It appears that Walker Buehler and Kenta Maeda will be starters in 2018 after spending the end of 2017 in the bullpen. The highly touted Buehler worked briefly as a reliever in September while trying to earn a spot on the postseason roster. Maeda spent most of the season in the rotation, but moved to the bullpen late in the season and dominated in that role during the postseason.

Dave Roberts commented on this during his press conference from the Winter Meetings.

Buehler struggled to find consistency during his brief stay in the Major Leagues, pitching to a 7.71 ERA over 9.1 innings. The 23-year old showed good potential with 12 strikeouts, but also showed his inexperience with 8 walks. Buehler had a 3.35 ERA with 125 strikeouts over 88.2 innings across three minor league levels in 2017.

Buehler is ranked as the Dodgers top prospect going into 2018 by Baseball America. He was the Dodgers first round pick in the 2015 amateur draft, but did not pitch until late 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Buehler had new life on his pitches after surgery, including a rise in velocity that saw him able to touch triple digits in 2017. If he can stay healthy, expect Buehler to be a fixture in the Dodgers’ rotation for years to come.

Kenta Maeda spent most of his first two seasons as a starter for the Dodgers. He moved to the bullpen late in 2017 to work as a multi-inning reliever and he excelled in that role. He allowed just one run while striking out 10 over 10.2 innings during the postseason. His dominance as a reliever left many wondering if he would stay in that role or move back to the rotation in 2018. Here’s what Dave Roberts had to say about Kenta.

We expect Kenta to be back in the rotation. I think that he really built confidence in pitching out of the ‘pen. I think that right there will help him as a starter in the sense of abbreviating his preparation for a start.

Maeda has been a quality starter in his time with the Dodgers, and Roberts seems to expect him to improve after his stay in the bullpen. One big reason that Maeda is moving back to the rotation is the way his contract is set up. Maeda’s deal pays him a base salary of $3 million per season, with incentives for innings pitched and games started.

Here is a breakdown of his incentives courtesy of spotrac.

  • Innings Pitched Bonus
    $250,000 each for: 90, 100, 110, 120, 130, 140, 150, 160, 170, 180, 190, 200
  • Games Started Bonus
    $1M each for: 15, 20, 25, 30, 32

With Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, and Alex Wood set to be fixtures in the rotation, Buehler and Maeda will be competing for the final two spots. They will likely be contending with guys like Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, and Brock Stewart for those two rotation spots. It is still possible that one or more of the veteran starters competing to be in the rotation could be moved during this offseason, so that could help the chances of Buehler and Maeda.

What do you think of Dave Roberts’ plan for Buehler and Maeda? Let us know in the comments!

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