If you are like most Dodger fans (including myself) holding your breath in anticipation of Greinke’s decision, then the possibility of a rotation that does not include Greinke is something that may frighten you.
I am here to tell you one thing: don’t panic.
Let’s try to take a step back and look at what is really happening with the team as of now.
After another early October exit, one glaring problem has gone unaddressed for almost 3 years now and it has nothing to do with the starting pitching. In fact, since 2011, the Dodgers starting pitching staff has ranked in the top 3 in ERA. Though that might have something to do with that Kershaw-Greinke combo.
The true achilles heel of the Dodgers is still the lack of reliable relief pitching. In 2015, the Dodgers were ranked 19th place in ERA among the rest of the league’s bullpens. Even worse, in 2014, they ranked 22nd.
There is no doubt that after his legendary 2015 campaign, Greinke is due for a huge payday. Bob Nightengale of USA Today is just one of the many writers who estimate that Greinke will receive an annual pay higher than that of David Price. ($31M/year) However, the Dodgers have gone on record saying that they hope to reduce the total payroll to somewhere around $200M. The Dodgers also have two of the most coveted starting pitching prospects in the league in Julio Urias and Jose De Leon, both are said to be close to MLB-ready. (Tom Verducci of MLB Network has actually selected Urias as his favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year.)
With all of this in mind, would it still be a wise decision to break the bank for Greinke? At 32 years old, Greinke’s party will be looking for a deal that he can retire on, somewhere around 6 or 7 years. But what any potential suitor would really be paying for are the next 2 or 3 years of maximum production before Greinke’s arm begins to fall off.
It’s also worth noting that there is still some very capable pitchers in the free agent market that are worthy of earning the role as the #2 starter after Kershaw.
We already know about Johnny Cueto, whom the Dodgers already consider a viable backup plan if they lose out on Greinke.
Lefty Wei-Yin Chen is still waiting to be signed. Chen won 16 games in Baltimore in 2014. Last season he posted a respectable 3.34 ERA.
Another more economical choice would be Doug Fister. Fister’s performance in 2015 was limited due to some injuries that sidelined him throughout the season. But in 2014, he spearheaded the National’s rotation as they made their run in October. That season, Fister won 16 games and had an ERA of 2.41.
My point is that there are still some easily affordable options should another team snatch Greinke this winter. Whether the Dodgers sign Greinke or not, the shaky bullpen would still need to be addressed before next season.
Beyond pitching, there are holes in the field and lineup the Dodgers could use a few additional funds to shore up as well.
Jason Heyward is the name that comes up when you think of swinging big in the offseason, though he’d take up close to as much as signing Greinke would cost, given his age and all-around abilities. Denard Span is also a free agent this year. He’s a seasoned vet that has been one of the most effective bats in the National’s lineup for the past few years. The Dodgers still need a second-baseman and, if not Heyward, could probably use an everyday outfielder given the health and consistency concerns across the board on their current outfield. It will be interesting to see how the Dodgers will fill in the spot at second base. They could choose to resign Kendrick who batted .295 last year. Another second basemen that is still on the market include the Dodger killer Daniel Murphy, coming off of one of the most astounding postseason performances in recent memory.
Point being: Greinke would help make up for a lot of that in games he pitches, but the Dodgers would still have plenty of work to do even if they convince him to come back.
This offseason holds one of the richest free agent markets when it comes to relief pitching and imagine what $30M+ can buy you when fixing a broken bullpen. Darren O’Day is the top prize for the highest bidder as he was the most effective setup man in the league last year. Also looking to be signed are relievers Tyler Clippard, Joakim Soria and Ryan Madson. All of whom could give the Dodgers’ bullpen the much needed help in bridging the gap between starting pitcher and Kenley Jansen.
While having Greinke to follow Kershaw in the rotation would be an outstanding resource, it’s important not to confuse luxury with necessity. And who’s to say that the Dodgers can’t sign Greinke and bolster the pen as well? (Besides some very stressed out financial officers.) We’ll find out soon, but the fact remains, what the Dodgers need are middle inning pitchers who can get them to the 9th inning with the lead intact.