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Dodgers Off-Season: Starting Pitching Free Agency Targets – Part 1

We look at which free agent starting pitchers could help the Dodgers

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.

Pitcher Kenta Maeda #18 of the Los Angeles Dodgers. (Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)

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.

Pitcher T Age WAR IP K%
Buehler, Walker R 25 5.0 182.1 29.2
Kershaw, Clayton L 32 3.4 178.1 26.8
Maeda, Kenta R 32 2.5 153.2 27.1
Stripling, Ross R 30 1.8 90.2 25.1
Urias, Julio L 23 1.4 79.2 26.1
May, Dustin R 22 0.9 34.2 22.7
Gonsolin, Tony R 26 0.6 40.0 22.7
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Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax applauds as Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler walks off the field in the seventh inning of Game Three of the World Series at Dodger Stadium on Friday, October 26, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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

Gerrit Cole

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%

Stephen Strasburg

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%

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Throws: Left, Age 33, 4.8 WAR, 90.7 Fastball MPH, 1.01 WHIP

LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 22: Joc Pederson #31 of the Los Angeles Dodgers smiles as Hyun-Jin Ryu #99 runs to the dugout after Ryu hits the first home run of his career in the fifth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on September 22, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

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%

Zack Wheeler

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

Madison Bumgarner

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%

Yu Darvish

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%

Analysis

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!

Written by Tim Rogers

A fan of the Dodgers since 1973 since I got my first baseball cards while living in Long Beach. I came to San Diego for college and never left nor did I ever switch my Dodgers' allegiance. Some know me as the "sweater guy". #ProspectHugger

12 Comments

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  1. I look forward to part 2, and maybe 3 & 4? Of course it’s important to see what free agents will be available, that’s the low hanging fruit. I hope you can look at trade possobilities since that is what Friedman would rather do. What teams have a good young starter but have other holes to fill? Their starter must have at least a 2 or 3 yr major league history, throw hard and commands at least 3 pitches.

    • We are digging into the trade possibilities. As you said, the free agents are low hanging fruit. There will be trade possibility articles coming soon.

  2. Typically if the Dodgers get anyone they wait. And there’s the problem. Leftovers. Kelly and Pollock who had low level qualities to bank on and seemed ok were on the table late. Other teams wouldn’t sign their flawed performances. Fraudman let’s the market dictate who he can pick up. The Yankees picked up bullpen help early last FAgency or at least before the Dodgers. If they are going to do anything, enough of this wait and see. Time to be a be a leader for once. Go sign a Cole or Strasberg when available and act like you know what you are doing. Enough of this fly by night luck of a year or 2 by picking bottom of the heap dudes like Taylor and Hernandez.

      • Did it ever occur to anyone that perhaps Cole will want to re-sign with the Astros, especially should they win the WS? But if Cole does decide to go elsewhere can ya also imagine what fans and media would do to Freidman if he allows Cole to sign with a division rival instead? Again, after how Roberts managed especially in the playoffs, I am not sure there will be too many FA’s or players in trade who will want to come here. Especially I cannot see a regular player willing to ‘time share’ with another to satisfy Robert’s desire for shuffling around everyone in site.

        • Wheeler would be nice also, but I’m right with you Paul. Who would want to either play in a line up that never is settled, or come play for a manager that doesn’t know anything about pitchers. I say Cole goes to the Angels, Rendon to the Giants, and Dodgers will keep Hill, then say it was a sellers Market. The usual cop out from Friedman when he won’t pay for the championship.

  3. First off, Maeda should be in the pen. He, and the FO, has to see he’s a better, even dominate, coming out of the bullpen. Next, I doubt the FO will truly go after Cole. They may check in on him and make some kind of low ball offer but in the end they won’t pony up enough $$ to get him. The ownership wants to stay under the luxury tax so I think we’ll see May, Urias and Gonsoli will play a big roll in the rotation. I agree about Ryu, if he wants to stay it can be done. Seeing some trade opportunities will be interesting.

    I like Nik’s comment about the FO waiting too long and then scooping up the left overs. Paralysis through Analysis? Hopefully they are using these days planning a strategy to strike quickly after the WS ends.

  4. I would love to see Cole playing for the Dodgers in 2020 but I don’t see it happening. If the Astros win the Series, why would he leave a championship-winning team. This current Dodgers FO has been reluctant in spending big on “Free agents.” Like I Tim Rogers no more dumpster diving, please!

  5. Although, I tend to agree with the comments stated above I think the most important signing the Dodgers could make would be to resign Ryu. Not on a long term deal but on three year deal loaded in each year. This is because of an injury history and his age. Having done this I would then sign a number four type starter. With this approach I would create a dual between Gosling and May for the fifth spot. The looser going to the bullpen as a long man. Next I would sign or trade for a reliable bullpen arm and dilute some of the less useful arms we currently have. Lastly, I would give the third base job to Edwin Rios and resign Justin Turner as a super utility man. I would trade off some of the excess and put Verdugo in left and Pedersen in right. Bellinger would be in center. Max Muncy would play first and trade off with Turner against some match ups.I would keep Hernandez and Taylor. Lux, would play second daily as would Smith catch.

  6. Cole or Strasberg are the obvious choices but you have to ask why Houston or Washington would let them walk. The answer: because Boras is going to look for 25% of the entire roster’s salary and he’s going to want it for a loooong time. Neither Houston nor Washington – who need them as much as the Dodgers and maybe more – will be foolish enough to dole it out. If either pitcher were willing to take an obscene amount on a short contract, I’m in. Otherwise stay with the kids and, for goodness sake, put them in the rotation and let them pitch.

  7. Maybe with Rick Honeycutt in the front office, he’ll leave some ideas on the table considering he’s probably the one who knows what dodgers lack in pitching. Hopefully he’ll persuade the rest of the FO enough that they’ll realize what they need in order to actually win.

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