Last season we caught lightning in a bottle: Brandon Morrow was picked up on a minor league deal of only $500k. The year before he had thrown only 16 innings with the Padres to a tune of a 1.69 ERA (but with pretty awful peripherals). He barely had thrown from 2013-2015, averaging about 40 innings per season and missing tons of time due to injury after injury.
Remember, Morrow was drafted in the same year Clayton Kershaw was drafted. In fact, he was selected 5th overall by the Mariners in 2006, two picks ahead of Kershaw. He always had fantastic stuff, but was constantly inconsistent and injury-prone. Finally, with the Padres, he converted to a full-time reliever and found new life in 2017 with the Dodgers, mostly setting up for Kenley Jansen.
This off-season, his market is much wider, and will be much costlier than a mere $500k minor league contract. Some teams will offer him their closer spot, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him fetch a 3 years, $20+ million contract.
Hear Brandon Morrow is quite popular in a strong relief market. Few helped themselves more in October.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 30, 2017
While it would be great to have him back, Morrow’s track record isn’t exactly one that says “longevity”. That combined with the fact that he is 33 years old and I wouldn’t give him more than a 2 year, $15 million contract. He has stated that he would want to return to the Dodgers, but like Greinke in the 2015-2016 off-season, he likely will follow the largest guaranteed contract.
That leaves us with the question: who will set-up for Kenley Jansen this year? Well, let’s start with in-house options currently on the roster. For right-handers we have Pedro Baez and Josh Fields as the only current righties that have late-inning “stuff”. However, both of them have shown unreliable in high-leverage situations, and both give up far too many home runs. They would not be desirable.
For our lefties we have Tony Cingrani and Luis Avilan. Avilan is a definite hard-pass as a set-up guy. Cingrani, though, is intriguing. He has electric stuff, strikes out a lot of batters, limited home runs with the Dodgers, and doesn’t have obvious splits against right-handed batters. While it would be great to just anoint him the next 8th inning bullpen arm, the front office may prefer to use him as the lefty out of the pen for lack of better options on the roster.
There are also potential options among the starters who played bullpen roles at various points last season (Stripling, Stewart, McCarthy, and Maeda). Unfortunately, none of these pitchers, outside maybe Maeda, showed an ability to be a late-inning, high-leverage pitcher. Most were best suited to a long-relief role.
That brings us to what options there are on the free agent market. In a nutshell, outside of Morrow, the market is not necessarily easy to navigate. While there are big name options like Wade Davis, Greg Holland, or Addison Reed left on the market, those pitchers are likely going to close for another team, and could very easily see 4 year deals, in excess of $25 million. Something the Dodgers are trying to avoid. Anthony Swarzak is an option discussed before on here as he had a solid season split between the White Sox and Brewers. He isn’t likely to command more than a 2 year contract at $12-14 million overall. At that rate he might be worth a look.
However, in terms of trying find this year’s Morrow in the bargain bin, names like Neftali Feliz or Drew Storen come to mind. All have shown past talent, and high-ceilings, but have suffered as of late from inconsistency, injuries, or both. Storen has more innings and consistency over the years, but his ceiling just isn’t quite as high. He probably also can’t be had for a minor league contract. Someone will likely give him a guaranteed major league contract.
Honestly, Neftali Feliz sounds like an intriguing name to throw a minor league contract at. Once the starter prospect, turned All-Star closer for the Rangers, Feliz has suffered quite a bit from injuries in the last four to five years. He was signed to a $5.4 million contract by the Brewers, went to the Royals mid-season, and was released on September 1st. Reports show his stuff hasn’t diminished enormously, but his consistency just is not there right now. Out of all the available right-handed relievers on the market currently, he most closely resembles that Brandon Morrow mold where we could buy-low, and hopefully catch that lightning in the bottle, once again.
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