near unhittable as of late. J.P. Howell and Brandon League have shiny ERAs, but both project poorly.
Beyond that, nobody in the Dodgers bullpen has totaled more than 0.1 fWAR. Clearly they could use an upgrade in that area. With the extra off days in postseason play, relievers tend to pitch a much higher percentage of the innings than they do in the offseason. Thus the Dodgers could benefit significantly from picking up a quality bullpen arm or two.
The San Diego Padres have stated that they are reluctant to deal Joaquin Benoit within the division. This is a curious statement, as Benoit is only under contract through 2015 and the Padres aren’t close to contending. Perhaps it is just posturing. The 37 year-old is having another excellent season and boasts a strikeout rate of 31.1 percent. At just under 95 miles per hour, his average fastball velocity is the best of his career. Benoit could slot into a setup role for the Dodgers. Furthermore, he won’t cost the Dodgers one of their top prospects.
Neal Cotts of the Texas Rangers and Oliver Perez of the Arizona Diamondbacks would also improve the Dodgers bullpen. Cotts didn’t pitch in the big leagues from 2010-12, but he’s been very good since last season. He currently owns a 25.4 percent strikeout rate, and the southpaw has had success against right-handed bats as well. Perez revitalized his career in the Seattle Mariners bullpen, and he’s continued to pitch well with the D’Backs. The left-hander has a herky-jerky delivery and a sweeping slider that makes left-handed hitters very uncomfortable, but like Cotts, he’s had a good deal of success against righties as well.
If the Dodgers are willing to pony up some cash, they could acquire Jonathan Papelbon from the Philadelphia Phillies. Papelbon still has 1+ year left on his four year, $50 million contract, and there’s also an option for 2016. He doesn’t bring the heat that he used to, and as a consequence, his strikeout rate has dipped to 23.3 percent. Still, he’s managed to pitch quite well this year, and would be a big upgrade on what the Dodgers have right now. If they can get the Phillies to eat some cash, a Papelbon deal might be attractive.
There’s likely to be a flurry of activity in the next day or so as the July 31st deadline approaches. The Dodgers appear to have backed off their pursuit of front end starters. Relief help isn’t as splashy, but it might be just what the doctor ordered for the Dodgers.