Winter wish list: Relievers

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
10:27
AM PT
One of the more quietly gratifying developments of 2013 for the Dodgers’ front office was the emergence of some homegrown relief pitchers.

Paco Rodriguez was among the Dodgers’ top two or three relievers until a heavy workload took its toll in September. Chris Withrow was a viable late-inning alternative by the end of the season. Jose Dominguez, another hard thrower, dominated in the minor leagues and gave the Dodgers some useful July innings before his season got shut down by a strained left quadriceps.

There are two (unrelated) Garcias -- lefty Onelki and righty Yimi -- who had impressive minor-league seasons and look like good bets to help the Dodgers’ bullpen next season.
All of which raises the possibility the Dodgers could avoid wading into the most overpriced market in baseball this winter: bullpen help.

Granted, their two free agent relievers, Brian Wilson and J.P. Howell, played important roles in both the regular season and the playoffs. Wilson was virtually flawless, eventually working into an eighth-inning role and pitching to a 0.66 ERA in the regular season with six scoreless innings in October. Howell quietly was the most consistent reliever in the Dodgers’ bullpen after April.

The Dodgers are looking into bringing both veterans back, but is it worth the cost? Probably not, at least if early reports of their cost are to be believed and the Dodgers like their in-house alternatives.

Wilson is a former All-Star closer who helped the San Francisco Giants win the 2010 World Series and again proved his October mettle for the Dodgers. His $1 million signing in August helped both parties, giving the Dodgers a reliable right-hander to get the ball to Kenley Jansen and re-launching Wilson as a closer candidate.

Would he merit a closer contract pitching the eighth inning for the Dodgers, who think they have a superstar young closer in Jansen? Seems like a stretch. As good as Wilson was, he pitched all of 19 2/3 innings coming off his second Tommy John surgery. The Dodgers fell into a trap a year ago of trusting a small sample size -- a lights-out September -- when they gave Brandon League three years and $22.5 million. League went into 2013 as the closer, but didn’t make either of the Dodgers’ post-season rosters. He’s still on the books, making $7.5 million in both 2014 and 2015.

According to reports, the Dodgers have company, with as many as seven other teams in the pursuit of Wilson. My hunch is somebody is going to overpay Wilson based on a good month-and-a-half. It may as well not be the Dodgers.

Amazingly, Howell also could be in line for a three-year deal. ESPN’s Buster Olney cited Howell as an example of what could be the going rate for serviceable middle relief this winter: three years and $12 million to $18 million. That's stunning inflation when you consider the Dodgers signed Howell to $2.85 million on a one-year deal last winter.

With five relievers returning and those two prospects on the cusp, the Dodgers are one of the few contenders in position to sit out the frenzied market for relievers this winter. Perhaps they could sign one aging veteran with a reliable track record, preferably a lefty (Scott Downs and Mike Gonzalez are a couple of the names out there). But to squander serious resources in such an unpredictable area with holes at third base and the back of the rotation seems misguided.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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BA LEADER
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