Coming into this off-season the Dodgers had little to no glaring weaknesses. With an excellent offense and a solid pitching squad front to back, one could argue they do not need to make any additions this off-season. So far, only a few minor signings and one major trade have occurred. But none of that has made any significant changes to the 25-man squad. Unfortunately, Morrow was lost to the Cubs and Matt Kemp has returned via trade. But beyond that nothing earth-shattering has happened.
For the Dodgers, the biggest event has been the trade with the Braves. Over the last weekend, the Dodgers and Braves swapped bad contracts. The Braves took on Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, Adrian Gonzalez, Charlie Culberson, and $4.5 million in cash considerations. and in return the Dodgers saw Matt Kemp return to his original team. This has given the Dodgers enormous financial flexibility. More importantly, this has brought them below the luxury tax threshold. This was something that a month ago many thought would be impossible. However, this front office has shown itself to be extremely creative time and time again.
#Dodgers Friedman called getting payroll flexibility "a focal point for us this winter."
"Obviously one of the main considerations in this deal were economic. But they’re part of the bigger picture, the longer-term plan, and it’s a necessary strategic part of moves yet to come.
— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) December 16, 2017
Despite getting below the luxury tax threshold, the Dodgers still only have about $8 million of wiggle room. While the Dodgers currently only have $165 million in guaranteed contracts, Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors is projecting for them to see around $25 million going towards arbitration raises. This puts them right at $190 million. Now, with Matt Kemp guaranteed $21.75 million per year for the next two years, there is little for them to use towards anything other than a bullpen piece, or two, acquisition.
So then can, or even should, the Dodgers sign or trade for a starting pitcher? As it stands right now the starting rotation is already taking shape. Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill and Alex Wood all have guaranteed spots. Hyun Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda will likely round out the #4 and #5 spots. But there are others waiting for a chance to break into the rotation. Brock Stewart and Ross Stripling have spot started in the past, and shown to have potential. It is much more likely they will be long-men out of the bullpen though.
Dave Roberts said Walker Buehler will be a starter in 2018 after relieving for Dodgers in September.
— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) December 12, 2017
Then there are the youngsters with enormous ceilings: Walker Buehler and Julio Urias. Both of whom will have a shot at meaningful innings this season, but are more likely to see limited roles. Recent 40-man roster additions Trevor Oaks and Dennis Santana could contribute, but will likely spend most of the year in AAA. So with such a deep team when it comes to starters, what options should the Dodgers explore?
If the last two years have taught us anything it is that you can never have too much pitching. Considering the usefulness of Yu Darvish, outside of two doomed WS starts, it might behoove the front office to consider signing a free agent or a trade. In regards to the free agent market, there are realistically only two names: Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta. Beyond them, the market is bare.
And therein is the problem with pursuing a free agency solution – supply and demand. Because the starting pitcher market is so thin, Darvish and Arrieta may cost more than the Dodgers want to spend. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors predicts around a $160 million, 6 year deal for Yu Darvish and for Arrieta he predicts a $100 million, 4 year deal. That means the Dodgers would have to commit around $25-30 million annually for a contract of that size.
Quite frankly, it’s highly unlikely the Dodgers will make a free agency splash. Especially considering how close they are to the luxury tax threshold and the front office’s firm commitment to resetting the tax penalties this year.
The Dodgers now expect to stay under the luxury tax for 2018. They lack obvious needs and like the composition of their roster. They will be open for business next winter, when Free Agent Armageddon comes.
— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughTimes) December 16, 2017
So then, we turn to the starting pitcher trade market. There are plenty of young, controllable options that could be traded for. First and foremost is Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays. Long speculated as a target for the Dodgers, his years of control and pedigree would fit nicely in the rotation. Archer is under team control through 2021 at a modest $34 million.
Over the last three years he has posted a very solid 3.77 ERA in the AL East. What is more impressive is that his FIP is 3.36, he’s averaged over 200 innings per season, and has struck out 10.75 batters per 9 innings in that time period too. It isn’t a stretch to imagine he’d have far more success in the pitcher friendly NL West. Despite the higher than desired ERA over the last two years, he will still command a large prospect haul.
Another option is yet another Tampa Bay starter: Jake Odorizzi. Again Odorizzi, like Archer, has been a long speculated target of the Dodgers. He would certainly cost less in prospects than Archer. So that might make him a more attractive target. Gerrit Cole is yet another name that we’ve heard this off-season. However, he isn’t a likely option. Marcus Stroman falls under the same category as well. Both players seem to be available, but both their teams won’t likely match up with the Dodgers.
Finally, there is one name that brings a great deal of intrigue and risk/reward: Matt Harvey. Once the future ace for a budding young Mets rotation. Now he is the fallen Dark Knight of the New York Mets. Between his poor performance, injuries, and off-field issues, he has worn out his welcome in New York. He is only under control for 2018, so the prospect cost will be absolutely minimal. And for the woeful Mets farm system, the Dodgers can trade for Harvey at minimal cost. It is easy to forget how effective Harvey was between 2012 and 2015. Of course his terrible 2016-2017 seasons stand out, but that shouldn’t deter the Dodgers. If they want to get Harvey, they can easily do so.
What are your thoughts? Do the Dodgers need to acquire a starting pitcher? Or do they have all the solutions they need in-house? Whatever the answer, the Dodgers once again have a good problem on their hands due to their immense starting pitching depth.
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