One area that was a letdown for the Dodgers in the 2019 playoffs was the fact they didn’t have a true fourth starter. They ended up using an injured Rich Hill as the starter in game 4 against Max Scherzer. Hill ended up only getting 8 outs in his start while giving up 1 run. His problem was a lack of control as he walked 4 batters in his brief appearance. After the bullpen had to throw 4 innings the day before, 6.1 more innings to cover Hill’s start led to getting smoked in game 4.
Could it be that the overuse of the bullpen contributed to having Clayton Kershaw pitch key relief innings or Joe Kelly being extended beyond 1 inning in game 5? There were hints that Julio Urías was not available for game 5. Even the vaunted Yankees bullpen was overexposed against the Astros. There were just too many innings for them to cover.
The Dodgers starting pitchers only went 26.2 innings against the Nationals starting pitchers going 33. These innings include ones that starting pitchers threw in relief. The Dodgers, smartly moved Kenta Maeda into the bullpen but when Rich Hill got hurt in June it left a big question mark. They did not take advantage of the trade market or the farm system for that extra starter. As a team that has so many resources it is shameful that they did not have a viable starting option for a 4th game. The coming free agent market could have some nice options to bulk up the pitching staff, either with a “ace-type” option or some viable 4th type starters. This article will take a look at the free agent options.
Current Dodger Starter Options
The Dodgers are facing the loss of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill to free agency. However, the cupboard is far from bare. Below is a table of the 7 pitchers that could be in the starting rotation in 2020.
Given that the Dodgers will probably (and should) put Kenta Maeda in the bullpen in early September the Dodgers run the into the following risks for the 2020 playoffs:
- I would not expect Stripling, Urias, May or Gonsolin to throw more than 150 innings.
- The group looks like it could pile up enough innings for the regular season. However it doesn’t look like there would be much left for the post season.
- Could this group form a playoff rotation 4 deep that could challenge another strong rotation like we’ve seen from the Astros or Nationals?
The rotation, given the current options, looks like it could be good enough to help the Dodgers win a lot of games in 2020. However, there are some things that need to be worked out for the playoffs. We all know that Buehler is the number 1 starter and Kershaw should still be good enough for another spot. That leaves 2 spots to fill either internally, trade or free agency. I’d like to see them target a real number 2 starter then either a 3 or a 4 starter.
Top Of The Rotation Options
Throws: Right, Age 29, 7.4 WAR, 97.1 Fastball MPH, 0.82 WHIP
Cole is the clear big fish to catch this year. The Dodgers have not made a big free agent splash since 2012 when they signed Zack Greinke to a 6 year/$147M contract. The 29 year old Cole will probably get a contract over at least 7 years for about $35M per year. Will the Dodgers do something like that? From a talent and production perspective, nobody makes more sense for any team than Gerrit Cole.
Odds of signing: 15%
Throws: Right, Age 31, 5.7 WAR, 93.9 Fastball MPH, 1.04 WHIP
Strasburg has a player option that he could opt out of – 4 years remaining for $100M. More and more it looks like he will opt out. Like Cole, Strasburg’s agent is Scott Boras so that usually means chasing the best contract. Strasburg has been very good in the playoffs over his career and has developed into a clear upper echelon and consistent pitcher. Also, like Cole, the cost will be way more than any free agent this front office has gone after.
Odds of signing: 10%
Throws: Left, Age 33, 4.8 WAR, 90.7 Fastball MPH, 1.01 WHIP
Ryu was excellent for the Dodgers in 2019 and will probably finish in the top 3 of the Cy Young Award voting. There is no doubt in my mind that he should have been the number 2 starter in the playoffs (they went with Kershaw) and if he returns it helps a lot. The issues for him is that he has a huge injury history and could also get a huge contract from another team. Scott Boras is also his agent. I think it will come down to how much Ryu wants to stay with the Dodgers and if he’ll settle for a reasonable contract. Ryu has become a fan favorite and many of us would like to see him remain with the Dodgers.
Odds of signing: 40%
Throws: Right, Age 30, 4.7 WAR, 96.8 Fastball MPH, 1.26 WHIP
Of all the top of the rotation options Wheeler has not necessarily established himself yet in that role. I do think getting away from the Mets and being in a less chaotic environment will help him take that next step. One of the attractive things the Dodgers will see about him is that he will be cheaper than Cole or Strasburg. That is just the reality of the Dodgers front office.
Odds of signing: 25%
Let’s Get Weird
Throws: Left, Age 30, 3.2 WAR, 91.4 Fastball MPH, 1.13 WHIP
Bumgarner has been a major part of the rivalry with the Giants since 2010. It would be very weird to see him in Dodger blue but you never know. Even though he’s only 30 years old going into the 2020 season, his effectivity has diminished a bit over the last few years. He is still a good pitcher who could be a solid number 3 or 4 starter.
Odds of signing: 5%
Throws: Right, Age 33, 2.6 WAR, 94.1 Fastball MPH, 1.10 WHIP
Darvish can opt out of his contract with the Cubs as it has 4 years and $81M left on it. After the All-Star break he was very good in 2019. It does seem he is comfortable and is unlikely to opt out. Even if he does opt out there is too much history from his awful 2017 World Series for either side for this to happen.
Odds of signing: < 1%
Over the next couple of days we will publish part 2 of the free agent starting pitchers that can help the Dodgers. It seems there are some candidates that could be key factors in getting the Dodgers back into the World Series in 2020 and to win it.
When the Dodgers lost Zack Greinke after 2015 they tried to replace him with Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda. Although Maeda has been pretty decent, they missed Greinke quite a bit. Will the front office do something different this time around after the post-season failure of 2019? Let’s hope so. Just go get Gerrit Cole!