As the early hours of Dodgers FanFest kicked off on Saturday, a small gathering of reporters crammed into a hall inside of the visitor’s bullpen in right field. Kenta Maeda had just come in from a signing session and immediately made himself available to reporters. Those closest to him were several Japanese reporters, all of which he knew by name. I stood by patiently waiting my turn as Kenta answered all of the questions in Japanse first.
When my turn finally came up, the only thing I had on my mind was the rotation. He had talked with the other reporters about his offseason and adjustments but that was not my priority. I wanted to know if Kenta was planning on being in the starting rotation for the year. Through his translator, he told me that was his only plan for the year. And that makes sense given that every pitcher wants the opportunity to perform as a starter if they have the option.
Kenta has historically been better out of the bullpen, albeit a slight advantage. In 25.2 career innings of relief, Maeda has posted a 3.16 ERA along with a ridiculous 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings rate. That is compared to a 3.84 ERA and 9.5 K per nine inning total. But Kenta seemed set with his sights on starting, and management agreed with him. President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman addressed that in a media session shortly after introducing AJ Pollock on Saturday.
Among other things, Friedman said that he fully expected both Kenta Maeda and Hyun-jin Ryu to give them starts all year. Dave Roberts would echo the same hopes a few hours later during his time with the media.
Depth Defines the Dodgers
The Dodgers are heading into Spring Training with plenty of pitching options. As of today, they have twelve options for the starting rotation on their 40-man roster. With that in mind, it’s easy to forget that the bullpen is already packed as well. Besides adding Joe Kelly, the Dodgers also picked up three more possible bullpen pieces over the offseason. With that in mind, it’s not difficult to imagine the Dodgers dealing from their rotation depth in the trade market. Rich Hill’s name has been floated around in recent rumors, as has Ross Stripling’s.
Kenta is signed through 2023 with the Dodgers and makes a very affordable $3.125 million per year. I don’t expect Los Angeles to ship him off anywhere unless they feel the return is good enough to justify it. Look for Maeda to play a high role in the rotation for 2019 and beyond.
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