The Dodgers take a lot of heat for having a bullpen that has some definite weaknesses. During the off-season they lost Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson to free agency and also traded Luis Avilan. In the Avilan trade they also sent out $2 million but acquired Scott Alexander. As we saw, Alexander got off to a bad start while Morrow and Watson have thrived. However, Morrow has been on the disabled list twice already and, after a short AAA trip, Alexander has been very good. Still, there is a need for one or two bullpen arms via the trade market before the deadline. What I am going to do is discuss how some teams, using the Mets and Rockies as examples, have blown a lot of money on their bullpen with poor results. I’ll compare them to the Dodgers and how they compare, in terms of cost and statistics, as of July 20, 2018.
First lets look at the cost of each of the bullpens. I will be using Annual Average Value (AAV) of the contracts since that is what the luxury tax is based on. It is clear that the Dodgers would like to stay under the tax threshold and will be a factor in any bullpen acquisitions over the next month or so. Back to the costs, I use COTS to gather the AAV salary information:
The Dodgers, with the highest payroll, has spent the smallest percentage on the bullpen as we can see that the Rockies have spent twice the percentage amount. In the above tables I was biased against the Dodgers as I searched for every dollar that they are spending on the bullpen while with the Rockies and Mets I took what was on COTS. Money is just one part of the equation as we look at how well the money is actually spent. Below are some statistics gathered from ESPN:
According to ESPN statistics the ERAs on July 20, 2018 have the Dodgers are 13th, Mets 26th and the Rockies are 28th. There is no doubt the Dodgers have had bullpen issues. Now, if we look at the cost and the value of what the bullpens provide both the Rockies and Mets have not gotten much value at all. Fortunately for the Mets only Anthony Swarzak is contracted next year. The Rockies are not so lucky as Wade Davis (he’s been decent), Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee are contracted through 2020, and their most valuable reliever, Adam Ottavino, is a free agent this winter.
The only real constant in the Dodgers bullpen is Kenley Jansen, as his contract doesn’t expire until after 2021 but the rest of the bullpen is pretty low cost and controllable. For the Mets, 2018 has been a disaster so they also have some flexibility to rebuild with only about $8 million allocated for next year to the bullpen. The Rockies are tied to Davis, Shaw and McGee for over $35 million for 2019 and 2020 and those contracts will be tough to move.
Some relievers have put together quite a few nice years in a row but it seems long-term contracts to them are very risky. It can be frustrating to watch how the Dodgers’ front office builds a bullpen as they bring in quite a few question marks and see if they work out. In 2016 it was Joe Blanton and in 2017 it was Brandon Morrow but the Dodgers still don’t have someone to bridge the game to Jansen in 2018. Scott Alexander has been the best of the rest but more help is needed. At least they aren’t stuck with long-term money into a few mediocre relievers and have some room to add more via trade.
Building a modern bullpen is not easy but throwing a bunch of free agent dollars is a risky adventure and can burden a team for years.
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