When Andrew Friedman was hired as president of baseball operations by the Los Angeles Dodgers, his most obvious task was improving one of the worst bullpens in the MLB last season. Many fans hoped the Dodgers would sign some of the top free agents available, such as Andrew Miller, Luke Gregerson, and Pat Neshek, but none of them ended up with Los Angeles. As expected, they all inked multi-year deals with their new teams, something the new and improved front office is hesitant of doing: handing out long contracts to aging relievers. And that’s a good thing.
Friedman’s first significant move with the Dodgers was acquiring Joel Peralta and Adam Liberatore from the Rays in exchange for Greg Harris and Jose Dominguez, the 11th-ranked prospect in the Dodgers’ system going into the 2014 season according to Baseball America. Dominguez is a flamethrower, but struggled with multiple injuries and a PED-suspension during his time with Los Angeles. Last season, Peralta’s traditional stats weren’t exciting on paper, but his peripherals were encouraging. Despite posting a 4.41 ERA inflated by an unsustainable homerun rate in 63.1 innings pitched, his 3.40 FIP (fielding independent pitching) and 3.11 xFIP (a regressed FIP) indicate he pitched much better than his stats show. Even with his age getting up there, Peralta has shown no signs of decline and should be a reliable setup man for the Dodgers in 2015. Liberatore is another potential fit for the bullpen, having posted a 1.66 ERA and 11.9 K/9 in 65 innings pitched for Triple-A Durham last season.
Other bullpen acquisitions made by the front office include Juan Nicasio, Chris Hatcher, Chin-hui Tsao and Sergio Santos. Nicasio struggled as a starter for Colorado, but pitched to a 3.48 ERA in 20.2 innings during the final months of the season when he switched to a relief role, showing some signs of improvement. Moving to Dodger Stadium from hitter-friendly Coors Field should definitely help his case as well.
Tsao and Santos are interesting non-roster invitees, to say the least. The former last pitched in the majors in 2007 as a member of the Dodgers with unimpressive results. Prior to that, he spent three seasons with the Colorado Rockies, also posting not-so-impressive results. During his hiatus, he allegedly tried to fix baseball games in Taiwan, and was ultimately banned from the league. On the bright side, his fastball has reportedly reached 95 MPH, so taking a flier on him isn’t the end of the world. In 88.1 career MLB innings, he has pitched to a 5.40 ERA and 5.89 FIP.
Santos comes with a much better track record. During stints with the White Sox and Blue Jays, he showed flashes of dominance, but injuries derailed him from having consistency. In 2011, he saved 30 games with Chicago while posting a 3.55 ERA and 2.87 FIP. He was worth 1.3 WAR that season (wins above replacement), which is excellent for a reliever. Just last season, he had an amazing 12.4 K/9 ratio in 21 innings pitched, but walks limited him to having any success (7.7 BB/9). Santos could very well be the signing of the offseason if he’s healthy and cuts down on walks, which has hindered him during his entire career.
The most intriguing addition to the bullpen is arguably Chris Hatcher, who had a fantastic year for the Marlins in 2014. When the Dee Gordon trade was announced, he was an under-the-radar part of the deal, as most of the attention was on Dee leaving and the Dodgers getting top prospect Andrew Heaney (later flipped to the Angels for Howie Kendrick). In 56 innings, Hatcher had a 3.38 ERA and 2.56 FIP to go along with a 1.20 WHIP and 60-to-12 K/BB ratio. For what seems to be just a “throw-in” piece of the trade, if Hatcher comes even close to duplicating his statistics from last season, he will be a force in the Dodgers bullpen for 2015.
There’s still plenty of offseason left and the Dodgers could still sign some veterans to minor-league deals or work out a trade, but if the bullpen renovation is complete, there should be some quality competition in Spring Training. Pedro Baez, Carlos Frias, Yimi Garcia, and Paco Rodriguez are all candidates for the pen, assuming they stay healthy and prove their worth in March. Chris Withrow, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, is expected back mid-season. The only locks are Kenley Jansen, J.P. Howell, Peralta, and Brandon League (assuming he isn’t traded or designated for assignment), so there are plenty of spots up for grabs.
With deadweight like Brian Wilson, Jamey Wright, Chris Perez, and Paul Maholm gone, there is a refreshing, new look for next season’s bullpen. It’s clear Friedman, Zaidi and company had a specific plan coming into this offseason, and that was finding hidden gems, rather than overpaying for relievers as the old front office would.